Earlier this year, at an online forum for writers that I frequent, I watched a familiar scenario play itself out. A new member joined the forum, full of excitement (and not a small amount of hubris) about the novel he’d just completed. As he posted his early attempts at a query letter for others to review and critique, two things quickly became clear:
- He was convinced the rest of the forum would be utterly dazzled by his unmatched literary brilliance, and
- Before writing his opus, he had done absolutely no research into the business of publishing.
The first one is not necessarily a bad thing. We should be excited about what we’ve written. And we should believe in the literary merit of our work (but not to the extent that we let our egos blind us to the possibility of improving our work).
It’s the second thing that can be the real killer, and yet it’s so common. Many new writers assume the way to write their first book is to simply sit down and start typing. On one hand, this sounds wonderful, and artistically pure. But on the other, imagine applying that logic to some other large task. If you wanted to build a house, and you had no background in construction or architecture, would you just grab some boards and nails and start hammering? Or would you perhaps want to put some planning into the project first?
Over several days and numerous threads on that forum, I watched a painful but increasingly familiar cycle unfold, as this new writer came up against some of the harsh realities of writing and selling commercially viable fiction. So, to borrow from the Kübler-Ross Model (AKA the five stages of grief), I thought I’d share my observations with you, and see if perhaps any of these stages sound familiar.
What do you mean my 375,000-word opus is too long to be marketable?! And what’s this “genre” of which you speak? I refuse to limit my creativity by trying to confine my work within a single easily identifiable genre! And why on earth should I have to bother with writing a query letter? Can’t I just call up one of the top agents and hire her – after all, she works for me, right?
It quickly becomes clear when a writer hasn’t done much (or any) homework on how the publishing business works. And when the harsh realities of this business begin to reveal themselves, some writers are not exactly open to the information.