Query Quagmire

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It’s not THAT hard to get published… right? WRONG.

Hey! I have a question… Everyone tells me that it’s insanely hard to get a book published, something like 0.01% chance. But then someone else told me that it’s not THAT hard if you write well and have a good story to tell, since most of what is sent to agents and publishers is utter crap. Is this true?

It’s not THAT hard to become an astronaut. All you have to do is be good at math and physics and have better physical stamina than most of NASA’s other applicants.

It’s not THAT hard to become President of the United States, either. All you have to do is have a (relatively) spotless record of public service and access to the millions of dollars in funding required to run a successful campaign against someone who’s just as good at politics as you are.

It’s also not THAT hard to become a neurosurgeon. All you have to do is go to a top medical school, be top of your class, and memorize the neurological pathways of the delicate and complex human brain backwards and forwards.

For that matter, it’s not THAT hard to become a world-famous actor. All you have to do is be conventionally attractive and good at faking emotions in front of a camera. 

In case I haven’t made my point clear yet, let me spell it out for you: when you put it that way, yeah, it’s really fairly simple to get published… in theory. In practice it’s pretty damn hard. 

One of my authors recently gave birth to healthy twins without anesthesia. She says getting her first book published was harder.

Writing a book is, either fortunately or unfortunately, one of the most common endeavors known to humankind. Everyone and their grandmother is writing a book. Your weird uncle Malachi is writing a book. So’s your bank teller and Mrs. Thompson next door. Some of them will even finish. Some of them are even good writers with good stories to tell, to use your criteria. And all of them are trying to get published. So it’s a game of numbers. This is not a big-fish-in-a-small-pond scenario. It’s a big-fish-in-a-galaxy-of-oceans-filled-with-other-equally-large-fish situation. 

The people who send me utter crap are an amusing and/or frustrating waste of time. But I spend far more time deliberating between pretty good writing. The amount of pretty good writing I receive is at least equal to the amount of utter literary vomit I receive. Of the good stuff, I need to weed out what isn’t right for my publishing house and list (ie. the people with good work who didn’t bother to research who they should’ve sent their query to), and then from there pare it down to what is absolutely blowing my mind all over my office walls at that very moment.

So your book may be very well written, and it might even be a good story in the telling. But as I hear it, NASA’s a pretty exclusive program, they won’t let just anyone do brain surgery, and I’ve seen some pretty fabulous performances off Broadway.

Do your homework. Be awesome. Practice your writing craft and research agents and editors. Don’t take your success for granted based on your innate talents and the value of the story you have to tell.

Standing out above the crap is only half the battle. Be prepared to compete with writers who are just as talented and on top of their game as you are. Do not expect an easy time just because you’re good. Being good isn’t good enough. You have to be better.


P.S. Writing is hard.

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