It’s half-past midnight and I should be in bed. Instead, I’m listening to the new cat Mouse acquired chasing a toy which involves a ping-pong ball on a plastic track in the bathroom and considering my next moves.
Yesterday was the third-quarter edition of Pitch Madness on Twitter. Like so many hopeful authors of all stripes and genres, I put together a pitch and threw myself on the mercy of the literary gods. For those who aren’t familiar, #PitMad is a chance for writers to catch the eyes of literary agents in a mere 280 characters, minus the requisite tags to explain what sort of story they’ve written, the genre and that they are in fact playing in the PitMad sandbox. Likes on #PitMad Tweets are, at least in theory, reserved for agents and publishers.
To my surprise and delight, I got almost fifty retweets on my entry for Adeptus. To my mild chagrin, I only received one like–from someone who is neither an agent nor a publisher, or an “industry professional” as many put it, a label which frankly puzzles me because anyone who has managed or is working toward making the written word their sole or primary profession is by definition an “industry professional.” The fact I don’t currently have Jim Butcher, Mercedes Lackey and Donald Maass on speed dial proves exactly nothing except that our rolodexes or modern-day equivalents have yet to align.
This now makes the third time I’ve participated in #PitMad since completing Adeptus, and the second time in a row I’ve received no bites or interest from industry professionals. The temptation, of course, is to look at the writers who did receive likes and thus presumably invitations to submit their manuscripts for deeper scrutiny with a mixture of awe and disgust, and ask the poignant yet pointless question,
“What do they have that I don’t?”
I’m sure a huge majority of the puppies at the pound who didn’t get considered for a forever home today pondered this question, with varying degrees of joy for our fellows and irritation on our own behalf. I’m equally sure a smaller but nevertheless statistically significant proportion walked away from Twitter after twelve hectic hours of frenetic page refreshes every two seconds to five minutes exhausted and beaten. Many were doubtless bound for the bar, the bathtub or to blubber into the shoulder of a significant other or the fur of a cherished pet while contemplating the relative benefits of slinging Big Macs as a main source of income. I mean, clearly I/you/they failed, right?
It doesn’t make us bad people, per se; it just makes us people. But, for the tally books, let me tell you what their manuscripts and pitches have that mine, or yours, or the other guy’s/gal’s/gender-indeterminate other person’s, didn’t have.
NOTHING. AT ALL. WHATSOEVER.
“But…but…but…but J.S.! They got likes and requests for partials or requests for fulls or sent contracts just for showing up! I’m just a big fat failure.”
First, no, they didn’t. They worked just as hard as you or I did on their pitches. I can almost assure you no agent or publisher said, “Please let me represent/pay you gobs of money for 110,000 words of what may be absolute dreck on the strength of two hundred sixty characters, give or take ten.”
Second, the pitch is only the first waypoint in their climb. A whole lot of your fellow authors are only going to wind up scaling the summit of a middling tall hill, never mind anything resembling an actual mountain. They still have to face all the numerous hurdles between “We want to read the rest of it,” “Here’s your contract,” “Here’s your advance” and “Here’s your final payout on the advance plus your contractually mandated author copies.” (And as someone who’s been there, that can be a goddamn long climb!)
Third, no, you’re not a failure. One RT or 100, one like or 100, if you didn’t even get one of these, you’re STILL not a failure. And I’m going to give you a list of reasons why, if you’re not already tempted to dash the contents of your glass, bottle or bathtub in my face because what the hell could I possibly know about it?
1. YOU WROTE A BOOK!
If I had a nickel for every person I’ve ever been introduced to who, upon hearing I’m a writer, got a wistful look and said, “I want to write a book, but…” followed by a lengthy list of VERY GOOD REASONS why they simply don’t have the time, I’d be in a financial position to buy and sell Elon Musk half a dozen times before I’d properly consumed my morning caffeine tomorrow. If I had a dime for every person I’ve met who started a book and never finished it, I’d be able to buy a commanding majority interest in Apple.
And if I had a quarter for every person I’ve met who finished a book and never did anything with it beyond the fact of completing it, I’d be able to buy a chunk of Texas about 1.1 times the size of New York City, or just slightly smaller than San Diego, CA(!).
You’ve already beaten these odds. YOU WROTE A BOOK all the way to The End. That’s something to be proud of all on its own.
2. You put yourself out there.
Putting yourself out there vis a vis anything is hard. It often feels a whole lot like Scotch-taping a “Kick Me” sign you wrote yourself to your back and then parading it around like you haven’t a care in the world the morning of your very first day at a new school. Oh…and you forgot or chose not to put on your pants, so your underwear is hanging out for all the world to see.
When it’s your writing, it’s even worse. Every letter you wrote, every word you chose or ignored, every sentence fragment or colloquialism in those pages, the spelling choices you made, is another brick of evidence against you, speaking to your education, intelligence, upbringing, attention to detail, politics, attitudes about life and everything in it, etc. You’re literally telling on yourself with every word you write. And THEN you go onto social media, or to your agent, or to Amazon, and proudly display this thing you’ve mashed together from several dozen sources you can’t even remember you knew and maybe ten you do…and once again, your underwear is hanging out for all the world to see.
And you know what that makes you?
A BADASS. Because you did the thing. You wrote a book. You finished a book. And you showed the world your book. Even if you made an ugly kid (maybe you did and maybe you didn’t, and no one likes to think they made an ugly kid), it’s YOUR kid, by all the gods above, below and in between. You made that from YOUR blood, sweat and tears; from YOUR knowledge and research; from the idea gangbang YOUR brain had with however many different sources and influences it took for your fertile imagination to get knocked up by this thing which, after weeks and months of inspiration and perspiration and exasperation, is now YOURS and you put it, and yourself, out there. You’re a badass. Own that shit.
3. No one knows what’s “hot.”
After three PitMads in a row, I’ve noticed two genres always seem to do particularly well.
YA/MG/NA: I’m grouping these together because the lines are often so blurry as to defy neat categorization into this or that pigeonhole, and thus are largely in the eye of the beholder. But books targeted toward the younger set are unlikely to stop being hot anytime soon, because of The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc. Bonus points for LGBT, “representative” or “own voices” material.
Romance: C’mon, people. The romance genre is responsible for fully half of the income publishing realizes. Is it any surprise that books running the gamut from sweet, kissing-on-page-and-naughty-bits-implied-behind-closed-doors to kinked-out peppermint involving multiple committed partners and all the bits and pieces you could possibly want right there in the open are popular among readers and thus, agents and publishers? Bonus points for LGBT, “representative” or “own voices” material.
Following these are sci-fi/fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, and a muddle of everything else. Bonus points for LGBT, “representative” or “own voices” material, of course. If you’re not in one of the “big two,” you’re behind the curve from the outset and thus your pitch has to be stronger than the average right off the bat to have a shot.
Does that mean you should rewrite your story so it’s an LGBT “representative” “own voices” NA romance? Certainly not! Maybe YOUR specific story might benefit from that treatment, but that doesn’t make it right for every story, every agent, publisher or reader. If you try to fit a square peg into a star-shaped hole with pandering, it’s going to show–and you, and your work, deserve better than that. Still, it’s hard to deny if you’ve got those elements in play, you’re more likely to draw attention.
Still, though, no one knows what “the next big thing” will be. Stephen King was passed up over forty times before he got his first break. J.K. Rowling’s agent sent Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (its original UK title) to thirteen publishers before The Boy Who Lived exploded into the global consciousness. Everyone’s looking, and no one knows where or what it will be. It could be on your hard drive right now!
SO WHAT COMES NEXT?
Well, obviously you could traipse back into the writing cave, determined to rework your manuscript and pitch until they gleam so brightly the astronauts on the ISS can see them from space. You could give the whole thing up as a bad job, trot down to the corner McDonald’s and ask for an application, reserving writing as a hobby you turn to in hopes of warding off existential ennui bordering on abject depression. You could go the traditional route, querying agents and publishers and hoping for the best, knowing your odds are only marginally better knocking on semi-random doors than doing PitMad. You could self-publish, which gives you maximum control and input over every aspect of the book and its marketing (without any buffer or cushion, because you’re financing all of it and if it tanks, your wallet’s the one taking the deep hit).
I can’t tell you what to do. I don’t have any universally applicable advice for you as to what your next steps with your writing ought to be, because I’m not you, sitting in your shoes. I don’t know your life, your struggles, your assets and debits. So it’s not down to me, sitting somewhere on the West Coast of North America at 2am with my own struggles, triumphs, demons and joys gibbering and capering in the shadows around me, to tell you, wherever you are, all about your life.
What I can tell you, though, is what I intend to do next.
For the next couple of days, I’m going to wait to see if Adeptus gets any love from agents or publishers. This has happened before, and so it’s worth a few days of my time to hold off before I make any sweeping decisions. If it doesn’t go anywhere, then I may very well decide to go the self-publishing route, which would mean Adeptus will be hitting virtual bookshelves around the globe around Christmas.
In the interim, I’m going to work on a WIP currently code-named Steampunk Western Thing, hereinafter and on social media to be referred to as SWT for the sake of my sanity and doing my poor, carpal-tunnel-ridden wrists a solid. I’m going to try a few new recipes out and make some refinements to existing ones.
I’m going to play with Stormy, the new cat. I’m going to go on a bicycle trail ride with Mouse and a couple of friends. I’m going to do some client work, drink some whiskey and otherwise have fun and live my life.
But I’m not going to give up.
Because just like everyone else who put themselves out there for PitMad yesterday, I’m a badass.
And giving up isn’t what badasses do.
Until next time,