Discouraged--was I disillusioned or did I get greedy?

I’ve been browsing these boards for a couple weeks now, and I see you guys are no strangers to personal advice threads, and being the brilliant minds you are, I hoped you could give me some insight into my situation. I think I already know the answers, but you know as well as I that it’s always nice to hear it from someone else too.

You should know up front that I’m just a whippersnapper (18), and no, this isn’t an “Oh my god, my life is over!!!1!1!1!” thread, but I do think I need a bit of a reality check (which is where you guys come in).

The scenario is as follows:

So I graduated last July, and thus was on my way into the “real” world. The university/college path quickly fell to pieces that summer, as the university I was intent on going to was bought up by a bigger one, and the programs were changed considerably into something I wasn’t interested in. I browsed for other schools, and sort-of settled on a digital arts school, but within months changed my mind. It wasn’t really what I was after, and it was far, far too expensive as a time killer until I could figure out what I wanted to do.

So with university as a no-go for now, the next logical step is work, right? There’s where the real problem started.

Now, I’m not a lazy guy. I’m not a motivated “up and at them!” go-getter, but when something grabs me, I grab it and don’t let go. I think I’m very all-or-nothing in that sense. I don’t fiddle with the details, instead going right for the jugular. With that in mind, you can probably understand why I was extremely opposed to flipping burgars or playing punching bag at a retail outlet. For a kid that has virtually no resume and no post-high school education, there are few other options than that, but in addition to being all-or-nothing, I’m also stubborn as hell, and no amount of yelling, coaxing or deal-making with my parents could budge me into getting off my ass and getting a minimum wage job. I didn’t see the point and I certainly didn’t want to be bored half to death in the process. It’s not like my family is poor, so my getting a job is more princeple than supportive.

So a little bit of back and forth battling (during which I did make a few bucks tagging along with my dad to work now and then), my mom finally squeezed an answer out of me:

Her: “Well, what the hell are you going to do if you don’t get a job?”
Me: “I have no idea. Write a book?”

It sort of came to me at the time, but I’d be lying if I said I’d never given it any thought before that. I should note here that I’m the creative type, and writing is basically my gift. It’s the one thing above all else I can do well.

So I wrote a book. Took me four weeks to finish of 60 000 words (about 200 pages) of a novel about an average high school kid that goes nuts. It was good. Damn good, if I may say so myself. It’s exactly the type of novel/story I love: Lines blurred between good and evil, darkly poetic and an intense, vivid main character character. I know I sound like I’m just tooting my own horn, but dammit, I think it’s worth a good tootin’!

That was back in October. Four weeks ago (Feb. 2nd) I sent out my query letters to potential literary agents, drawn from a book all about this sort of thing. Standard practice involves sending out a bunch of letters all at once, but I skimmed the book for agents that 1) Accepted query letters through e-mail (so I didn’t have to break the bank with snail-mail costs) and 2) Dealt in at least the thriller/suspense genres, with horror as an added bonus. There were only eight agents in total, out of hundreds, that met that criteria. Eight is nothing when it comes to these things. I should have coughed up the money for stamps and printing costs and snail-mailed letters out to at least 20 or 30, but I felt lucky.

It’s four weeks later now, and nothing. Four weeks is the standard time limit for first response. Three addresses came back as dead, three came back with “We’re not interested at this time” and the other two I haven’t heard from, which means there’s a 99.9999% chance I won’t hear from them.

Needless to say, I’m a little discouraged right now. Remember when I said I’d go for the jugular? I thought I had, and now… zip! I tried to really cash in on my god-given talent, and came up with nothing.

I suppose the smart thing to do at this point is invest the money in stamps, envelopes and printing of samples, go through the book again and send out a large barrage of mail, but I can’t help but feel a little rejected. These people didn’t even want to read a sample. The last two guys, the ones I really felt matched my style the most, didn’t even reply. I kept thinking, every time a rejection came up, “Well, that’s ok, because my main guys are still in the running”.

Am I jumping the gun a bit? Is it ludicrous to feel down because a small fraction of possible agents didn’t latch on to my idea? Or was I too arrogant and greedy in trying to bypass the “paying my dues” portion of life, instead going right for the career and trying for an easy, enjoyable life off the bat? Should I have started small and maybe tried writing and publishing into my late twenties or thirties like everyone else? I must say I’m dreading the next little while, because the only thing between me and “Would you like fries with that?” was this damned book, and now I have no alternative to grovelling for eight bucks an hour, except maybe a miracle and/or some clever fast-talk on my part.

So instill me with words of advice, wisdom or just give me a good, ol’ fashioned verbal (or textual, I guess) motivational ass-whooping.

Go read some Spider Robinson forewords, a bright young kid who took awhile to get published himself. I wound up in the same situation when I was 18 and drifted in and out of retail, real estate, sales and help desk before I found out what I was good at. I’m 26 now, married and 3 kids and make a pretty decent living as an application designer/programmer. What I want to get across is that although I spent a lot of time in shit jobs just making money in order to survive, I was able to turn a hobby/interest into a career for myself. In a nutshell, don’t give up writing just because you need to support yourself, despite what you said about siezing the day. You still need to eat. You should also not hang your potential future on a first effort… keep writing and submit whatever you have, polish your stuff and eventually you may be able to support yourself with it.

If you can write a book in 4 weeks you can and should write another one.

If you think you can make a living at writing you need to write and write a lot. You get better with practice.

you sent out letters to eight people? Lawrence Block talks about sending to eight hundred people before getting published. From what he and others say, it’s a combination of talent and luck - even the best writer needs luck because, well, there’s a lot of other novels getting submitted. Find a day job, practice writing, keep submitting, and maybe you’ll get lucky.

You may want to try contacting a literary agent - someone who will take a percentage, not someone who you need to pay. You can also try to find some writing support groups - there are a few on-line. They may be able to give a more objective critique. Finally, set it aside and work on something else. In a few months, pick it up again. I need to set a work down to edit it. Good luck.

8 tries is WAY too low a number. Keep trying.

8? I have a file folder with over 40 rejection letters from agents. I’ve written 3 books, none published. I’m a quite talented writer, if I do say so myself, and I’m slowly getting more and more published works. I made $2,200 in writing work last year, and that’s the most I’ve made in one year yet. My goal is to double that this year.

Welcome to the really real world. If you want to be a writer, you need as much perserverance as you do skill. And no small measure of luck. If you get discouraged after only eight rejections (And it’s not even that; 4 weeks isn’t even close to enough time to consider the unanswered ones rejections. Worry after 10 weeks), you’ll never make it.

Oh, and let’s assume you sold that book tomorrow. Don’t expect to get any money for a while. You need to get a job while you write.

From http://www.hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/faqs5.html#5

I recommend you read this FAQ forward and backward.

Getting published is 50% talent, 30% perserverance, 20% luck. Getting published well is about 80% luck, 20% talent.

I’m curious to know how much time you spent editing your book. What about the query you sent out? Was it as perfect as you could make it? Did it sell the idea of the book? Did it have spelling, grammar or punctuation errors? Feel free to post the body of the query here and I’ll critique it for you.

Be warned: I get paid to express my opinion. That’s made me quite…curt…about what I say. If you want constructive criticism, I’ll give it to you. If you want praise, you’ll need to find someone else.

You might consider addressing your book to publishers of fine Young Adult books. The description (however brief) of your book put me in mind of “St. Michael’s Scales” by Neil Connelly. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do.

Being an author is by no means an “easy” way to make a living for most.

I’m sorry for being blunt but I find your refusal to support yourself… appalling. Just because your parents “can” support you doesn’t mean they “must” or even “ought to.”

I have two very talented friends who have been writing for years - like twenty of them. They’ve both been published - short stories, poetry. I’ve read some of their stuff - its as good as a lot of stuff that’s published (neither of them is going to be the next Great American Novelist - but few published authors are even close to THAT). Neither of them has managed to publish a book. Neither of them works - both are supported in their writing habits by their wives and their checks for writing lets them treat their wives to dinner.

My husband used to be a writer - advertising copy, some magazine articles. Its a living - I never had to support him. He didn’t freelance, but did ad agency work.

My recommendation - get yourself enrolled in college. Go into journalism (i.e. advertising) with a creative writing minor. Use the journalism to produce the swill which will enable you to pay the rent when you parents get sick of supporting you (and don’t be surprised if its hard to find someone to pay you to do that - there are lots of writers out there). Use your freetime to follow your passion for creative writing. Hopefully, you’ll get published before you are forty. (Hopefully, today will bring the letter from one of the eight publishers that tells you your book has been accepted, and you are the next S.E. Hinton, but I wouldn’t hold my breath).

My other piece of advice. Marry well - a women with income potential who will indulge you. Its worked for my friends.

Hi. I’m not published (and probably won’t be). I can offer you a trick that will help you gain perspective on your work, though.

  1. Put your manuscript in a drawer carefully.

  2. Pick up a book (doesn’t matter as long as its a different subject).

  3. Read the book & write a paper on it (compare/contrast POV to prior world view, 18th century writers, etc). The subject doesn’t matter. Write the paper.

  4. Edit the paper. Find mistakes, make revisions. Do the stuff that really rips your guts out: re-writing.

  5. When you are satisfied that Prf. Kingsfield would give you an ‘A’ on it, stop work on it and approach ‘the drawer’.

  6. Take out the manuscript, put the paper in the drawer, and read it over like you’ve never read it before. Edit it, correct it, re-write it.

  7. Submit it again, this time to many more places.

  8. If you get only rejections, put it back in the drawer and start another project. (i.e. that manuscript isn’t going to be your break out work. But it might make a nice second or third novel to be released, so keep it. And start a new project that Will be your break-out work.)

I know, I know, it’s ridiculous to feel like this after eight.

I could try that, but my book contains a lot of violence, sexuality and bad language (just like real high school!) so I don’t know how appropriate it would be for the average young adult audience.

No, but it would be a fun way to make a living, which is the name of the game in my eyes.

Yeah, maybe I’ve been a little too belligerent.

I spent a couple of solid weeks editing it, after about a two-month “hands off/cool down” period writing it. It’s a short book, and I’m a pretty speedy reader/writer, so two weeks was all I felt I needed to get it up to par. As for the query letter, would you mind if I pm’ed it to you or e-mailed it to you instead (just to avoid clutter on the boards more than anything else)? I’ll admit the query letter isn’t as strong as I’d hoped, but I felt it was sufficient to sell the book.

And a no-holds-barred opinion is what I’m after, so if you’re willing to take the time, I’d be more than happy to oblige.
As for everyone else, thanks for your advice and wisdom. This is exactly what I was after, and I think I’m going to really try and get my act together :slight_smile:

Take a serious look at the young adult market. In the book I was mentioning, the protagonist is um… mentally disturbed to say the least, convinced he murdered his twin brother in the womb and is now being punished for his sins… he plans to kill himself and take his whole high school with him. It is a very disturbing book.

YA is “allowed” to have sex, violence, abortion, suicide, etc., (although not gratuitous) and often features characters on the cusp of adulthood. Books like the Harry Potter series are called “Intermediate” and contain none of these.

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Others can help you more with the getting published thing. I’ll just add that for practical purposes, 8 is pretty much the same as 0.

Here’s my advice, though (and please don’t take this personally, I’m not trying to be too negative). Get a job. I’m afraid you’re coming off as somewhat spoiled with the raging sense of entitlement you’ve expressed here. Your attitude regarding working for a living is pretty poor. You look down on people that have to ‘grovel for 8 bucks an hour,’ but you’ve done absolutely nothing to show that you’re better than they are, except for noting that you’ve got rich parents who are apparently willing to support your lazy butt.

Getting a book published is a process that takes dedication and a lot of time. I’d suggest making arrangements to support yourself in other ways if you find yourself 5, 6, 10 years down the line still laboring to get your first big break in writing. If you feel like you’re too good to work in an entry level position, go to school and get a degree so you can become qualified for something better. If you don’t feel like doing that, and you’re not willing to start at the entry level and work your way up to a job that you feel is worthy of your talents, then I’d say you’re looking forward to a long future of mooching off your parents, unless you’re able to find a mate that will support you the way they have. As Dangerosa suggests, marrying money is always a good way to go if you’ve got the option. Winning the lottery would also be helpful.

::attempts to keep a straight face::

::Too much effort, breaks down in hysterical laughing heap::

Reality check, sunshine. 4 weeks is NOTHING in publishing time, NOTHING. Email is the worst way to contact a publisher or an agent unless you have a relationship with agent or publisher. Snail mail is the way to go usually. Yes, submitting stuff costs money. You don’t want to know about our phonebill and our postage bill in the last month but there’s 4 manuscripts on about 8 different editors’s desks and they are all out of the slushpile.

Bugger the writing of 60 000 words in record time. How much editing did you do? Is the ms impeccable? Have you identified where it fits in the market? If this is such a unique piece of work that you think it’s hard to find a publisher for it, why do you think an agent is going to touch it? Why will this book sell and who is going to buy it?

If the ms is as edgy as you think (and how many other YA novels have you read while doing market research?), then if you are serious about being published or getting an agent, write something tamer. I’m serious. It’s rare for edgy work to be published in YA lit by a newcomer unless they are truly extraordinary. You get the edgier stuff published more easily when you have a name.

It’s tough in this industry. It’s tough selling books and it’s even tougher making a living. Most of us flip burgers to fund us doing what we really want or tutor part time or do whatever it takes to support ourselves. Or marry well as Dangerosa suggested.

those dreary little min. wage jobs will give you great characters for your book. if you can find one…like say parking lot attendant, or night clerk; the job will give you down time to write and the people you deal with with will give you plenty of situations and characters for your book.

If you live in any sort of tourist town, being a motel desk clerk is a great job for writers. It is basically a lot of sitting around by yourself for long stretches of time. All you need is a laptop and you’ll be able to write and get a bit of money (and life experience) at the same time.

Don’t discount life experience. The more people that you meet, and the more adventures you go on, the better a writer you’ll be. Jobs are a great way to do all kinds of crazy stuff, and if you can afford to take a job that sounds like fun instead of being a slave to one just to make money- you are in a great position. I’ve worked at a newspaper, a video rental store, a car parts store and as a Democratic party intern and as a carpenter and I could tell you a million stories about each. My writer friends have worked as day laborers, telemaketers, dot-commers, landscapers, and of course, desk clerks. The things they’ve done and the people they’ve met in these jobs all show up in their writing and improve it greatly.

Yeah, email away. cjharker@mindspring.com. You can also email me the first 5 pages of your novel if you’d like (but please don’t email me the whole thing! I have three others already from my writing class to go through).

Others have said it already–go to college. Or get a few jobs. Going to college will help expose you to some books and ideas you might not have run into otherwise, and will help keep the job you need to support the writing habit a little more tolerable. If you don’t go to college, get a job! Others here are right, the more different things you do and people you meet, the more material it will be for your writing.

Others have already said that four weeks is nothing, and they’re right. I had an editor keep a story of mine for nearly a year one time–I found out later they were changing management at the time, so that probably accounted for it, it probably got shuffled into a drawer or something.

I don’t read much YA, and I write mainly SF, so this may not apply to mainstream–but I’m told first novels are usually about 100K. Your 60K sounds like the right length for YA, but too short otherwise. Now, it may be the perfect length for the story, but it’s something you may want to keep in mind. I think others here are giving you good advice when they tell you to scope out the YA markets.

Since you’ve got the time right now, try hanging out at the library for a few days and checking out the magazines. Find out if any publish the sort of stories you want to write, or find out if any publish stories that you think it might be fun to try to write, and then write as much as you can and send it out. Also look for a critiquing group, like critters (although Critters only does SF/F/H, I’m sure there are other groups like it online). It’s much easier to see problems with someone else’s work than your own, and you’ll benefit from going over other people’s stories as much as from comments others have about yours.

Good luck!

Don’t rely on editing your own work. Before you send it out, you should always get someone ELSE to edit it - preferably someone who really knows what they’re doing. You see, you KNOW what it’s supposed to say, and that may cause you to skip over a mistake without even seeing it. The fact that you banged it out so fast makes it more likely than usual that there may be flaws in it that you’re unable to see because you’re too close.

Also (and as everyone above has said, don’t take this personally) don’t be so sure it’s as brilliant as you think it is. As Annie Dillard says in “The Writing Life” (I’m paraphrasing here), the feeling that something you’ve written is fantastic and the feeling that it is terrible are both feelings to be mistrusted or ignored. Find someone you really trust and let them critique it.

Yes, your expectations were and probably still are ludicrous.

Go get a job and help support yourself. You are not above those of us who work for minimum wage, and work is nothing to scorn or be ashamed of. How much material for good writing are you going to get if you sit at home all the time anyway?

:fights urges to alternately laugh and slap somebody silly: