Is it me?


I'm a long time writer with zero publishing credits. Even though I've written a dozen novels, none of them seem to interest the agent or publishing industry very much. I don't write according to industry standards, and I don't follow the crowd on what's hot and what isn't. I'm what you would call a 'rogue' writer. I write what I like to write, and I'm damned good at it.

But every time I submit a query for one of many of my completed book projects, I get back the usual rejection letter--telling me that it's not right for them, or they are full, or (here's my favorite line): "Hope you can find an enthusiastic agent for your work."

What's the hang-up? Am I supposed to follow the industry in order to get published these days? Or what?

Well, I'm not sure what you mean by "follow the industry". The industry is pretty big: 175,000 books were published last year, and more than half were adult trade books of some kind.

If you've only queried a few agents on each book, that's like wondering why you can't get a date if you only ask out supermodels. Widen the pool.

If you've queried 12 novels to more than 50 agents and all you get back is a form letter that says "we're full", "not right for us", chance are you aren't darn good at writing.

If you've not availed yourself of a critique group, or a writing conference, I'd suggest doing so. Run your stuff through the crapometer.

Just saying "I'm good but the sucky industry doesn't recognize my talent" is overwrought hyperbole and delusional. Wake up. Smell the coffee.


Schuyler Thorpe said...

Miss Snark: I've done everything that's been required and requested of me, over the years, but the results have been the same.

I wouldn't have an editor at this point, if my writing sucked the Big One.

However, I'm not throwing a hissy fit and crying about it, but the "wall" I'm running into seems to point to the possibility that my work is "unrepresentable" to the industry at large.

I found that I could make as many changes as I wanted to the book(s) in question, but nothing done so far to do date, would interest them in the least.

I recently wrote a much smaller novel than the ones I'm used to writing on a bi-yearly basis--thinking that I had a better shot (this is based on a suggestion from one the writer's/critique groups I belong to), but I quickly discovered, even THAT didn't herald a faster representation.

And tho' the percentage of rejections decreased a bit at the onset, overall, it changed nothing in the long run.

Simply put, even writing a shorter novel will gain you representation.

Anonymous said...

schuyler, do you read it after you write it?

Anonymous said...

Twelve unpublished novels and still writing. I am in awe. I hope this person reports in the comments how many agents he/she has queried . . .

Anonymous said...

Schuyler, lose about 85% of the adverbs, and try the verb "said." Ventured, wondered, etc--get rid of them. That's a start, at least.

Anonymous said...

"'But?' Schuyler ventured, piqued curiosity laced in her voice."

IMHO, you should rewrite this sentence, for one, before submitting to any agents.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Schulyer -

Just my humble opinion - but your options seem pretty simple. If your goal is to write, then you are doing a damn fine job. Congrats on your twelve tomes.

If your commitment is to be the 'cutting-edge artist not understood in her time', then you can probably relax there, too. Your twelve novels prove that you can produce in spades and that you have your own viewpoint and voice.

But if your primary goal is to be published and you have already observed that you are roque-ishly writing outside of 'the norm' - why not challenge yourself by writing something that is within those 'industry standards'you've identified?

Maybe you're feeling stuck because your commitments have changed...

Anonymous said...

Schuyler, Hi!

(anon #2, he's a dude)

Find a new group. I know your group, and they're not helping. In fact, I think they're hurting. "Rah-rah, that's so good, self-publish, man, it's the new way!"

You need to look for folks who will be honest, and who actually know what they're talking about.

Anonymous said...

Schulyer, I linked over to your blog and found Chapter 72. I did a quick scan and other than your punctuation is off, you use too many adverbs, don't use said most of the time for attribution, and the MC seems to be you, I couldn't find anything amiss with it. [j/k on couldn't see anything wrong with it.]

Seriously, those four things are enough to turn me off the story before I can find out if the plot and characters are worth considering.

Stacia said...

Perhaps the problem is your query letter? If you write lines in it about how good you are, or how rogue you are, or how your crit group really liked it (common mistakes, not saying you've committed any of them), that could be a big part of the problem, since it sounded like you're not even getting partial requests.

Alex said...

Schuyler, dialog is formed like so:

"I am a good writer," he said, "but nobody will publish me."

Not like this:

"I am a good writer." He said unconvincingly.

Stacia said...

Ah, OK. I just checked your blog. Ditto to needin g some good editing. Eyebrows don't raise of their own accord, and people don't "toot" speech or softly intone words.

The story seems intriguing, and I hope I don't sound harsh. Find yourself a good crit partner or group. Trim the fat. Don't give up.

Alex said...

Also, blaming the "industry" because they won't publish you is frankly narcissistic. Considering the abundance and breadth of publishing houses, it is silly to talk of an "industry standard." The only standard is that you write something 1. well, and 2. at least somewhat original.

Anonymous said...


I took a peek at your excerpt on your blog, and I think I know what the problem is. You need to work on your writing. There are too many adverbs and dialogue tags that are awkward, such as 'echoed' instead of said, and adverbs all over the place, so that they really stick out.

The best suggestion I have for you, is to stop writing for a bit, and read more. Read widely in the genre you are writing in, and really pay attention to how the best books are built. Deconstruct them, chapter by chapter, so you get a sense of the underlying structure, and the way the sentences themselves are built. I can almost guarantee you will see far fewer adverbs.

Good Luck!

Alex said...

In the first chapter, you write: "He promised her then that this would only take a couple of hours at most and he would be back in quick fashion."

Publishers are rejecting you because you're overwriting. It would be much easier to say "he would be back soon." "In quick fashion" sounds like it's trying really hard to be erudite, but in the end it's just unnatural and clunky.

Anonymous said...

Twelve completed books, and nothing published, and still going! You're a hero, man.
But maybe that's the problem. You've found your place in the world and it's called: Unpublished Hero. You don't want to give it up.

Maybe you need to commit to something new like, Good Writer. The people on this post have been kind enough to show you the way. You can do it.

Anonymous said...

Ditto to what everyone has said. The dialogue tags, my lord, the adverbial dialogue tags! I strongly second the suggestion that you should stop trying to churn out two books a year and spend more time reading well-reviewed books in your chosen genre. As a starting point, may I suggest:

Anonymous said...

Like others are saying, you need to use "said" instead of "sought to point out" and things like that.

"Blah, blah, blah," Kayla sought to point out.


Jo Bourne said...

Hi Schuyler -

You obviously have a drive to create. You're willing to work hard.
But you have not mastered the basics of your craft.

Find someone to teach you. There are many places on the web where you can find writing advice. Your local college may have courses. Ask folks to point you toward books they have found useful.

On the web, I suggest you try these four places --

-- Compuserve Books and Writers Forum
-- Forward Motion Writer's Community
-- Orson Scott Card's Writing Class
--Poynter Online, 50 Writing Tools

They are found at --





Do I get to recommend these?
Anyway ... I do.


Mark said...

Yeah, adverbs and such. I couldn't get to the storyline. He used "subjecated" correctly so I learned something.

Anonymous said...

"Self editing for Fiction Writers" and "The Elements of Style" should be on your shelf. Read them. Sleep with them under your pillow.

Anonymous said...

I want to add Critique Circle (CC) at http://www.critiquecircle.com/default.asp to the list of places you can find good advice. Bear in mind, the advice is only as good as you're willing to accept and digest.

I participate in this group and have found them invaluable. I hope this isn't the naughty group who've given you bad advice. *gulp*

Jude Hardin said...


All the comments here are spot on. You might want to consider an editor-for-hire. Pick what you consider to be your best work and pay to have it edited. That way it will be easy to look at your other novels and see where you've gone wrong. Lorin Oberwerger is excellent, and she won't take you for a ride.


Learning to self-edit is the best, of course, but an editor-for-hire might give you a boost in the right direction.

Dave Kuzminski said...

My first twenty (yes, 20) are still in the trunk. Over a million words in all those.

Alex said...

To mark:

"Subjecated" is not a word. "Subjugated" is a word, but it wouldn't make sense in that context.

McKoala said...

'Unpublished Hero' - what a great title.

Anonymous said...

Schuyler, yes, it's you. If you're unable to admit that, you won't get far.

Take the comments left here. All of them point out flaws that can be fixed.

If a casual reader is distracted by the adverbs and dialog tags, think what an agent or publisher must think.

We're too close to our writing to see it objectively - even when we think we're being objective.

The advice given has been kind. Take it and see where it leads your writing.

Anonymous said...

KY, fangs glistening, manages to separate one from the herd, then the rest of the pack closes in for the kill...

I'm reminded here of the old adage that an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters would eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare. Of course, that wouldn't be the first thing they'd write...

Actually I also did click over to your blog for a quick look, and I have to say you do indeed subvert the industry standards (grammar, punctuation, style, dialogue, etc.) I can clearly see that you are indeed damned good at writing what you want to write. Next step is to get damned good at writing what other people want to read.

Schuyler, you seem to indicate that you already have an editor. If so, and the work on the blog is post-edit, then you need to fire his sorry ass. Then you need to take heed of all the good and friendly advice offered by the folks here. There's a goldmine of good information in this blog, and the other blogs and sites and books that are recommended by everyone here. It's made a tremendous difference to my own writing.

Reading your stuff, it feels like you just sit down in front of the screen and write. That's great - you've got ideas, you've got energy and you can churn out the words. But when you've typed that last period, you ain't done yet. Go back; read; edit; read again; edit again; leave it a while; read again; edit again... You're writing for therapy - learn to write for an audience.

Not trying to shoot you down, but if you want to get published, listen; and get with at least some of the industry standards.

Got to go, coffee's brewing...


Anonymous said...

I'd also like to throw in a vote for the site Critique Circle. It's done wonders for me. Great solid advice!

Anonymous said...

Last anonymous tried to provide a link to Critique Circle using html code, but this blog site inserted its own prefix, so the link won't work. It's located at http://www.critiquecircle.com

Copy and paste this url into the address line of your browser.

You can also google Critique Circle and find the link that way.

I can't say enough good about Critique Circle. I made many of the same punctuation errors when I started, but have since learned the rules. People there can be blunt, but are almost always helpful (there's always the occassional jerk, but they are as rare on that site as on this one).

Aso, by way of encouragement, CC came in first for Writer's Work Shop in the same Preditors and Editors poll that this site placed first for Writer's Forum and Writer's Resource.

Good luck, I hope to see you there.

Anonymous said...

You need to step back.

I suggest you search for a fresh experience, such as writing reviews for a magazine or newspaper. If you learn that different forms of writing require different techniques, you will understand that a published novel is a product. As such, it must meet industry standards: the buttons and zippers must function.

Good luck!

Julia said...

Kill the adverbs, before they can breed.

Anonymous said...

Julia, you're closing the barn door after the horse has already galloped away.

Linda said...

I got through chapters one and two, probably more than an agent or editor would give you. I have absolutely no idea what the story is about.

I have two characters. I have a hint that their world used to be the United States, but something happened and the Constitution is now just a legend. I know Kayla's attracted to the guy. But that's it. I have no clue what's going on.

Withholding information from the reader can seem like a way to keep them reading and build suspense. But what actually happens is the reader gets confused and stops reading.

I also noticed that your most recent chapter is chapter 72. I suspect your word count is going to be way over the count most editors are willing to buy from a first-time novelist. And in reading, I can see lots of places you can make it more concise.

The last comment I have is that the story seems unfocused. I think you're confusing the reader because you're writing organically, but you don't have a strong enough sense of the story before you started writing. I know three pro writers who don't outline, but rather write organically. They all spend a lot of time working the story out in their heads before they start writing. The difference between the pros I know who do outline and the ones I know who don't is that the outliners write down the thoughts more formally than the nonoutliners. The main thing they all have before they put a word on the page is a strong sense of the story they want to tell. I don't see that in what I've read of your work.

I hope this is helpful to you. :)


Anonymous said...

Schuyler: I went over to your blog and took a look at your piece. I am an editor with a small publishing company and I have to agree with the comments here.

Get serious about revising and editing your story. Work so that you can sell a book and forget about being a rebel, because it's not going to help your career.

Mark said...

"Subjecated" is not a word. "Subjugated" is a word, but it wouldn't make sense in that context.

I found used at a number of sources so I figured it was a specialized term. It was early in the day though so. But yes subjugated is the word. He has a lot of company in this fictional word usage. You're right.

Mark said...

Yeah, he should have used "sequestered" or the like. This what I get for giving credit, oh so rare anyway, and in this case invalid.

Sean Lindsay said...

It's possible that agents/editors aren't getting past the query letter for your current work, if said letter includes the phrases "the Neos" and "Mother Control Matrix".

Most readers' pop culture radar is going to beep at any science fiction story which uses "Matrix" and "Neo".

At best, you'll surely be told to change these terms to avoid the whiff of copyright infringement. At worst, agents/editors will assume it's fan fiction, and not even open it.

Maria said...

One of the cruelest parts of writing, is that in the name of time and kindness, agents/editors/friends don't give feedback at all...this website gives it out in spades. While it may come across as cruel, it's one of those cases where it's probably the kindest thing that can happen--if you're looking to improve.

Anonymous said...

Sound comments here. I toss in my own agreement. One other thing the writing lacks is a sense of character. There was no Point of View. It so easy to slip into passive writing when there isn't a tight focus on point of view--lots of telling going on, but no showing.

Unknown said...

Perhaps we're all just talking amongst ourselves now? I'm afraid we've lost Schuyler...this may have felt a bit like a feeding frenzy with a lot of strangers as sharks and Schuyler as the surfer caught unaware...

Schuyler, we're well-intentioned sharks...promise...

Anonymous said...

Dave Kuzminski--hey, 20 novels, a million words, in the trunk?

Wow. Of course, if I recall, that was exactly Hemingway's advice on how to learn to write: Write a million words.

Good for you!