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  • Karen Frost

The Worst Part of Writing

Everyone has read a story like this: first time author submits her manuscript to 20 literary agents, 10 come back asking for the full manuscript, five fight to the death for the right to represent it to the major publishing houses, and the author somehow lands on the New York Times Bestseller list. The author who has achieved this impossible scenario shrugs modestly. "I just got lucky, I guess."

I guess? I don't know, maybe they have a magic amulet or a magic lamp or something. Just because I can't prove it doesn't mean they don't.

For those who don't know, the mainstream publishing industry works like this: you write your novel, then you go on the Manuscript Wish List to find a literary agent to represent the novel (aka try to sell it to a major publisher). The number of literary agents is limited, and they're extremely selective about what manuscripts they select (they want to bet on winners; this is their livelihood, after all). To help authors understand what agents to query, the agents list what sort of manuscripts they want to represent. In recent years, LGBTQ content has been hot, hot, hot. Everyone claims to want it. So why are there at least seven independent lesbian publishing companies? Shouldn't all the queer content have been snatched up already? Okay, that was rhetorical, but here's the thing about querying literary agents: Even when you think you're sending them exactly what they want--like LGBT content--the process is SOUL CRUSHING. Today I sent a query letter to an agent who was looking for diverse, women-centric historical fiction with fantasy elements (aka "Lady Adventurers Club" in a nutshell). I figure I'll have my rejection in a week or two.

For me, writing a book is easy. I don't get writer's block, I don't struggle to think of scenes or fill word count. But querying is where I struggle. That's because querying is deeply depressing--you either get rejection email after rejection email or you get a profound and unbroken silence. Neither feels good. In fact, both feel totally awful and make you never want to do it again, which is doubtless in part why self-publishing has grown exponentially in the last years. You don't have to query if you self-publish on Amazon.

So why am I writing about this today, complaining to the Internet about an experience that most authors have had? Because first of all, anyone planning on becoming the next Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, etc., should know what they're getting into. Second, it's very lonely. So thanks for listening to today's rant, and tomorrow I'll get up my courage to send out a few more query letters. Because sucky as it is, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

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