Your Job Is To Write, Not Worry

Two summers ago, I landed a literary agent for my novel, The Great Lenore. A short time later, she submitted the manuscript to editors at HarperCollins and St. Martin’s Press – each of whom she had a close working relationship with. She was excited when she sent the manuscript their way. She was excited as we awaited their responses.

Each editor came back to her within a week: “We love the premise of the story. We love the writing. But … we’re just not sure it has enough commercial appeal.”

(What writing credentials will impress an agent or editor?)


Guest column by J.M. Tohline, author of The Great Lenore, a
work of literary fiction, which you can find in those places where
you find books – you know, those bookstore thingies that
seem to be rapidly disappearing. You can hang out with
JM Tohline at


About six months after that, a series of incidents in my agent’s life/agency caused her to minimize her operation – and I was left in the cold as an agent orphan. While making my way through the whole “search for an agent” process again, I came in contact with Atticus Books – a tremendous small press from the D.C. area.

In time, Atticus Books requested the manuscript, and after reading it, they returned to me with this: We love the premise of the story. We love the writing. But…we’re concerned it might be a bit too commercial for a literary audience.

Too literary…

Not literary enough…

Atticus Books decided to take the risk and cross their fingers, hoping the book would appeal to both audiences (instead of missing right down the middle). The Great Lenore has been in stores for a few months now, and not by a long shot has every eventual review rolled in – but so far, those who love literature have found that they love the book. And those who prefer commercial fiction (or who do not read often at all) have found that they love the book.

(Never open your novel with a dream — here’s why.)

Am I laying some serious weight on my own horn here? Not at all (after all, there will certainly be readers who do not care for The Great Lenore, as every reader has unique tastes). I am simply wanting to paint a picture for each of you who labels yourself: Aspiring Author.

You will run up against many detractors. You will run up against many who sow seeds of doubt. These people are not being mean – they are simply doing their job. Publishers are not supposed to see everything about a story that “works”; they are supposed to see everything that might potentially make a story not work. Agents are supposed to do the same thing. But just because an agent or publisher tells you something won’t work does not mean they are right.

Look at all the tales of immensely famous and popular writers who were told their story would not work. Or, look at writers who have been pumped up by publishing houses and even by big-time reviewers, but who have failed to connect with any semblance of an audience.

Why? Because no one truly knows. Until your book is released at last, there is no telling how readers will react. And until that time, your job is to keep writing. Keep working hard. Keep having faith.

Your job is not to worry about what everyone says. Your job is not to change your style in order to please others. When potential negatives in your manuscript are pointed out by an agent or publisher, listen. But take it with a grain of salt.

Remember: No one truly knows! Your job is to write well. And as long as you keep doing your job, the rewards are sure to follow.

(How do you make money writing articles for magazines?)


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Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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61 thoughts on “Your Job Is To Write, Not Worry

  1. mlnuttgill

    I remember this book and waiting for it to come out, even posted it to Facebook. Something Tohline wrote then stuck with me, so I contacted him. I can tell you he means what he wrote at the beginning of his novel, he loves to hear from you, he responds. His writing voice is unforgettable. I’m so glad he was published. I love Lit-Comm ( my own description). It tells a great story without talking down to you. No formulas, just good writing. Let’s hope more will continue to be published.

  2. andrea

    This was inspiring. I am an undergraduate writer and I have my work criticized on the regular basis. The criticism is conflicting, as you mentioned on yours, and generally personal preference and I have come to disregard much of it because there are those couple of people who really understand my writing and my style. Its people like those and successful writers like you that reaffirm my confidence in my skill and that I am making the right career choice. Even if I didn’t receive any support, there’s nothing else I could do that would bring me as much peace and normalcy as writing.

  3. Texasdutchie

    I am thankful to not be at that stage yet. I am prepared however because I have heard this version from fellow writers before. As a writer, you can try to write and craft your work as best as you can but ultimately, it all depends on very subjectivce variables. Preconceived notions. Someone having a bad day. The story does not appeal on an emotional level no matter how well written. I will keep that in mind once it’s my turn to receive those rejection letters and/or comments. Like the rest of so many others, I’ll be sure to claim paying my dues while hoping someone will walk into the office with a spring in her or his step, waiting to read just my story! [s]

  4. ramblesphere

    Thanks for this pep-talk. I’ve printed out an excerpt to post right near my workspace, to silence that ridiculous voice in my head that tries to convince me it can read the minds of agents, publishers, and my future readership alike. This is a good reminder to just write the best, most authentic book I’m capable of.

  5. Lynn

    Thank god there are still people out there that are down to earth and just tell it like it is. I agree whole heartedly with the article and can relate. I hope your book does well. I studied the publishing side for a year just to understand the way they work. Now as I work on my novel I am more comfortable knowing how it may or may not turn out. Thank you for being honest.

  6. S. A. Tudhope

    J.M., thank you for sharing. I agree, a definite breath of fresh air. It’s always wonderful to know we aren’t alone. It’s so true that if we don’t go after what we want, we’ll never get it. Taking the first step is essential or we will always be in the same place. Keep writing!

    Chuck…always wonderful hearing you talk. Another gush of fresh air!!!

    I’m breathing good.

  7. elizabeth park

    I am intrigued by the combination of literary and commercial, Edith Wharton or Nora Roberts … as well as the premise of the novel, mostly — Wouldn’t we all like to know?…. Best Wishes, Elizabeth


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