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"... GIVEAWAY: JM is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.
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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 JMTohline.com.

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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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Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
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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