Thursday, January 28, 2010

And Now We're Alone.

J.D. Salinger died today, as you've certainly heard. On NPR they were asking people what they remembered most about Catcher in the Rye, and the answer was mostly about the voice. They asked about his other writing and what was best remembered was thematic: childhood giving way to mental illness and doom.

I read Catcher in the Rye first, like you do, and went on to read everything Salinger wrote, unless of course the mystical pile of unpublished manuscripts exists. More than voice, I remember the feeling of Catcher in the Rye, the unstoppable emptying out of magic that is the end of childhood. The vague, dull amnesiac horror of approaching adulthood. If nothing else, I knew forever that someone understood.

I'll never read Catcher in the Rye again. Because I don't want that feeling to change. I'm still out there on that cliff, too, and I'm not coming inside. Not even when it gets dark.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Got a care package from home today. Life on the north shore of Kauai ain't exactly roughing it, but there are a few things that can't be had, so my dear mother sends along packages. Today's included a few news clippings about Haiti and such, and then I fished out the last torn square of newsprint and turned it over...

There was a poem for a man who died eleven years ago this month. Frank McConnell, gentleman scholar, professor of English at UCSB. He was a rare genius, an expert in Science Fiction and a biblical scholar. He was married to a woman who already had a young son. They were not married very long when he died, and for the last eleven years on the anniversary of his death she runs a picture of him with a poem in the News-Press. Here is this year's poem:

(As sung by Nancy LaMott)

As I remember him, he had a gentle way.
He was so bright of mind, I can't find words to say.
He turned the darkest day into a world of gold.
He made things younger when they were growing old....

As I remember him, he was a loving man.
I knew it well because where he was, life began.
And though I loved the boy for just a little while,
It was so wonderful. It was so beautiful.
As I remember him, I smile.

Me again... As I remember him, he was a drinker and a smoker, he was round and wore seersucker suits in spring and only got his hair cut every six months or so. He got red in the face when he laughed, and he laughed a lot. He'd stand on the stage in front of three hundred students, light a cigarette, and say "screw 'em, I got tenure." He gave away the trick ending to Citizen Kane to the entire class, because if we hadn't seen it by the time we got to college we deserved what we got. On the class before Halloween, which was always wild at UCSB, he gave us a wonderful talk about being careful, and told us that we were the same person sober or drunk, and to not pour excuses out of bottles.

Frank McConnell was also someone none of us knew. He was someone worthy of a poem in the paper every year. Someone who became a loving dad to a young boy and an adored husband to his wife. Everyone loved the part of him they knew, and we all knew different parts. As wonderful as he was in the lecture hall, and in the pub at the student store afterward, he was, I suspect, more wonderful at home.

That's today's lesson. I didn't invent the idea that nobody knows who anyone else is when they are alone, or in the privacy of their own thoughts. I didn't come up with the statement that every marriage is an unknown but to the two people involved. Every family is a mystery to outsiders. But I want you to think about that when you're writing. Some of the most dramatic, most terrifying, most astonishing writing is not about dead bodies and bombs and alien invasions, it's about what happens when a door closes, shutting out the rest of the world, and your characters are private, even alone. Do not neglect to show your readers that which they rarely see.

Frank, this Heineken's for you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why Reading Annoys Your Family.

Because it causes mental derangement and emotional instability. Also, there are bad parts.

I hope you don't find yourself on Dr. Phil. Unless you're weird in a funny way that I might enjoy. I like hoarders, as a tip, although they are annoying. I also like compulsive shoppers, because they make me feel better about my Walmart ways. The happy fact is that the majority of us won't qualify to join the Mentals of Melrose. We're mostly fine most of the time.

And then we start reading That Book, and it all goes horribly wrong. Which book? That really good book, the theme of which is Everything That Hurts. Not just what hurts the characters, but what hurts the reader.

It might be the book that peels off your carefully-maintained illusions, exposes the hopelessness of your dreams, the pettiness of your pre-conceived notions, or just gets a thumbnail under the scab that covers your childhood. Trivial concerns, certainly, but you are suddenly completely exposed to plenty of pain you weren't expecting.

I'll give you two examples, but if you think I'm going to explain why these two do me in, you have another think coming: Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, and The Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Wallace Stegner. I'm only a sixth of the way through the latter, and I expect to be a jelly by the time it's done.

Be kind to your families and friends. Be aware if what you are reading is wrecking you. Remember that you are visiting and living in a world they aren't, even if they did once. If your reading is damaging your real life, take a break from that book. Join that real life already in progress. Those folks miss you when you're gone.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain will always be there waiting for you. Somewhere.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Irony and the Identity Issue.

NPR played Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech yesterday and I turned it up loud. And on the news that night came a march of demonstrators at the state house in Honolulu, and I thought it was a demonstration in recognition of Dr. King's life and achievements. No, within moments my head had exploded.

They were demonstrating against a bill before the state legislature that would give gay people the right to civil unions in the state of Hawai'i. Yes, I said against. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

So I stopped shouting at the people on the television and scraped my brains off the walls. And the more I thought of it, the more the irony started to crush me. Hawai'i, which has the highest racial diversity in the nation. Hawai'i, where the President of the United States was born to parents who would not have been allowed to marry in other states.

I doubt these protesters would come out in favor of miscegenation laws today, the non-existence of which allowed them to be a part of families they love and value, but they want to deny the same rights and basic human dignity to homosexuals. You can appreciate the irony.

Here's where this intersects with writing: your characters had better not understand themselves any better than these folks. Not at first, anyway. They can have, probably should have, a brain-splattering enlightenment somewhere along the line. And if you're writing drama, it will probably come after they've done some enormous damage along the way with their idiocy.

I wish they were not, at present, damaging my lovely state and her residents. All of them.

Tomorrow, perhaps we will talk about why your family would like you to read less.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Disgust is Now Infinite.

Remember my earlier discussion of PublishAmerica's new scam, claiming to send copies of their writers' books to Oprah, Walmart, etc. if only they'll pay for a pile of overpriced paperbacks? Here is the official Lowest of the Low. What a bunch of absolute bastards:

Your Book In Borders Helps Haiti
Dear Author:

PublishAmerica will put your book in your local Borders!

We will donate your book to Borders. As many copies as you determine. We will also make a donation on your behalf to the earthquake victims in Haiti!

We're not waiting for the nation's second largest bookstore, Borders, to order your book. We're donating it to them, as many copies as you choose. They may put up your book for sale any way they want, and we will inform your local newspaper about Borders and your book.

Here's how we do it:

You may order any number of books you want on hand, and PublishAmerica
will match the order. We will donate the exact same number of books to
your local Borders store. In fact, we won't even charge Borders for the shipping!
And you receive a 40 pct discount!

On top of that, PublishAmerica donates $1 for each
Borders book to the American Red Cross Haiti relief effort.

Example: you order 15 copies, we print 30. We ship your 15 copies to you, and the same week we ship an additional 15 books to your local Borders store, at NO cost to the bookstore. Plus $15 goes to Haiti!

Go to, find your book, click on it, then add to cart, indicate quantity, and use this coupon: Borders40. Then click Recalculate and finish the transaction. Minimum volume is 12 copies.

Want fewer books? Then use this coupon: Borders30. No minimum volume requirement here. This will give you a discount of 30 pct, and we'll still donate as many books to Borders as you order for yourself, plus we'll still make the donation to Haiti.

In the Ordering Instructions field, be sure to indicate the address of your local
Borders store. By using the coupon you are authorizing us to match your
order and donate the books. You may also request that we ship the FREE
books to your local Waldenbooks store instead, or to yourself.
Also write "Media Yes" in the Instructions field, and we'll contact you for name
and address of your local newspaper.

U.S. stores only. Full-color and hardcovers excluded. Offer expires this weekend on Sunday night.

Thank you,
PublishAmerica Author Support Team

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Neurosis, Let Me Show You It.

This is what happens to me when I write without an outline:

When the novel was at 45K words, I was in terror that it would be finished at 60K words.

Now it is as 65K words, and I am in terror that it will go over 100K words.

If you are also a crazed structuralist, I recommend an outline.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Little Problems, Big Problems.

Remember John Crowley's Little, Big, that I mentioned a couple of days ago? Beautiful style, singular voice? I stopped reading it last night. Because a few things weren't going well. I'll start with the Last Straw:

1. People Don't Act That Way. I won't spoil the story, but suffice it to say that one character does something Very Very Bad. This something should make the spouse of that character see that he or she is Horribly Killed to Death. At least, that's what I'd do, and I'd use plenty of pointy objects to do it, too. The wronged spouse, however, merely shrugs his/her shoulders and on the story goes, I suppose. I, sadly, could go no further.

Indeed, the entire book was chock-a-block with oddities that were never questioned. Even our would-be POV character, who enters a very unusual community, accepts it right away and carries on as though he has always lived there. Much here is odd, but nothing is made of it. And there is so much of it, in that very elaborate writing style, that it is hard to keep your feet.

Why is everyone behaving so singularly? Because, dear reader, there is:

2. A Tale. Not the one in the book, but the one we're told controls every event and character in the book. Yes, everything that happens to these folks for generation after generation is part of The Tale. See why Wronged Spouse just brushes off an event that would drive me to grisly homicide? Because it is part of The Tale. No point fussing. What will be will be. And they all buy in to this. They've all drunk the grape Kool-Aid.

Here's a bit of Film School Wisdom: Destiny is what you chase. Fate is what chases you. If you do nothing, you will never achieve your destiny, but will be run over by fate. That last bit is pretty much the one thing that doesn't work in fiction: sitting there awaiting your fate. Well, maybe it can work in a short story. In a novel it becomes tiresome, fast.

And so I bailed. I had bought the book hoping for something like Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The writing style in Little, Big was more florid, certainly, but there were three more important differences:

1. Clarke's world is very much like our own. The magic functions within a very familiar history (look, footnotes!). Crowley's world is slightly different in many, many ways that aren't always clear.

2. Clarke's characters behave as we would expect them to behave. The English gentlemen are English gentlemen. This makes the not-entirely-normal characters stand out nicely. And even those characters were described in the same style as the others. I think of it as a "just so" technique. No pointing and saying "look at this!" Those elements of the story that stand out as unusual do so by their nature, not because of the writer making a big deal about them.

3. Jonathan Strange has a major goal in the novel that gets him into big trouble. Actually, it gets his wife into worse trouble, but you take my meaning. He had a destiny, and he pursued it. In Crowley's world, just at the moment when I thought one character was in big trouble, well, nope. It was all part of The Tale, so the other characters let it pass.

I let this tale pass.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I've been watching all day. A place so poor they ate dirt, and now this. Nothing to say about writing today, so I shall give you a favorite quote:

In the endless universe there has been nothing new, nothing different. What has appeared exceptional to the minute mind of man has been inevitable to the infinite Eye of God. This strange second in a life, that unusual event, those remarkable coincidences of environment, opportunity, and encounter… all of them have been reproduced over and over on the planet of a sun whose galaxy revolves once in two hundred million years and has revolved nine times already.

There has been joy.

There will be joy again.

-Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Trees Were Green.

I thought today that I should elaborate on yesterday's post, which was basically about voice. Voice is a tricky critter. Lots of people don't know what it is. That's usually cured by extensive reading. Hearing the difference between Susanna Clarke and Ernest Hemingway isn't hard, or shouldn't be. When you can hear the difference between Barbara Kingsolver and John Irving, then you're on to something.

It's not about the story. Yes, John Irving's characters will all be fourteen-year-old boys somewhere in the course of the story. That's not it. You read; you know. I know some folks who can't stand Chuck Palahniuk. Well, yes, some of his stories can be odd. Okay, three freeway stops past odd. But his voice is fantastic. What style!

Yes, some people don't like his style. And while it fits great with his stories, it might not work in a cozy mystery. This is where the "Trees are Green" comes in.

Hemingway was hugely influential in writing in the last century. Liking Hemingway's voice is on the Y-chromosome next to the Three Stooges, thinking parallel parking is a moral value and fire is a toy, and the phrase "watch this!" The Y-chromosome is probably written in the small, hard Anglo-Saxon words Hemingway used. He also used short sentences, active verbs, violence, and alcohol in quantity. He utterly demolished the kind of florid, slow writing that had come before.

I think Hemingway did more to open up writing for the amateur writer than anyone else. Because he was clear. Every reader could read him and understand what was happening. He made the idea of telling a story in plain language accessible to would-be writers. They might not understand how a man and woman could go through six bottles of wine at lunch and remain conscious, but they got the story. Likewise, I think Hemingway did a lot for writing in general. Letters, personal correspondence, even newspapers. He was a reporter who went on epic adventures and lived (barely) to tell the tale(s). He was a man other men wanted to be.

And his writing was crystal clear. It was simple. For years it seemed that everything that came after him shared that ruthless simplicity. There is more variety in voice now, but he cleared the decks of much of the purple prose that came before.

The lesson here is that clear is good. Screenwriting is a good discipline for writing plain, intelligible language. A screenplay wouldn't even contain something so uselessly decorous as "the trees were green." There's no room.

So that's it for today: until you find a voice that fits, at least be clear. Use those good, solid verbs. Use an active voice. Get the story told. You can curl the ribbons later.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Oh, My Darlin'.

There are plenty of things I don't understand about writing. More than just the vampire thing. There's the chicken soup thing. If I'm up to my ears in fail, why do I want to read about people who have escaped are doing great? That's depressing. What I really don't understand is one of the hoariest old chestnuts in all of writing instruction:

Kill Your Darlings.

This is from Faulkner. Much as I love him (The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying), I also think he can be wrong (Absalom, Absalom!). Samuel Johnson said something similar, but the number of people who read him for pleasure has been falling off of late.

The idea, of course, is that if you write something really great, something that stands out against the background of the rest of the story, get rid of it. I suppose the theory is that the great bit will make the rest suffer by comparison. I guess.

I think it's the stupidest piece of advice in writing. Don't you wish I'd stop pulling my punches? Here's why: I read a lot and my memory sucks. I look at the shelf of books I have upstairs that I've read and there are a startling number I can't remember. Some, I couldn't tell you if the main character was male or female. At the end of the day, what I do remember are:

1. Great characters.
2. Great writing.

I want to emphasize that I might remember if the writing is all-great (rare), or I might remember that a line or two here or there is great (still tragically rare). But those great lines, the ones that get a tick mark in the margin and maybe a bent-down page, stick in the mind. Even mine. They are my darlings, and I'm keeping them.

That would have been an excellent closing line, but I have examples! I'm lucky at the moment, because both the print book I'm reading and the audio book I'm listening to (not at the same time) are terrific. I'm listening to Marilynne Robinson's Home and reading in print John Crowley's Little, Big.

Aside: If Marilynne Robinson didn't go to the Iowa Workshop I shall eat my iPod. And I'm fairly sure John Crowley read and enjoyed Susanna Clarke's epic Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, another all-great book.

Neither Robinson nor Crowley ever killed a good darling. Their writing overflows with them. Here is one from Little, Big:

To his left and his right the road ran away down an avenue of horse-chestnuts heartbreakingly golden; the wind tore fortunes from them and scattered them spendthrift.

No bent-down page to find that one. I remembered the page number. A lavish bit of writing, isn't it? And it fits in the book. And that's the point. If that had cropped up in anything by Hemingway, it would have ground the read to a halt. Hemingway didn't use the language that way. Remember The Sun Also Rises? Remember the equivalent line from that one?

The trees were green.

No, I don't remember that page number.

The point is this: Know What You Are Writing. Are you writing a lavish, rich piece of prose? Are you busting out the fifty-dollar words? Or are you Hemingway, who would find the average prescription too florid? What is the voice of the piece?

Want to read a piece of writing that had no control over the complexity of the writing between one page and the next, one chapter and the next, one character and the next? A book with a supposedly simple bunch of people, uneducated, where suddenly you'd be listening to the most elevated bit of language because the writer had burst straight through the text and was sitting in the reader's lap? Yep, As I Lay Dying.

So much for Faulkner. Just stick to your guns. If you create a bit of good writing, even great writing, and you think it fits in your story, leave it. Unless someone you truly trust says it doesn't belong, keep it. It might be something that stays with someone forever.

To the day when everything is beautiful, and nothing hurts.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I Can Has Coincidence?

I was using a random page search function on Firefox in order to waste time and avoid writing, and the first page offered was this:

"A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read ‘The Lost Symbol’, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it."

—The Economist

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Would You Like to Know a Secret?

Nobody told me this before. I had to publish a novel to find out. Hopefully, your mileage will vary.

You know your writer friends? The ones you know from that conference you've been going to for a decade? The people you know from that writing bulletin board on line? The folks from the Yahoo community you joined way back when? The people in that professional organization who have rooted for you during the writing, selling, and publishing of your novel?

Those people won't buy your book.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, and it certainly surprised me. Now, the people in your real-life, face-to-face writing group probably will buy your book. Because there you are every week. You saw their new SUV and heard about the cruise they took the family on last fall. They will probably have a tough time avoiding coughing up $25 for your opus. But those online folks? The people you see once a year at that conference? They are not buying.

The reason (or at least the excuse) for that, at present, is obvious. All the writers you know are now turbo-poor. Or at least they can claim it until they pull up to the conference this spring in this year's new SUV.

The real reason? Too many would-be writers don't read any more than anybody else. Sorry, but there it is.

Someday I'll try to come up with a happy secret for you.

Friday, January 8, 2010

You Lie!

Or, Playing the Lottery.

I hear this one a lot: "Oh, I just write for fun. I don't expect to sell anything." I usually hear this when someone tells me their new novel is about vampires in high school except they're not shiny, they make a nice humming noise or smell like tangerines. Or else the writer has a screenplay about snakes and terrorists on a bus that crashes into an office building.


Basically, picture yours truly offering advice or a critique to a writer. I may express certain reservations as to their project as it stands. Heck, once the minor suggestion was to repair the misspelling in their title. The response? "Oh, I just write for fun. I don't expect to sell anything."

This is the lying part. Because it's like the person holding a lottery ticket saying they don't expect to win. Reasonable as that is, you're holding a lottery ticket! Well, in a numbers sense it's easier to get a novel published than it is to win the lottery. But in the work sense it is almost infinitely harder.

Don't coast. Don't just throw together X-thousand words and send it out there to see what happens. You're just cluttering the landscape. Try. Try hard. Because if you took the time to put those words together, you care, and you're not fooling me when you pretend you don't.

Your book isn't a lottery ticket. There's not enough money in this gig.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Stuck in the Middle.

That didn't take long! Four days into working on the book again and I'm in molasses. Cold molasses. Fortunately I've been here before, and I know what the problems are. Pace and structure. And the dreadful fact that I don't have an outline. As it stands, I obviously know what comes before this moment in the book, and I know what is on the horizon in the next few thousand words, but between here and there is a bit of a swampy area.

The structural problem is that I've got several lines of action going for my main character at the same time. Perhaps too many. My memory is bad, and I've layered in enough logical systems in this book that I have a hard time bearing them all in mind at once. Things my character can and can't do. I keep having to rewrite scenes and paragraphs and sentences... Grrr...

And pace! I've written about it before, and I'm usually nagging writers to pick up the pace. But now I have the opposite problem. I have reached a moment in the book that was perfectly described by Gandalf of all imaginary people as "the deep breath before the plunge." If you'd like something a bit more highbrow, go listen to Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. That second movement, the Adagio? It's like that. A moment for the story to slow, to become calm, and to let a bit of time pass. A time to breathe.

I'm not great at that. I've been writing screenplays too long. They don't do the passage of time well, for the most part. The flying calendar pages of days past should tell you that. Novels have more graceful ways to do it, but I'm struggling with it. I think it's just that I want to skip to the Rondo.

Next time, I shall outline.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Writing the Cool Parts.

I wanted to share a bit more about how much I sucked as a writer when I started out. Now, to be fair, I was thirteen. That was when I started trying to write novels. Do I even have to say I was bad? Well, yes, I do, because three of the most talented writers I've ever met at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference were sixteen or seventeen years old when I first heard their work. Heard their work, fell out of my chair, and wanted to invent a time machine so I could travel back to high school and slap myself. So young writers can be damn good. I, however, was not.

Anyway, I wasn't one of those young "read literature, write like a genius" kids. I was one of those "read science fiction, keep re-writing Star Wars" kids. If they had had (1) the Internet, and (2) fanfiction, I'd be living in my parents' basement today playing World of Warcraft. And my parents don't even have a basement. Awkward!

I do remember the fun of writing back then, even when what I was writing was bad. Heck, blowing up imaginary planets is fun! Those were the Cool Parts. The planet-blowings-up, the after-parties, the shouting orders when the aliens came home and found your ship there in the rubble and were not happy and started shooting. All Cool Parts.

In between the Cool Parts, however...

I have a vivid memory of being troubled about how to get a character to walk out a door. Seriously, I had to get this guy out of a chair, walk him across a room, and get him through the door. And this was a major problem for me. How to go from one Cool Part (significant story moment) to the next?

Elmore Leonard has weighed in on this. He has famously said that he leaves out the parts that readers skip. Hollywood adores him for this, as do I. But I want to turn this on its head a bit, because it's important.

You can't leave everything out.

I can't remember why it was so important that I show my character walking through a door. I know if I were writing a screenplay, I would leave it out. Audiences are great at filling in that kind of elision. Novels have more complicated issues of pace. Sometimes someone needs to leave the room, and the reader needs to see it happen.

So what have I learned over the years? In fiction, if a scene isn't a Cool Part, make it cool. How? Write it cool.

When you can write the non-cool parts so well that the reader won't skip them, well then folks, then you're pretty damn good.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year! Now Stop Doing That.

What is that? Self-publishing your fiction. Why? Because if your book is good, you're throwing it away. If it's bad, you're wasting your time trying to get people to read it when you should be working on your writing.

Now, lest this become the shortest blog post in the history of procrastinating writers, let me go on with some inflammatory remarks.

Re: All self-publishing of fiction is vanity publishing. Shocking, I know.

Honestly, where did this debate come from? The difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing? Well, one sounds like the act of a self-starter, and the other sounds pathetic. Both mean that the person who decided to publish the book is the author. Not, you know, a publisher. In non-fiction, self-publishing can be completely legit and a good idea. You have a collection of yam recipes and think you can reach every yam fan in America? Go for it, because Random House probably isn't interested.

Here's the problem when it comes to novels: readers like them. I know, this shouldn't be much of a problem, but it is for the vanity-publishing fiction writer. Because there are bookstores full of people buying fiction. Not so many as we might like, but they're there. Some writers are even— get this— earning a living selling their novels. A few are getting rich! Okay, a very few, but there it is. And they're doing it with all kinds of novels! Terrific novels in translation about North African refugees and Romanians living under Ceausescu (look it up). They're even selling wonderfully engaging tales of young wizards, and ridiculously bad books about vampires.

But I digress...

The problem with all these readers buying all these different books is that it means for would-be authors that novels sell. Which leaves the hopeful writer with few excuses when theirs don't. A few excuses I'd like to take down:

—"New writers don't sell!" MYTH. They sell all the time. People with zero experience sell their manuscripts every day of the week. As in, sell novels for money. Big money, some of them.

—"Agents never read query letters!" MYTH. Don't tell the agents, because they read so many that they are frequently driven to drink. Hint: at the conference, look in the hotel bar. See the zombies at the corner table in the back? Those are agents. If you do have brains, they want them.

—"You have to be a celebrity to publish a book!" MYTH. You have to be a celebrity to publish a bad book. Actually, even that is not true.

And on, and on. Hopefully you're reading many, many agent and editor blogs and have heard all these and more. They are myths. There is only one thing standing between you and an agent, and between you and the publication of your book:

Your Book.

Sad but true. If you cannot get an agent it is because:

1. Your query letter is not good enough yet.
2. You have not sent your query letter to the right agent yet.
3. There is a problem with your query letter or your book.

Honestly, when the book is great and you get it in front of the right people, you have a fine chance of seeing your book legitimately published. I'm not promising you'll make even a single house payment with your advance, but you'll have your book in your hands, in a cover, and someone else will have paid for it. It's a good moment. I promise.

So how do we end up with self-published fiction, the Ultimate Don't?

It's the part about the book being great. Writers can be, well, a bit blind when it comes to their own work. I was lucky; when I started out years ago I knew I sucked. My Hemingway-esque shit-detector was indeed built-in and shock-proof. I'm not saying I'm fabulous now, but I'm serviceable and improving.

The wide variety of fiction being sold dooms every excuse when considering the future of your novel. There are no small audiences in fiction. There is a category for everything. A shelf for all shoppers. If it's so irretrievably weird that it doesn't fit in a genre, well, the word for that is "literature." Unless it's something the Feds should arrest you for, it will find a niche if someone, somewhere thinks it will sell. I will find a home for it while shelving in my local library, I promise. We even have The Story of O on our shelves, although I don't think the parents know it...

If you write a novel, and a solid query letter, and send professionally it to many agents who handle similar material (don't use a query service, do personalize your letters), and your novel does not attract an offer of representation, move on. How many agents? One hundred, if you can find them. Write another novel. Eventually you may write one that will sell. When that happens, you will either:

1. Go back, revise your early novel or novels, and sell them.
2. Go back, be appalled by your early novel or novels, and burn them.

You won't lose anything. Just don't waste your time and money self-publishing fiction. There's really no point to it. Write another book. If you only intend ever to write the one book, I'm not talking to you anyway. I'm talking to writers, not hobbyists.

That's it, then. Stop Doing That because there are too many readers for fiction. Novels of all kinds from every sort of writer sell all the time. Yes, it is hard. It is not impossible. If one book doesn't sell, move on to the next. It will be better. Honest.