Why I’m Not Yet Published

Last week, I met with some friends for one of our get-togethers. We all have busy lives, so when we can get together, we tend to spend hours talking. Invariably, it all turns to writing and books.

Invariably, it all turns to me. And why I’m not published yet.

I’ve been hearing this for quite some time, actually. It’s a familiar refrain, like “What could possibly go wrong?” from Top Gear. (I HATE YOU, BBC, I HATE YOU!) The problem (for me) is that I hear it not from other writers, but from my friends – and I love them, I really do – but my friends who do not write novels.

If you don’t write novels, you don’t know what it’s like.

I just finished Heather Sellers’ wonderful Chapter by Chapter (see last week’s post for more information). She addresses this problem in Chapter 25, “Writing is Revising,” and Chapter 26, “Just Want to be Done.”

Here’s the problem:  Agents receive 50+ queries before they wake up in the morning. Every. Single. Day. And when they sit down to read these queries, what they’re doing is looking for reasons to reject authors. They have literally thousands of manuscripts to choose from. They need to narrow the field. Some, they can toss right away:  wrong name, no name, not submitted properly, bad spelling and/or grammar, wrong genre. Some, they can’t reject right away because damn it, the author’s done the thing properly. So they have to read the first chapter or first five pages, or whatever they’ve requested. But guess what? They’re still looking for a reason to reject you. As a writer, your job is to never, ever give them that reason.

How? You revise. You rewrite. You do it over again. And again. And again.

Six years’ worth, if that’s what it bloody takes. Seven. Ten.

The other refrain I heard this past week, which I think I’ve heard before, is “Send it out already. It’s fine. It’s good enough. Besides, the agent and editor will fix whatever’s wrong with it – they’ll want you to make changes anyway, so who cares if it’s perfect or not? JUST SEND IT!”


Here’s what Heather Sellers has to say about that:  “We have passages of brilliant writing. The plot holds together, basically, and there are some excellent moments in our book. Isn’t that enough? Can’t someone else take care of the other stuff? Tables of contents, indexes, chapter titles, fixing the weaker scenes – aren’t there people who do that? Well, yes. Of course there are. They’re called writers. That would be you.”

She then goes on to say:

“Just as no one loves your kids as much as you do, not even the greatest editor on the planet will care as much about your book, its details, its perfection, its publication, its success, as you do. You must be your own editor before you send the book out of your house and into the world.”

See, here’s the problem. The competition to be published has never been greater. It used to be that a nobody with a decent idea but no clue how to write it could be taken under the wing of an agent or editor, and guided through the process. Not anymore. You’re not an Idea Person. You’re the writer, editor, proofreader, researcher, advocate, and RE-WRITER, all rolled into one person. And you’re expected to know your competition. And you’re not competing just against the published authors – you’re competing against those just like you, who aren’t published yet, but desperately want to be. The question is, what are YOU willing to do to make your manuscript stand out?

Again, Sellers:  “Many writers believe – secretly or openly – that someone else will do this . . . ‘Won’t my agent get it ready for publication?’ They want that editor who exists in their mind, that fantasy person from yesteryear who is so devoted to their genius and their book that she puts everything on hold to help them fix it.

“It just doesn’t work that way.

“Not every writer passively expects someone else to do part of his work; there are plenty of writers who do everything they can to their books and then some. And after they’ve set aside the project for a while, they return to it and do even more to improve the book. You are competing with these authors.”

That’s me. That writer. The one doing everything to improve my book and then some.

It is not someone else’s job to fix my book. It is not someone else’s job to write my book. It is not someone else’s job to figure out why the plot’s not working quite the way I want it to. That is my job. And my job isn’t finished until I have figured those things out. And if you write novels, your job isn’t finished, either. Not until that book is the best it can possibly be. As Sellers says, this is a profession. Agents and editors are professionals. They will look much more favorably on your book – your baby – if you present yourself as a professional, too. And by making your book the absolute best it can be – no matter how long that takes – you’re showing that you are a professional. That you take publishing, and writing, and your manuscript, seriously. That you take them and their time seriously.

And THAT is why I am not yet published.

6 thoughts on “Why I’m Not Yet Published

  1. I have not seriously looked at getting published. I enjoy writing, but I have people in my life who after being rejected took it upon themselves to self publish. It is how many established authors got started. Eric J. Dickey sold his self published books out of the trunk of his car until one day the right person read one. It takes a lot of self time to improve upon what has been written. I have found those who don’t write don’t understand no one wants rejection just as no one wants to keep being asked why they haven’t been published. I applaud you for knowing the whys and standing firm in your passion.



    • Thank you. I haven’t really even queried – I bowed to peer pressure and pitched a novel that an agent did like, but she wanted a lot of changes and after I re-read it, I realized I’d been silly to send it out – it just wasn’t ready. And I felt more than a little ridiculous emailing her and saying thank you for your interest, but there’s a lot more wrong with this than I thought, and I was wrong to pitch it to you. It was a wake-up call for sure, and made me re-evaluate myself and my writing and my perfectionism.

  2. When I first started writing, a few non-writers told me not to worry about punctuation and grammar because an editor would fix that. Ha.

    You have an awesome attitude. So many wannabe writers don’t care about perfection. They care about sending the book out. It’s been a long journey. My first novel never got much interest. My second novel needed seven query revisions submitted to 70+ agents but #7 was the charm and I signed with a wonderful agent. Going through the process with editors now.

    Hang in there, be your best, and believe in yourself. It will happen. Best of luck!

  3. As a READER, I know when I like something I have read. When I like something, I want to recommend it to other readers. I liked what I read of your writing and just wanted it to be ready to share; however, I am willing to wait until you are ready to “send your baby out the door”.

    • I know . . . but I can’t send out anything that I don’t think is 110%. So many agents these days say “don’t send it unless it’s ready to be published right now.” It is a VERY tough business. Self publishing isn’t any easier, because there is a stigma that if you self-publish, it’s because your book isn’t good enough to get an agent. And many aren’t, which only perpetuates that idea. It’s a very, very tough gig to break into for a new writer.

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