defiant woman

When Don’ts Outnumber Do’s, Do Your Own Thing

When I first began drafting Alienable Rights in September 2017, I was awaiting Nevada Bar exam results, and it was a cathartic way to escape personal tribulations of life—and a world in utter turmoil when it came to human rights or decency.

I’d decided to pursue a traditional publishing route with a literary agent—the whole required shebang—for my first attempt at a novel. This despite the daunting number of agents who appeared to have longer lists of what they didn’t do, as opposed to what they might be interested in representing. Not to mention how many agents were decades younger than I am.

By spring of 2019, I had a first draft I imagined as a potential series. But I knew the rules for fiction were different than nonfiction, or journalism. So I took myself down to the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference to glean a thing or two from people in the know. And I did learn a great deal.

Unfortunately, I also felt hit with a tidal wave of disappointing “you can’t,” “you shouldn’t,” and “don’t do’s,” some of which was no doubt sage advice, while some seemed to contradict what I had previously read or heard.

This was especially true of what agents wished to see in a query letter, which I painstakingly drafted in accordance with various agency requirements and recommendations from publications like Writer’s Digest. But let’s be clear here, they all want something different.

And then there’s the manuscript itself. Did you know you can’t start a story by discussing a waking dream? Literary agents roll their collective eyes at that, evidently.  Also, don’t dare attempt to write a series.

But I thought agents and publishers were looking for prolific authors who had more than one book in them? Apparently not, if you’re untested. They won’t cut a deal for more than one book in case the first book doesn’t do well. Meaning it doesn’t make them money.

It’s always about money—and marketability. If it were about good writing, there wouldn’t be so many awful books out there with huge publishing contracts given to notorious celebrities or insurgent punks in Congress. If they focused on the talented who work hard at the craft of writing, the art of storytelling and imparting a message, there’d be less egg-on-their-face cancelling of far too many obnoxious, high-profile book deals.

And finally, if an agent claims to be looking for say, comedic fiction or a strong female protagonist, they are just as likely to reject your query as the agent who flat out says, “I don’t do aliens.” I suspect they wouldn’t entertain many other things my books are about, so there’s that.

In the months that followed the writer’s conference, I focused on rewriting and editing and honing my craft to create my story about a post-middle-aged woman hearing aliens, which was ultimately about humans—not that I would ever have a chance to explain this to an “I don’t do aliens” agent who’d already closed their mind.

Meanwhile, I spent more than a year awaiting a response, or receiving rejections, from agents I diligently researched to find the right fit. Willing to twist myself into knots to have them contort my work into something it was not. Because I’d also been told that once a publisher got hold of my manuscript, it would no longer look anything like what I had conscientiously created.

In the end, the decision to self-publish was a sound one for me, as I’m not getting any younger and didn’t need to wait years to embark on this writing adventure. Besides, much about my Other Worldly series challenges rules of publishing propriety.

I crossed too many genre boundaries, I came up with something different and did it my way, I created characters and scenes about titillating things that too many like to silence in others. Including those taboo subjects you aren’t supposed to discuss at parties—or the dinner table. But I did eventually do one very important thing right: I hired a professional editor.

A final salient point. My protagonist Rowan Layne is not a thirtysomething female searching for one man to marry and make babies with, but she does have sex. She’s sassy—and seasoned. She is highly educated, and she swears. She’s earned the right to live her life as she chooses, and to write what she wants.

She has life experience.

Perhaps something literary agents and powerhouse publishers could consider when they’re looking for that next great writer. If that’s truly what they’re seeking.



2 thoughts on “When Don’ts Outnumber Do’s, Do Your Own Thing”

  1. Ever thought about pitching the books to SYFY as a potential series? They sound (although I haven’t read them yet) like something SYFY might find interesting.

    1. Wanna be my manager and figure out the process of how to even begin to have an opportunity to pitch to Hollywood? All kidding aside, I have a blog post coming up about that particular “dream.” For my Other Worldly series, I’m not sure SYFY is the right fit (see myriad comments about why my books are not actually the typical idea of science fiction), or whether that network is even still doing original programming (they aren’t what they once were, in my estimation, but maybe I no longer watch enough TV that involves excessive commercials). But, boy do I miss the show Warehouse 13. In any event, my focus continues to be on writing, and at some point perhaps I’ll have enough material to be considered for a TV series, given my output is currently two tomes a year. So you’d better get busy reading 🙂

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