It's a known fact in the world that a successful writer is typically a good writer. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but in general, success is won by those with the ability to pen amazing novels. So as writers, how are we to determine the quality of our writing? And where exactly is the bar where quality meets success?
For the past six months, I have submitted my latest creation to agents with the intent of following the path toward traditional publishing. No, I'm not cheating on self-publishing. I'm not failing and looking for a different path to success. But both traditional publishing and self-publishing have their benefits, and I intend to work hard to earn both.
Things that indicate my book sucks:
1. Agents are not responding or sending form rejections.
A good portion of my submissions have been launched into cyberspace never to be seen or heard from again. Did they read it? Like it? Hate it? I have no idea. But my query letter and/or early pages failed to procure a response beyond the template rejection (or silence).
2. Agents/mentors that read the full are offering limited feedback.
So far, about ten folks in the industry, between big agents and published mentors, have read the entirety of my book. And so far, their feedback can be summed up by: I just didn't connect. If one person says this, it's probably a personal preference thing. If everyone says this, then something is wrong with the book itself, but no one can pinpoint exactly what that might be.
3. My book falls outside industry norms.
Fantasy books should follow certain tropes. Romance books must end in an HEA. Young adult novels cannot ever be over 90,000 words. These are the industry norms that debut novels are expected to meet. And mine just doesn't. Mine is too romantic for the fantasy crowd, and too fantastical for the romance lovers. It's more than 110,000 words but still young adult. Readers want new and different stories, but not too different.
Things that indicate my book rocks:
1. Every single beta reader raved about it.
To date, I've sent my book to about fifteen early readers and beta readers. Some were readers who have been with me since the beginning and some were total strangers off the street. I gave them each the final copy of my book and waited. And so far, every. single. one has loved it. They cried, they laughed, they're waiting for the next. Could they all be lying? Sure. Are they? I don't think so. Strangers have no reason to lie to me. My friends tell me when they don't like a book (they've certainly done so in the past). When a reader comes back six months after the fact and goes out of their way to tell me all the ways they loved my book, then I feel like I'm doing something right.
2. My books checks industry boxes.
Looking for a book that passes the Bechdel and Mako Mori Tests? Mine does! Looking for a book with a diverse cast? Mine has that. Looking for a well-developed romance between realistic characters? Check. When I read lists of what agents and readers are looking for, my book meets most if not all of them.
3. My story is amazing.
I don't need betas or mentors or agents to tell me that I have something special here. I read enough books every year to know the difference between a captivating, well-written novel and a predictable, poorly written one. And this one is amazing. It's the most amazing thing I've ever written, and I'd like to think my other books weren't so bad (at least, reviews on Amazon/Goodreads seem to think they're pretty decent). But I have enough confidence and love for this book to recognize that it's destined for something more. I just have to figure out where it fits in the world.
Things I don't know yet:
The world of traditional publishing and literary agents can be a confusing and opaque one. Industry secrets are closely guarded and writers often struggle to get a foot in the door.
So is it worthwhile to continue to peddle my little story to agents and publishers in wait for someone to jump? Or should I move toward self-publishing?
Is there something I could change to make it more likely to get picked up? Or is it simply too different to ever be seriously considered by agents?
Will I ever figure it out? I don't know! So I'm continuing to improve my book (in what small ways I can), and submit to agents and publishers in hopes of finding that one magical person who connects with my story. I just need one person to get it. I'll keep you posted.