At a conservative estimate, upwards of 250,000 writers in the U.S. are currently struggling to write or find an agent for their first commercial novel or memoir. If you understand this business, you also know why an enormous percentage are unable to make it happen. Below are the top seven reasons why otherwise passionate writers will join the 99.9% never to become commercially published.
1. INADEQUATE WRITING SKILLS AND STORYTELLING PROBLEMS
In the case of the former, the writing itself does not display the energy, creativity, and polish necessary to convince an agent to go deeper. This is perhaps the number one cause of failure. Usually, the writer is not aware--or at least, not sufficiently aware to enable productive change. Perhaps this is a first stab at fiction, she or he not realizing that journalism or other nonfiction writing ill prepares one for the challenges of competitive commercial narrative. Obviously, the writer does not know a good editor or reader, and therefore, has never received truly helpful crit. Or perhaps an ego obstacle is present, a father to the "birthed baby" phenomenon: the writer has produced a passage, a character, or scene they can't possibly do away with. It is sacred to them. So it remains, defacing the narrative like a major pothole, jolting agents and publishers alike each time they meet it.
In the case of the storytelling issue, the writer may actually be accomplished at connecting the word dots. The agent gives it a good read then backs off. Why? Well, maybe because the story goes nowhere. It flattens out and stays that way. Where is the inciting incident? The first major plot point? The story is eventually uninteresting or perhaps even confusing. Just recently a fine writer handed me sample of his ms. His prose skill kept me turning, but finally, I bogged down on characters who spun endlessly in place, who never really took action or engaged in any reaction worth noting.
2. FAILURE TO ADEQUATELY UNDERSTAND THE MARKET
We are not talking about trend chasing... Virtually every time I speak with a student I discover that she or he has not sufficiently researched their market. In other words, they don't have a clue as to what types of first novels are currently being published in their chosen genre (assuming one is chosen). Why is this important? Because the first novels provide the writer with a concept of what the market is looking for. Also, it helps steer the writer away from starting a project that will be DOA on arrival due to being way too deja-vu or trope heavy. Far too many writers make the Tom Clancy mistake, i.e., they attempt to emulate a huge author, falsely believing it will get them published. They don't understand that author gods like TC could get away with terrible literary crimes in their old age and still become published. Instead, the writer must examine first novels published in their chosen genre over the past two years: investigate story types, settings, protagonists, etc. The research always yields productive results because first novels are the weather vane for where the market is going, and on more than one level.
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