The Pain of Publication: How I Got to Where I Am

For those of you who don’t me, I was one of the original group that started writing for Critical-Hits, but as my life changed, my time as a DM/GM dwindled.  As such, my status as a regular columnist shrunk to that of a mere guest columnist.  I grew up with TheGame and Bartoneus and can even be seen grinning foolishly in a few Ennie Award pictures.  My column, the Pain of Campaigning has languished and faded into obscurity, but from the ashes of that experience I would like to introduce my new column: The Pain of Publication.

If you want advice from guys that have actually been published in the gaming world, frankly, there are plenty on this site.  None of my work has seen publication. My efforts are focused more on fiction writing.  However, even in that regard, I have also struck out.  I never tried to get the first novel I wrote published. I realized it was deeply flawed and I lacked the dedication to fix it.  My second novel was better, and after a major overhaul I even had agent representation, but my agent never did get it published.  Now, years later, I am nearing the completion (read: temporary stoppage in editing) of my third completed novel and seeking once again to find an agent and get published.

The Pain of Publication is a journey through this process.  I emphasize, again, that this is a process.  I can offer no advice on what works, because nothing has for me, but what I can do, is discuss my regular activity related to this subject.  This column’s focus will range from the obvious (getting an agent), to related (how do I make my novel worth publishing), and all the way through tangential subject matters (I have not yet fathomed what those might be).This first installment is going to focus on how I found an agent.  There are literally books written on this, and agents out there with information on how they find and evaluate talent.  Those books and resources are more qualified to speak on things as an expert, but its my hope that my own anecdotal experiences and lessons learned will be useful to some people out there.

My second novel sprang from a scene I did in a creative writing class in college.  After quitting a job in sales, I found part time work as a tutor to tide me over until I could go to law school.  With nearly a year before law school started I decided to focus on writing fiction.  I wrote without much of a plan and let the plot evolve.  The novel ended 3 months later at close to 200,000 words.  I did not see a problem with this.

I diligently compiled a list of agents that were accepting query letters while I honed my own.  Sending a query letter is a lot like screaming into a bottomless pit.  Typically, the only thing you hear back is an echo, but when you hear something other than the sound of your own voice it provides high drama.  It’s impossible to say what is going to strike a cord with an agent, but make sure the query is true to your novel, you offer some way to contextualize what it is your story is and why its special, and that have as many people as possible comb over the query letter to make sure it is grammatically correct.  My own grammar can really suffer over the course of a novel (or maybe even a blog post), yet it helps to show that you know how to write properly in a highly limited format.

Out of fifty estimated email queries I heard back from maybe ten.  Of those ten, six to seven were just polite enough to tell me no thank you.  That left about three people that wanted more.  One of them asked for the first twenty pages.  I sent that and waited nervously. Before they asked for the whole novel they commented it was too long.  I sent the novel anyway, only to find out weeks later, that they wanted to read it closer to the 120,000 words.  So, I cheated.  

I had the novel end abruptly, with a small denouement as my “ending.”  It made my novel worse, but I thought if she read it she would just want to see the whole thing.  Then, my original ending would wow her.  My agent read that version of the novel.  She loved it, but called me out on the ending and said it was abrupt and pretty obvious I just wanted to hit her word count.  There was no anger from her, yet I can see where some others might have been angry in her place.  It never occurred to me at the time that it would be so easy to see through that ploy.  She said she would represent me and that I needed to conclude it more satisfactorily.  If you’re in a similar situation regarding word count, I urge you to consider your story under the criteria I did:

  1. Does the whole of your word count work either directly or indirectly to strengthen the core themes and plots of your story?
    • I found that I could tell a similar tale if I cut out the fat.  I would be discarding some important subplots, but they were not strictly necessary in this installment.
  2. Is the ending a satisfying across-the-bow climax, or is just where you stopped writing?
    • Ending a novel is hard, and mine stopped, both in the version for my agent and the full length monster version.  Major plot threads were resolved, but I could not honestly say this was the ending that the novel required to be complete.
  3. Do you have an idea about how to shorten the story, and if so, would it compromise your vision of the tale?
    • This was what I struggled with most.  I worried that I was “selling out” to get an agent.  For over a week, I had not come up with a natural climax to my story. However, once I did, everything fell into place around a new, stronger ending.  That made my decision easy.

So, I sold out.  In one feverish weekend during my the summer of 1L year of law school (some 9 months after having started the agent search) I locked myself in my room and I wrote.  And wrote. Even moreso I read to make sure my changes transitioned smoothly with the other parts of the novel.  I am proud of my work that weekend, but it was an exhausting frenetic affair.

>And still, the novel never got sold.That’s the lesson.  One editor said the world I built reminded her of Dune, but there was no place for it at her publishing house.  That made me feel good, but ultimately, I think that even if you do get published, or don’t, you have to live with what you’ve done.  With writing a novel, there is no blame game at this stage.  You are solely accountable.  I was lucky because this process made me a better writer, made my novel stronger, and taught me lessons for my next project.  However, that does not mean every request by every “insider” is ultimately what your writing needs.

In the next installment of the Pain of Publication, I will go over what I’m up to now with my writing and what my hopes are for the future.  If you have any topics that interest you, please comment and leave a suggestion!


  1. Also, a freelance editor is incredibly helpful to clarify and produce the best story possible to reduce some of that submission-pain.

    Great article.

  2. Honestly, given how well the self-publishing industry works for English digital novels, I would not go with the pains of a literary agent and traditional paper publishing ever. You could take that 200k novel and do whatever you want with it in Amazon: publish it as a single 200k tome, slice it in 3-4 50k/70k novels, or anything between.

    That way you have no artificial constraints to your work, you publish what you want, and you publish it the way you like it,… It’s all advantages, and much better than seeing your long hours of work end locked somewhere not ever seeing the light. Or even worse (and more common for novel writers): getting published in paper, losing your digital rights for 7 years to some editorial that will promote your work for three weeks and then forget about it.

    Seriously, go the digital way, in english it’s a market full of opportunities (I wish it was the same in Spanish). Regards!


  3. TheMainEvent says:

    @John: Thank you for the compliment. Your advice is also good, the devil is in the details though. I owe a debt to my friends and family that willingly read my work for no pay other than gratitude. They help me sort out exactly what it is that makes my story the best possible novel.

    @Vincente: A number of people have encouraged me to take this route. I have resisted mainly because I am unsure that I could market it all myself and if I could get it adequately edited on the budget I have (which is somewhere between $0 and paltry). If I find myself frustrated again, perhaps I will give it serious thought.

  4. I do teach people how to market themselves on any budget. And while I cannot speak for all editors on the planet, I know many are really flexible to an author’s budget if the author/project is ambitious or fills an exciting niche.

    If you want to give it a shot, whenever you’re ready, let me know.

  5. You don´t really need any budget for marketing if you go the digital route. What you need is to publish work constantly, as if someone lands in one of your works, and likes it, he will probably search for another of your books to read it. The more books you have, the easier is for a reader to get one by chance, and then read the others.

    But you seem to have the producing part well covered, as writing 200k words in 3 months is no small feat.

    The editing part is harder, that´s true, as all books improve with a good editor, but at the start, with help of friends, family,… it will be enough. And as soon as you have several books, their sales will help pay the edition of newer ones.



  6. I’m so glad I stumbled over your column! Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I find this to be very encouraging as well as informative. Looking forward to further installments, and wishing you the best of luck! You can do this!


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