Most of my writing career has been with small press publishers, and part of that decision has been to say yes to nearly everything and to often go with the deal in front of me rather than sit and wait in agonizing and frustrating unpublished isolation while waiting for a “big break.”
I prefer to make my own breaks.
I also think, well, this book is finished already and someone wants to publish it so let’s get it out there. The next one can be the one to break into a bigger publisher.
This is all to say that I keep on writing. Keep moving, and looking, forward.
Now, don’t get mad, but I have never queried an agent.
I wrote screenplays for years and I got my agent in that world by getting my scripts out to people who make movies. One of them wanted to make a movie I wrote so he got it to an agent. The agent got handed a script with someone already excited and wanting to make it, so her job was halfway done already. Of course she signed me.
Of course that movie never got made. Neither did the two others I sold. Neither did the one I wrote on assignment. Neither did the TV pilot I wrote on assignment.
So I started writing novels and short stories. I kept writing.
And I did what I could to get the writing out there in front of readers.
I published dozens of short stories in online zines. They may have a tendency to flare up and die out faster than an STD outbreak, but those crime fiction zines were a godsend to me and many of my contemporaries. We found readers, we found each other, we formed a community.
Out of a story published online came a request from an agent asking for a novel. I sent him one. He rejected it. He was right — that novel is forever in a drawer now. But he’d come to me. It wasn’t the same heartbreak as me going and begging him only to have him laugh in my face.
One of these crime e-zine sites ran a contest. One of the judges was an agent.
At this point I’d published about 30 shorts – all for no money, but that didn’t matter to me. I’d published two novels I co-wrote with another author and were put out on the smallest publisher maybe ever. But work was out there. If anyone wanted to follow up after reading a story, they could find some books.
When I happened to win this contest, the agent judging wrote me and asked if I had a novel ready to shop. I did. Two by that time, in fact. The bad drawer novel was in the past and I’d gotten better.
Why? Because I kept on writing.
So, yes, he queried me. And he signed me. When I saw his stable of authors it looked like my bookshelf. I was over the moon. And then I felt a horrifying deja vu.
My screenwriting agent had been with a small boutique agency, then got picked up by ICM, one of the major players in Hollywood. It turned out that put more pressure on her to sell, and when my stuff wasn’t getting off the ground, I got let go.
This agent who liked my stuff so much started in a small agency of his own and then got picked up by a bigger agency. When we couldn’t get anything sold, we settled for an ebook-only deal for one novel we both thought deserved a bigger chance, but we took it rather than sit and wait. Why? Because I was still writing. I had three more manuscripts ready to go by then.
When we eventually parted ways, amicably I must add – still a great agent, still reps many of my crime fiction heroes – I felt slightly adrift, and yet what did I do? Yep. I kept on writing.
So when an agent I’d known casually for a while caught wind that I was available again, there was no query needed. She knew me and my work because I’d gotten it out there. I’d been building my reputation and my back catalog so the ground work had been laid for her already. I wasn’t a newbie from-the-ground-up client. Plus, I had a stack of manuscripts ready to go.
She came to me. We signed up together and now I wait while she gets the books out there. And in the meantime, I write. I keep the words flowing while the slow wheels of publishing grind forward.
So I guess if there is a lesson to take away from this, it’s pretty obvious.
Keep on writing.
This business is glacial in its pace. Don’t wait for it. Keep writing and never think your best work is behind you. Never put all your hopes and expectations on one project. Ideas are free and there are always more of them around the bend. That’s what makes a writer. It’s about what you’re writing and what you will write, not what you have written.
There is a world in which the agents find you. Publishers, too. But they have to find you working. They have to find you putting out your work, building your audience, promoting yourself and other authors, building a community of authors and being an active part of that community.
If I had just sat around and waited for publishing to come to me, I might still be waiting. And too many people do. If you get out and make a loud enough noise, they will find you. And if the work is good, it will make some noise.
And the work will only get better if you continue to do it. So keep writing. Keep publishing. Keep making noise and make them come to you.
Eric Beetner’s latest novel is Leadfoot. He is a 2017 International Thriller Award nominee and two-time 2017 Anthony Award nominee for best paperback original and best anthology for Unloaded: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns, which he edited and created. His award-winning short fiction has appeared in more than two dozen anthologies. Eric also co-hosts the podcast Writer Types along with writer S.W. Lauden and he hosts the popular Noir at the Bar reading series in Los Angeles for six years and counting. When not writing he lives and works in Los Angeles where he edits and produces TV shows, helping to be both a part of the solution and a part of the problem of people not reading as much as they used to. For more information visit ericbeetner.com.
To learn more about THE DEVIL DOESN’T WANT ME and WHEN THE DEVIL COMES TO CALL, the first two books in the Lars and Shaine trilogy, click on the covers below: