Challenge,  publishing

The Wet Blanket Reality– Chapter Three

Chapter Three…You Get An Agent

This book is a travelogue through the steps it takes in 2022 to become a traditionally published fiction writer. So please read the Introduction and First Chapter and Second Chapter before this one. You do that, this chapter will make more sense, as much as this chapter will ever make sense to a sane, thinking person. (Writers are neither sane or thinking at this point in this process.)

So after years of work, you declare your novel masterpiece finished and have a party. Then you spend a ton of time and effort sending out query letters to agents. (Your book never leaves the house, just a query letter.) Finally, an agent asks to see that baby you spent so many years writing and rewriting.

You send it off.

So what happens next?

You Are Now Officially Waiting…

You have sent your baby off to this agent. Of course, you have done nothing at all to check their credentials or their record or anything else. You spend more time researching the brand of shoes you will buy online than you do researching the agent you sent your book to. But again, that is just how the blindness in this industry works for younger writers.

So months go by.


Are you writing more books? Nope, you are just waiting because you need to see how the first one does. Right?

Maybe even more months go by.

Then eventually the agent gets back to you. If you are lucky (in the universal scheme of things) the agent says no. If you are still wrapped up in the myths, you will go back to the query stage lined out in Chapter Two. If the wait has allowed you to gain some sanity, you might be starting to look at how to indie publish.

But if you are really unlucky (which you will consider lucky), the agent wants to see your book “after you make a few touches” to make it “more commercial.”

Realize this agent you never researched is not a writer and knows nothing about writing, but has now written you a letter telling you how to make your book more commercial and since you are still buried in the myths, you go back to doing another rewrite.

Another six months goes by as you rewrite and then you send it back to the agent again.

More months go by.

Then maybe another rewrite from the agent and more months go by.

I know some writers who this process (after they get an agent to ask for the manuscript) takes three years, maybe more. One writer I know spent six years in this process. I am not kidding.  But no matter what, a good year or two can go by while you rewrite a number of times and then wait for the agent’s response.

After this process your book is not even a shred of your original book. It has been redone, polished, reworked so many times, no telling what the book is. One thing for certain, it is not better.

So finally one of two things happen. The agent just gives up and says no thanks. (And you go back to Chapter Two like a bad game of Chutes and Ladders. Or the agent says they might have an editor for it.

Now up to this point, after years of writing and rewriting, another year or two in the query process, another couple years in rewriting for an agent, your book has yet to see anyone who can actually buy it.

But now after years, your baby (or the mutilated body of your baby) will finally get a shot at the fairy dust of a New York editor.

Next chapter the real ugliness begins. Stay tuned.



  • Judy Lunsford

    Back before I got a clue, I had an agent ask to see one of my books at a conference. He read it and said I had to change one of the character’s names because it was “too foreign”. (Honestly, it really wasn’t that difficult of a name.) I asked him if when he met someone from another country, and they had a difficult name to pronounce, did he tell them they had to change their name? He didn’t understand the question or why I was asking it. So I walked away. He wasn’t someone I wanted to work with. I indie pubbed. The book is doing fine. And people have told me they love the character, and his name.

    • dwsmith

      Well done defending your work. For some reason, a writer in this cult of rewriting to agent and others demands never once think of their work as their own past a surface statement. They just let anyone in because the writing and the story don’t matter, the only thing to them that matters is getting the sale. Sort of misses the reason for each of us writing.

  • Linda+Maye+Adams

    It sounds like a new type of form rejection.

    Many years ago, when agents tried to offer a few comments with a rejection to help the writer, they got meltdowns instead. So they went to the current form rejection I see everyone, polite, (maddeningly) vague. And yet, just personal enough that I bet the writers thought it was a personal rejection and, I’m guessing, made contact for specifics. With this backdoor rejection, it gives them something specific–and I bet time consuming–to fix. A lot of writers dash off to eagerly revise the manuscript, thinking they’ll get the agent once they make the simplistic changes. Really, kind of a con.

    And, oddly, it mimics the writing advice gurus, critiques, and developmental editing at that level. Keeps everyone churning in circles.

  • emmiD

    And the creativity of the original is long lost, multiple tropes added in cause predictable plot and character developments, and the individual voice is smothered by overwriting.

    Does imposter syndrome cause a lot of the WB syndrome? I dislike the imposter syndrome term which seems to be natural anxiety because of inexperience. Or is it a mix of a writer’s personal pride needing the reinforcing cachet of gatekeeper (agent/editor) acceptance?

    Publish and practice anew will overcome imposter syndrome … but will that writer ever overcome being a Wet Blanket? Doubtful.

    This is a great time for these Wet Blanket posts. Too many love NaNoWriMo for the wrong reason.

    • dwsmith

      Creativity is gone completely, covered over by sameness and boring. No clue as to imposter syndrome, but what drives this is the myths. This path is all a writer knows and once on this road they just won’t allow themselves to see another way or let common sense into the mix. It takes intense protection to keep eyes closed and going forward, so writers on this road become defensive to the extreme. It’s like a cult behavior. They JUST KNOW they are right, so they don’t let even their own common sense in. Cult behavior driven by repeating of constant myth.

  • B Litchfield

    I laughed out loud reading this because I have done a lot of the above.

    Actually did complete a couple of novels after a mere four drafts each. I misinterpreted Heinlein’s rule #3 to mean refrain from rewriting after you’ve completed all of your revisions. Which is still better than spending many years on a single book that never gets finished. Had an agent suggested commercial edits, I probably would’ve viewed that as rewriting to editorial order.

    Studied the query letter thing ad-nauseum. Even took a how-to class taught by an agent.

    Researched agents. Probably too much. One of the prevelant recomendations out there is to read several books an agent has sold so that you can refer to them in a query letter and tell them how your book would fit into their list. Realized that was a waste of time (except for reading the books for the value of consuming story). Also read agent’s blogs and interviews to glean a tidbit to include in a kiss-up paragraph in the query letter.

    In short, I didn’t fall nearly as far into the craziness as many (like double-digit years on a single book, attending conferences just to meet agents, etc.) But several years of the process I did follow was enough to make me quit writing. Totally.

    Then I stumbled across Writing Into The Dark. From the title, I thought it would be about staying up all night polishing and editing. But I’d never heard anybody talk that way about writing before.

    Anyhow … looking forward to the next chapter.

    • dwsmith

      Note, folks, he said he quit writing. Sadly, that is the typical outcome of this stuff, and that outcome gets more common the farther into this craziness you go.

      So great job escaping. Bring the writing back to fun.

  • Balázs

    It can be difficult to remember to have fun. When I start my novel as ‘I will show it to SOMEONE’, this thought instantly gets on the way. I read the post and the comments and comments made clear to me to write only one person. It was maybe Vonnegut who said this (to write only one person … whoever it is for you). But it is another topic. (Also, Nanowrimo is another topic. It can be used well and can mean a step toward one’s goal, and it can mislead someone for years of struggling. Being a beginning writer can be a struggle, if I can’t use the ‘having fun in writing’ thought.)

    Fortunately, in my country there are no agents but beginning writers sometimes cries for them. I am also at my beginning in my career, still, I just don’t get how they had the idea to have an agent in a country agents never even existed before.

    On the other side there are a tons of EDITOR who acclaimed they know what they do. Unfortunately, almost never I liked their novels – if there were any – so I didn’t send them anything. There are even services to look to your novel as an editor before you send it to anywhere… sigh…

    So this blog is a lifesaver to me and the comments section also great place to find good thoughts. I remember to having fun and hopefully I’ll manage to finish something this year…

  • Danielle

    I almost did this…but the book I wrote was an LOTR-sized behemoth. I knew it was (according to The industry) “too big” to publish as one book, so I dragged my feet looking into an agent. Figured it’d just get held up for years.
    I wrote one query letter and synopsis, but never sent either off to anybody because by then I’d stumbled upon your SACRED COWS OF WRITING posts…then I went Indie and never looked back! (All this within a month or two of finishing the thing.)
    Now my “supernovel” (as I call it) is available as one big honkin’ ebook, AND split into volumes like LOTR, in both ebook and paperback. And while it was in production I wrote and self-published other things and learned more craft. I’m having so much fun. Thanks, Dean.

    • dwsmith

      Wonderful, and a ton more fun than waiting around for some idiot agent to respond. And readers are getting a chance to read it. Real readers.

      Well done and glad I could help.

  • Cynthia Lee

    I queried agents for a year and a half about 10 years ago. I read the agent’s blogs, believed the malarky (mostly) but something always bothered me about what I was reading. I knew the whole shebang was an unbelievably stupid way to do business but I thought I had to put up with it to get published.

    Then two things happened:

    First, an agented writer acquaintance of mine told me that she’d been revising her manuscript for over a year and a half for her agent. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it, honestly. It makes me mad just thinking about it. I mean – who the hell do these people (agents) think they are? That’s time taken away from this writer’s job, her family, her free time. Her peace of mind was gone, as well as any enjoyment she had in writing. She was very stressed and overwhelmed and desperate to please. I felt awful for her.

    Still, I queried agents and I jumped through a series of dumb hoops. (I adamantly refused to rewrite, however).

    Secondly, I happened upon Dean’s blog. I learned that agents get the money first and the paperwork and then (in theory) they cut their clients a check. I still can’t believe this is an actual thing in the world. It’s just . . . staggering. I’m speechless.

    At any rate, I quit looking for an agent that very day. I indie publish. I design my own covers. I am having a blast. I am much happier in general.

    I have Dean to thank for it. Thanks, Dean!

    • dwsmith

      Cynthia, you are welcome, but you did the thinking and moved. For some reason normally sane humans when faced with publishing do the most insane things. And yup, the money is an actual thing and the literary agents are not governed by normal agency rules because no writer has ever pushed it into court. (Every case tends to get settled with NDA.) So normally sane humans give all their money and all the paperwork for that money to a total stranger with no more training than an English degree from Vassar. And then wonder why things go wrong. Yeah, make sense, huh?