So there I was last summer. With two completed novels and a couple screenplays under my belt, I dove confidently into submission query hell. By my calculations, I submitted 78 queries to literary agents, but got rejected by all but one. And by rejection, I mean most didn’t bother to reply, and the ones that did were basic form rejections. Most didn’t bother writing my name, although by submission standards they all call it a sin to not write theirs when submitting. The irony. I personalized a bunch of the queries and it didn’t help, in fact, it seemed to make it worse.
I submitted both novels when it seemed to be in a literary agent’s wheelhouse. This only doubled the limits of my exasperation. Where I still know the name of the agent that rejected me the fastest (23 minutes to the first agent I queried), now I know the name of an agent who rejected both novels in a span of eight minutes.
Yes, in a span of time it takes to boil and cook a bag of ramen, one agent decided both my queries were such a bag of shit they rejected both without reading more than a couple paragraphs from each (if they got past the first line).
Some say they want diverse voices. I said I had a diverse background and nobody believed me I guess. Maybe it is my surname. There was this thing when Scarlett Johonson was cast in Ghost in the Shell about whitewashing an asian out of a role. Some asian literary agents wrote about not getting a chance or getting stereotyped, and how real asians can’t get a chance in entertainment and I laughed a little, because the very same agents didn’t reply to my query when I stooped to a point of taking time to point out my mixed diversity and they don’t bother responding. Why they ignored me is the same reason why asian actresses didn’t get a chance; everyone is looking for the big hit for the big paycheck.
One agent said they never got it after I sent the second novel and referred to the first.
Then I got a call two hours after sending my Sci-Fi novel.
She wanted to see more. Said I wrote well, and managed to get to the end of the first 5K words. She then said I must be new to professional publishing because I still put two spaces after periods. Oops. She asked for the full. I went home, told my wife, and edited all night to send the cleanest copy I could.
Then I waited three weeks.
Then a month later, I sent an email and she said, “Let’s do this.”
Then the bizarre happened. She said she didn’t want to hold me down to sign anything. She wasn’t full time anymore. She said I could give her 30 days and then go from there. We worked on a couple drafts of the first two chapters. Then she finally admitted she never read the entire thing. I guess she was looking for a quick sale. Her agency was reputable with a couple decades of big sales. But it seems the reputation was more about going after bit hits and not really developing new writers. Things seem to be getting worse with now some agencies wanting numbers for online sales. Like, they want ZERO risk.
We broke ways and I continued head on. I began tweeting non stop, but then figured out that in the weird writing world of social media, it has become 90% about promoting digital and print books non stop. The only people that subscribe to these groups seem to be aspiring writers and not readers. (It’s like hot dog salesmen trying to sell hot dogs to each other, after everyone has ate four of them already that day).
I pushed on. I would go on the bike machine at the gym and tweet an hour during the workout. I would respond to tweets. I would make some digital online friends. I would get into deep philosophical conversations with some. Some kept talking about burning shit down. Some were in a perpetual state of “editing” of their novel. I tried forming different mini-groups of writing rejects but easily found out that larger groups had already formed and now had enough followers and bot programs to like and RT their posts, it was hard to get higher on the feed. I began the Midnight Traveler writing project, which started out strong but faded more and more people wigged out at having to figure out a solution to the next step of the story. I learned photoshop and blogged about it. I added content as fast as I could, mainly movie review and food/travel reviews just to get some eyeballs.
Nothing really worked.
I got lucky by predicting a Game of Thrones reveal last season, and my traffic spiked the night it debuted. I had little GoT content to go with it and my traffic crashed to normal soon after. Then I learned just how many writer accounts with over a few thousand followers were all fake or bought anyways. Then I discovered how many posts were automated. It seemed like a rigged system yet again. I guest blogged for another site and learned they aggregate blogposts with bots and FB groups, and their traffic went parabolic in no time while mine stagnated doing things the boring way.
I was basically like damn, I wrote two books and can’t get any traction the traditional way with literary gatekeepers in NY and I can’t get any traction building up an audience of potential readers to do a successful book launch on Kindle. What I did learn was just how many services there were to milk the dreams of aspiring writers in editing/promotion/advice/cover art. I looked into Amazon’s imprints, but deep down, the system seemed rigged toward those who could go on goodreads and convince a ton of people to like their novel. Successful book launches were more about connections/investment to manipulate a system rather than writing a solid story.
This is the effect of digital distribution. Call it the uberization of writing. On one end, I was jaded by literary agents, but now, I kind of wished I had one of quality again. I felt that I’d rather publish traditionally at 7% royalty than 70% e-royalties, if it mean’t the piece of fiction I invested my heart and soul writing was taken seriously. I already have a good career and make a great income. It was never about the money anyway. It was about doing something happy and enjoyable that I could share.
On a whim, I wrote a screenplay for a tv pilot and submitted it to the Blacklist. As you can read from the journey I posted about that on this blog, it was a total failure. I still think it was a solid debut script, but who knows, maybe I should have essentially written “Ocean’s 11” as my paid reviewer told me. Why write anything new when I could just copy a blockbuster? Sheesh.
I then hired an editor. I paid in full and got “full edit” which was really just a proofread. She said I understood plot and structure and needed little help. I then paid for my second novel to be proofread, send money via paypal only to have her quit three weeks in. (Yes, she even shut down her website and everything, then refunded all my money). I told myself, maybe this is a sign.
So I basically took a break in July.
It depends on how long of a break it was to be I guess.
I had become accustomed to Amazon publishing videos on youtube for quite some time and ironically, the google search algorithms must have put me as a huge Amazon fan. My ads and suggested viewings were all related to Amazon. Either that, or I needed to see Tai Lopez with his Lambo in his garage for the 94th time.
I then saw a new video about Amazon. How about selling other stuff? I used to sell books out of college about a decade prior but quit as physical book prices collapsed to pennies where people made money off shipping. I had a full time job, and the hobby soon became a pain. What did the new videos reveal?
Fulfillment by Amazon is the breakthrough Amazon has found to win on price and margin. Instead of taking inventory risk, they let independent sellers send in inventory for them to sell, pack, ship, and any returns are the sellers risk. Amazon just takes a generous cut from brokering the deal that rivals their digital sales cut. The sellers then reverse auction prices to underbid each other with apps, and all of a sudden their prices beat Walmart’s because Billy Bob Inc got in a pissing contest with Sally Joe Inc over a jar of mayo.
Yep, it’s that big.
Anyways, I soon discovered after some light research just how littered the field is with promotional wunderkinds that can teach you anything and everything about the process for the low low low price of ________. (take your guess and multiply by insanity). I joined a couple groups. Paid one, and it was a scam from the get go. Advice: Most of them are scammers, otherwise they would be too busy scaling up with their business. This is the same reason why JK Rowling or Stephen King or
James Patterson (oops) doesn’t peddle a “How to make millions by writing in under 30 days” courses. It simply doesn’t work. Only scamsters sell courses like that. On FB groups, they even have the stupid gimmick of posting motivation quotes on instagram filtered stock photos to build up likes, except it’s all business related instead of Elmore Leonard.
So I learned the old fashioned way (circa 2017). I watched a shit-ton of youtube videos and learned to source product. I began with thrift stores (which gets old fast) and garage sales (which is awkward and weird), to moving to retail arbitrage. I can probably write 500 tricks to making money on Ebay and Amazon now as there is a steep learning curve and even the paid scammers don’t know what they’re talking about. This is the thing. When you learn a secret in the reselling game, you basically lose when you tell others. Reselling groups are a highly secretive bunch now. There are seriously secret societies in America who work together to essentially bring the downfall of physical retail. Their partner/big brother is Amazon who has created an army of UPC scanners in stores from sea to shining sea.
There are courses that cost as much as $3000 for shit I learned in 8 minutes watching youtube clips. There is a $8000 course for private labeling that I learned in 50 minutes listening to a podcast. Nobody gives a shit. Some idiot will pay and people will fail and go broke just like gold miners in the Klondike. In the writing world, this is just like the mini-gold rush of people that made a business of formatting old books without copyright and posting them on kindle for a profit when the same book was free somewhere else. It is mind boggling the scamming that is going on in the veil of education and “life changing opportunity.”
This isn’t Tai Lopez pushing 67 steps in his mansion.
These are shady amateurs that basically would rather work from home pontificating obvious information with the “get 1000 people to pay you 1000 bucks” scam.
Here is my tip to Amazon. Join bunch of FB groups, watch a bunch of youtube videos, and listen to a bunch of podcasts. The more you put in, the more you’ll learn. This is like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting … you wasted your money paying for education when everything can be learned for free.
Don’t worry, I’m not selling shit. No course. No youtube channel promotion or affiliate marketing. I’m just telling it how it is for free. Why? I don’t know. With my traffic at next to nil after my hiatus, maybe it doesn’t matter. The scammers always win. Maybe I just want all my 6 months of learning to be kept a secret. Maybe there are hundreds of people that all know the easy money to make and want it to be kept a secret so the party can keep going.
So where am I now?
I still have a full time career doing something else, but now dabble in Amazon FBA and ebay as a side hobby after I stopped writing, and just about reached the $30k per month milestone in March (Now over $37K in April) which is insane considering how little work I put into it.
Maybe Amazon is the future. Their drones will deliver me a cheeseburger in 5 minutes or less as they put fast food out of business after big box stores are obliterated from our suburban landscapes. Maybe we’ll end up like those fat kids in Wall-E with everything fed and delivered to us by robots. It’s like David Foster Wallace’s prediction for us. We are a species all about instant gratification. Maybe I need to just get with the program and self publish my stuff and let Amazon make me a boatload of cash on their platform.
Or maybe there is one literary agent out there who will take a chance on my great American novel.