Recently, a writer friend announced his intention to throw in the towel after decades spent turning out dozens of books. He still couldn't find an agent or pay the rent with Kindle royalties.
I share his pain. But lately, I've begun to wonder if certain struggles might also reflect a failure to adapt. To what? Consider:
1) It's meaningless for anyone to grouse about sending out thousands of queries. Not only has the publishing world changed since the emergence of the Big 5, but the query letter's style has also changed dramatically. Once upon a time, bigger agents receive hundreds of letters a month. Now some receive hundreds a week. And many agents prefer to hunt for new writers at conventions, where writers pay for the privilege of delivering elevator pitches--better yet, speed pitches of 10 words or less. So any query letter had better get down to business right quick. If query after query fails to win even a partial reading, it's time to redo the query--or pay for expert help.
2) Before throwing in the towel, the fighter in the writer must question not his talent--but the way it's being used. The time for a concept may have passed. Or the gatekeepers--high agents and editors--may have grown too timid. Back in the early 90s, when I wrote the first Boss MacTavin mystery, it was so wild and so different that agents feared to send it out, then one publisher sat on the submission for years. Since then, however, there's no shortage of hardboiled heroes. And my one-eyed Southern Scot grew more and more lost in the landscape. I chose to try something entirely different: mysteries unlike any other mysteries around....with a 5'4" hero who learns to walk tall. Result: a strong surge of 4 and 5-star reviews, plus high praise from Kirkus Reviews.
3) Even so, getting a new series going with readers requires not only hard work but more speed. I'm launching the third series entry in January, then plan to finish 2 books a year. Serious series readers are open to new mystery writers--who offer a body of work. At least three to start with; preferably five.
4) The synopsis itself is an art form that not every writer can master. Once again, be prepared to pay for help and put your pride aside. The $250 you may have to pay could make all the difference.
5) Most difficult of all, I think, is the art of adapting how we present ourselves now that we've been around the block and written a number of books. Resist the combined gravitational force of all those years of rejection. Don't let it weaken your posture. Counter with the gravitas of the seasoned veteran who's strengthened by experience...and the new tricks he's got up his sleeve.
6) And, finally, remember that the length of the struggle might work for you. On November 23, 2019, Deontay Wilder put Luiz Ortiz down with a single punch in the 15th round. And he did this after losing the prior 14 rounds on points.