Cuspical Data

Last post I talked about the uncertainty of “that time” between an agent submitting a manuscript to a publisher and when a writer gets a response from the publisher in the form of a rejection or a contract.

Thing the First: A Conversation on Time on Cusp

I posed these questions to Marshall Ryan Maresca, a local Austin published author:

  1. Is there a correlation between the number of requests for a full manuscript and the possibility that it’ll get picked up?
  2. Are there months where publishers generally make decisions on contracting to publish a novel?
  3. How long would a publisher sit on a manuscript they’ve asked for before coming back with a decision? I’d heard a few snippets back at the last ‘Con, but… you’ve been through the grinder a few times now.
The following is a quote, edited to preserve anonymity where necessary, of Marshall’s response:
“Man, let me tell you, that interstitial period in a writers career, where you’ve made that massive level-up achievement of Getting An Agent, but still haven’t sold… it’s rough.  And it is just because you’re in limbo.  You’ve got people asking for it, so that’s good.  But it can just take forever.  I mean, it was about two and half years for me.  [Author], I think four.  As for months when things happen and when they don’t? I mean it all depends.  I hear that a lot DOESN’T happen in the summer months, for example, because editors are often going to cons and such each weekend.  I know that it was about a year between when my agent sent Thorn to [publisher] and when she started reading it, and she really didn’t read it until I went up and said a polite hello at WorldCon.  And my agent was just telling me a story of one editor who kept going, “Yeah, I know, I’m going to read that soon” on someone else’s manuscript for years.  I think Martha Wells made the joke of “glaciers honk at the publishing industry to move faster.”
“(But, on the flip side, you get something like [another author], whose agent sold his manuscript a week after signing him.)
Thus, the big unhelpful answer is, “Who knows, man?”
Well… okay, then. The crystal ball continues my future opacification. All I know is Marshall has a glass of a good scotch coming his way.

Thing the Second: Odds of Getting Agent Representation

Someone posted this article on Austin’s Indie Authors Society Facebook page [link to Nelson Literary Agency here]. Keep in mind this is from an agent, not a publisher. So the numbers and “successes” only mean the author received an offer of representation, not a publishing contract. The crux of Kristin Nelson’s post was this: for four agents, the agency received over 20,000 query letters. Of those, they requested about 440 manuscripts. And of those, a quarter of those authors received an offer letter from the agency to represent the author and try and get their manuscript published.
Bottom line: The agency looked at the manuscripts of 2.25% of the query letters they received. And only 0.56% of all query letter writers were given offers of representation. I strongly recommend reading Kristen’s full blog post for precise numbers and more (and funnier) odds.

Wrapping This Up

Neither of these items is directly connected, except to make a single point: the odds of an author, even with a great book and query letter, are literally minuscule. Not lottery minuscule, but certainly nothing you’d want to pin your mortgage payment on selling that Great Novel. Sigh.

Goals done, gone, ahead… and a musing

Goals people make are frequently not SMART. And that makes them all fuzzy, and frustrating, frankly, when trying to assess progress. 2018 has been, for me, surprisingly good, exciting, and charges me with hope and excitement for 2019.


It’s been a year. I worked as a contractor for two months, and had the amazing, humbling, and powerful experience of writing full-time. It’s thrilling. I’ve got a spreadsheet of data (see below), but I wrote approximately three in four days this year, with an average daily word count a bit over 1,600. I developed three separate “universes” and three of the six manuscripts draw from them. The last, for a project named “Qoch,” is my first true fantasy foray. Worldbuilding is a whole different matter than alternate history timelines. Wow.

I now have a literary agent: Martha Hopkins, of Terrace Partners. For traditional publishing, agents are a critical success factor, and Martha’s got the power and panache to find the right deal for my work product.

Novels were definitely my focus. That I have four novels in progress isn’t a good thing. There are logical reasons for why they’re that way, however.

  • Ken Yirbu is on hold pending my agent getting the first novel in the series, A Day at the Zoo, sold.
  • I had an editor do a developmental edit on Last Run, so the start of next year will be consumed with getting that out to my agent. It’s done, but not ready for publishing.
  • Brightly Needing I’ve rewritten from scratch five times, but I’m only counting the last. This might be a trunk novel, but the universe and some of its characters have promise. Call it on hold for now.
  • Qoch has three novellas/novels outlined, and I’m well into the first of them. It’s always a good sign when my characters wake me up to tell me what they want to do.

On the short story side while I’ve done some writing, it’s not been at the forefront of my writing. And zero acceptances for twenty submissions isn’t indicative of anything–too few to be statistically important. On one hand I’m bummed, but the time cost in shifting from one project to another, be it small or large, is expensive. Better to focus on a single novel plus edits than get creative in a few ways all at once. The one short I started and completed in 2018, Selection Bias, I’ll shop after getting it through the Slugtribe group’s review.


I dragged my heels for years before getting a degree, and worked at Charles Schwab for a year as a product owner without any formal training. While I’m not a fan of official stamps of approval that I know something, employment site AIs and corporate recruiterfolk are increasingly buzzword scanners rather than resume readers. So my investment in Agile-related certifications will, I hope, pay off in the new year. I’ve enjoyed doing development, but I’m more attracted to working with humans than screens. (Said the man who types in front of screens for hours on end…)

2019 Goals

I like my goals to be SMART. So here they are:


  • Write two novels in the Qoch universe (~70k words each). One in 1H, one in 2H. If the Shmuley Myers mystery/thriller series sells, possibly finish Ken Yirbu.
  • Write two novellas/short stories in the Brightly Needing universe. A minimum of 100k words between the two. I still think there’s at least one full novel in it, but the shorter works might (finally) kick that off. Timing: one in each half of 2019.
  • Have Last Run off to my agent at Terrace Partners by the end of 1Q.
  • Redo this web site so it’s mobile-friendly.
  • Write a minimum of one web post per week.
  • Restart my ceramic painting creativity such that I’m putting ten hours/week into it by the end of 2Q.


  • Get a position in a company with a great culture and good folks by the end of 1Q. Work/life balance very important.
  • Based on where I get the job, buy a house, possibly with acreage and possibly for sustainability as a goal, but that’s income-dependent.
  • I worked hard in 2017/2018 to get my weight down from heavy to just big. Need to continue that progress so I can (goal here) do a twenty-mile hike in a day without turning to mush and my weight down by fifty pounds from current weight.

It’s a new swing around the sun…

I’m looking forward to applying the momentum built up so far.

An Author Moment

Just finished hand edits of Last Run, a monster novel (originally 185k or closing on 800 pages). I’ll have a much lower word count when I’m done, if for no other reason than most post-apoc manuscripts are best salable when they’re under 120k. Or so I’m told. This month, at least.

I find the act of writing on paper validating, as I immediately see what I’m changing. In Word, or Scrivener, old words disappear, and are seamlessly replaced. (Yes, edit tracking in Word. Also yes, it makes it really hard to read.) It also gave me some more practice at writing in cursive. Because we all know that’s the next New Thing.

What I didn’t expect was the emotional impact reading the book. I hadn’t picked it up in a year, so while I knew what was happening, I was rediscovering the phraseology and tension. (Especially after pruning all those extraneous words…) So I had the tear-jerker moments, the tension-filled suspenseful ones. The chuckle at the narrator’s subtle wit. It was fun, damn it! I enjoyed it. And after re-reading it, I’m sure an audience will as well.

Unlike my Shmuley Myers books, this one’s going to go to a professional editor for cleanup, then straight to alpha (beta? gamma?) readers.

Hope my agent doesn’t mind hawking two manuscripts at once…

“Last Run” Topped Out

By Leif Ørnelund – Oslo Museum: image no. OB.Ø59/2680 (Byhistorisk samling), via, CC BY-SA 3.0,

When a building’s top floor is in place, especially for tall buiildings, they’re “topped out.” Usually a tree, sometimes a flag.

Authors should have something analogous for a novel. Even if we’re not trying to appease the tree gods.

Sunday I pitched two projects to an agent at the Writers League of Texas Agents & Editors conference. A win for me, at my first pitching, would be “sure, I’d like to see the first ten pages and a query letter via email.” The agent with whom I chatted wanted to hear about two of my projects: my current novel, Last Run, a post-apocalyptic tale, and my Induction series, a “hot” SF set of novels. She wanted the first three chapters and a synopsis of the first, and then maybe the second. Yoiks.

Yesterday I “topped out” the novel, tearing up at the last scene. Last Run currently stands at around 173k words, and the sweet spot for novels in that category is closer to 85k words.

So… behold the mighty editor’s pen, out and primed in red.