Q & A

Got a question about writing stuff? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at shanafigueroaauthor@gmail.com and I’ll answer it here!

Help! My friends and family won’t read the book I wrote even though they said they would…

Dear Shana,

After years of slow progress, I’ve finally completed my first book! I put my heart and soul into this thing, and was SUPER excited to show my wife and friends. They all said they’d love to read it, but then…didn’t. I’m especially heartbroken that my wife keeps putting it off.

What’s the deal? All these people were supportive of me before, but now they can’t be bothered to read the finished product? Does my wife not actually love me??

Signed, Frustrated First-Time Author in Omaha

Dear Frustrated First-Time Author,

I can’t tell you if your wife actually loves you, but I can tell you that enthusiastic friends and relatives who volunteer as beta readers but then go radio silent when you take them up on their offer is pretty common. When it comes to friends and family, these truths are universal: don’t “lend” them money and expect to ever get it back, and don’t ask them to critique your manuscripts. Friends and family exist to love and emotionally support you. They are not editors (or good financial risks). In fact, a shocking number of people these days don’t read books for recreation at all—that’s what the TV and internet are for—so asking them to read your whole book while also thinking critically about it and relaying helpful yet not hurtful comments is a major ask. You might as well ask them if they can remodel your kitchen for you.

A better place to find beta readers is within communities of other authors who are also looking for beta readers; for instance, writing groups and book clubs. I recommend you join a local writing group, either physically (when the quarantine lifts) or online. There will almost certainly be people looking for other people to read their stuff. You can swap manuscripts, or at least get feedback on a little of your work at a time if the whole group critiques up to a certain word limit.

So cut your wife and friends some slack. Lean on them for emotional support, not for their editorial services.

Help! Agents won’t respond to any of my queries, not even rejection letters…what gives?

Dear Shana,

I wrote an awesome historical thriller novel about a Black nurse who uncovers a Nazi plot to assassinate FDR. I’ve been querying agents who say in their bios that my novel is just what they’re looking for – strong female protagonist, diverse cast of characters, attention to period details, a read-in-one-night page turner, etc. But I haven’t heard back from any of them. NONE. Not even a form rejection letter, just silence.

What gives? Is my story actually awful? Am I doing something wrong? I’m really starting to get bummed about it, and I’m seriously considering stuffing my novel back into my nightstand (figuratively) and accepting I’ll be asking people if they want fries with that for the rest of my life.

Signed, Depressed in Delaware

Dear Depressed in Delaware,

Don’t take a literary agent’s silence or even rejection as a critique of your work. As I discussed in my blog on the topic of querying agents, agents receive TONS of queries, sometimes dozens a day. As a result, silence is the new normal. They can only take on a fraction of the projects they’re offered, and why they choose to take something on is entirely dependent on whether or not they think it’ll sell well. And whether or not something will sell well depends on how much a publisher will spend to market it (“Best sellers sell the best because they’re best sellers.”). And whether or not a publisher chooses to put their marketing resources behind a book depends on things like the writer’s clout or connections, what publishers think will sell well based on what’s hot at the moment, and…well that’s basically it. These things have nothing to do with the quality of your work.

Whether or not you want to keep querying agents is up to you, but I recommend changing strategies. Start working on your next book now. Writing a bunch of books is hands-down your best bet for eventually getting a traditional publishing deal if you have your heart set on it. You might consider self-publishing your current novel, or you could keep your current novel on deck for an eventual traditional publishing deal and self-publish your next novel.

Either way, don’t stop writing! Even if you DO get a sweet traditional publishing deal, you can’t make a career off one novel. If you want to ensure you’ll never ask anyone again if they want to supersize their meals, then you need to go the career route – and that means consistently finishing projects. Also, working on new projects keeps hope alive, like “Maybe this one will be the one!” kind of hope. Good luck!