How I Started Writing



I’m not a bestselling author, or even a selling author. However, I often hear people say they want to write a book but don’t know how to. As someone who’s book has yet to be accepted by a literary agent, I don’t want to claim to be an expert, but I can honestly say that my writing has improved greatly since I started writing creatively when I was eleven. That isn’t saying much, but my point is that skill comes with practice.

I once submitted the first ten pages of my book to an online “boot camp” hosted by Writer’s Digest. For a $200 fee, a literary agent would review the first ten pages of your book and provide personalized feedback. After one generic rejection letter after another e.g. “Than you for sending us your query but it isn’t right for us”, I was very eager to get real feedback on my writing. One of the biggest criticisms I received was that my story was mostly dialogue and narrative, there was little done in the way of painting a scene and building a world. Friends, and even some agents who have read it since now say that the imagery and the world building is one of the things that stood out most about the book. That is not to say that I am spellbinding, but it is a clear indicator of improvement.

When I was in grade five, an English teacher suggested that I should write a book. My mom agreed and I wrote my first novella in grade eight. It was a pretty horrible piece called Camp Escapade that only my mom and another English teacher read. However, it sparked my interest in writing and led me to pursue writing as a career. Camp Escapade also gave me early experience with the process of querying agents and trying to promote myself. I went through a period where I continuously rewrote Camp Escapade. There were long periods where I didn’t write at all since I didn’t value consistent creative output at the time.

When I was in grade eleven I started writing again, using my history classes as inspiration for a story of alien slavery. I wrote my first draft of Elseworld by the time I graduated and had the naïve idea that I would be published by the time I graduated university. During this stage, I started to realize how bleak the prospect of getting published was. I started to look up publishing statistics, and realized that it was almost a pipe dream. Yet I didn’t want to quite.

The most recent draft of Elseworld, which I finished last year, is far superior to the first.  It taught me what hard work and patience could lead to. I may have had an air of entitlement concerning my first work -maybe some of it still lingers- but I was now committed to become published. I no longer cared if it didn’t happen with my preset timeline. I always wanted to set a goal for myself but I realized that I didn’t want to quit if my goal didn’t materialize.

Inklitt and The Pursuit of Publication


As some of you may know, I have been trying to get a novel published for the past few years. Generally, the most lucrative way to get a book published is through traditional publishing with one of the “Big 6” publishers: Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Random House, MacMillan and The Penguin Group.
For the most part, these publishers do not accept direct requests for publication. One must first get a literary agent, who helps to edit and pitch the book. If the agent manages to get a publisher, the agent then helps you to market the book. Once the book is on the shelves, the agent then typically collects 15% of the earnings for domestic sales and 20-25% for international sales.
Self-publishing is always an option too, where an author prints and markets the book themselves. Obviously, this is an extremely tough route to take for someone who does not have a large built-in audience or platform, such as myself. Stephen King has self-published some of his more recent works, but he is Stephen King. He can easily reach out to media outlets, his audience etc. and get marketing exposure.

For someone such as myself, an unknown 24 year-old, self-publishing is not a practical route. A friend was recently trying to persuade me to look into it, thinking that I was avoiding hard work. Let’s be clear though, trying to get an agent is not easy either.

The publishing field is ridiculously competitive and agents need to have complete faith that your idea is not only good, but that it will sell well enough to compensate for the time and effort they will put into it. You might hear about a lot of New York Times Bestsellers, but they are the lottery winners, and help to disguise the thousands of other writers who will never get their work published because they couldn’t get an agent. Even once your book is published, there is no guarantee it will sell. Half of the books in a bookstore will never sell a single copy. Additionally, half the writers with one published work will never get a second one published. Even with the support of a big publisher, a book can fail to make a profit. Which is why self-publishing is not a route I am interested in.

I went to a writer’s conference last summer, where I was surrounded by nearly 1000 other aspiring authors. It was a very supportive atmosphere but it does not negate the fact that hundreds of those people could be competition for getting a science-fiction novel published: Hundreds of people from just one conference in one city.

However, I still attempt to beat the odds and get an agent. Most agents like to be contacted by snail mail or email. Very few will accept an entire manuscript. Instead of sending the entire book, most agents request a query letter, which is basically a one-page letter with details such as the book’s genre and word count. The query also includes a brief summary, similar to what you see on the back of a published book, and any info about the author that is relevant to the book. It is especially good to include details on any previously published work. Some agents might also request that the query include a synopsis or chapters of the book. Therefore, it’s important to read each agent’s guidelines closely.

Many agents get hundreds of queries in one week, so it takes most of them weeks to respond to one. I have submitted countless queries over the past five years. Since completing my last rewrite of my book two years ago, I have submitted at least thirty more. Most have been rejected.

Back in March 15, I had one-agent request the first three chapters of my book, after reading the query letter. This would be a great first step. The agent rejected the first three chapters last week and I am back to square one in my pursuit.

This state of disappointment and desperation is what led me to I received a message on twitter six days ago, saying that “Linda” of Inklitt would be delighted to see my unpublished manuscript in their “Grand Novel Contest”. I got the message prior to the rejection by the agent and didn’t pay much attention to it, since I was foolishly optimistic about the response I would get from the agent. After the rejection I went back to my twitter messages and promptly posted my book on the site. I had to upload the book chapter by chapter, which allowed me to correct a few remaining spelling mistakes. That is probably the only good thing that came out of the experience.

Inklitt’s conditions says that whoever won the contest would have their story pitched to an “A-list” publisher, like the Big 6 ones. If a Big 6 publisher accepted it then the author will receive 85% of net earnings. If a Big 6 publisher did not accept it then Inklitt will publish the novel and give the author 50% of earnings. The first thing that bothered me about the contest was the fact that the submission period was March 7-June 7, while the voting period is March 7-June 14. Anyone who submitted their work earlier is eligible to get more votes for their book, which would lead to them winning the contest. It seemed like a poorly designed system and made me wonder why someone would reach out this late in the contest to request new submissions.

I then searched for Inklitt on Twitter and found the same message I originally received from “Linda”- on 10 other accounts.

Hi (username)! I’d love to see your unpublished manuscript in our contest: … Love, Linda

“Linda’s” page, @BookBookRest has 28 followers, which seemed like little for a reputable online publishing company. It was also a bad sign that, aside from the spam, the content of the account did not seem related to Inklitt.

I then did what I should have looked into before, and researched the company. Googling “Inklitt” just led to the site so I Googled “Can I trust Inklitt”. The first result was a blog post describing how Inklitt posts received a temporary ban on Reddit due to the frequent posts. Once my novel was submitted Inklitt gave links to promote it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Since Reddit does not allow self-promotion in most of its “sub-reddits” my post was promptly flagged. It seems like any reputable company should have factored such information into their marketing plans, instead of using the logic that “Reddit users love to read”.

This blog post also describes how Inklitt’s founder, Ali Albazaz, was inspired by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. Albazaz liked how E.L James published her fan-fiction online, getting exposure and feedback before the book was officially published: “Don’t publish in two years when you’re finished. Publish as you go, get feedback from other writers and improve.” I have heard countless times that Fifty Shades of Grey is poorly written so it seems obvious that Albazaz is just out for money. Obviously every agent wants a book to sell well, but part of the reason a good agent will choose to represent it is because they like the story too. Albazaz claims that their system has a good algorithm for identifying the contest entries with the most engagement, which allows them to pick the best options for publication.

Googling Inklitt more revealed many more articles that advised people to avoid it at all costs. It was at this point that I removed my submission and all traces of it on my social media. I looked back on the submission and chided myself for wasting the time to put my novel up. It seemed so obvious that I should have reviewed the company first, but the offer came at a time when I was less likely to do so. Recent rejection by an agent, after waiting to hear back from the agent for two months, made me desperate to think that my time had come. It hasn’t, and who knows if it ever will.