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Question
I have written (completed -- not just a first draft)four novels and two novellas (in different genres, too: two mysteries, one terror story, a comic novella, a sci-fi novella, and an historical novel with in-depth research).  I've been in several writing groups, and even hired an editor once to go over one book entirely.  Nevertheless, after 20 years of trying, I have no agent and have gotten nothing published.

(In my other life, I was a practicing attorney and law professor, and I taught legal writing.  Needless to say, I've published reams of law articles and had things published in the SF Chronicle and other newspapers).

In the past three years, I have diligently written emails and letters to well over 125 literary agents and sent things directly to a dozen or more publishers.  I work diligently, writing every day.  But -- nothing happens.

Do you have any suggestion (other than "keep trying?")

Thanks.

Answer
Hi, Mike!

Nah, I'm not the "keep trying" sort. If you've spent that much time and effort, then there's something amiss that has the potential of being fixed. The problem is, I don't know who you've contacted, and with what, and what they said (if not just a stock rejection) so it's hard for me to give sound advice.

However, I have a pretty good idea what could be wrong, so let's look at this logically -- one legal professional to another. Law is likewise my day job. Has been for 20+ years. There are an amazing number of lawyers, paralegals and scientists among the fiction rank and file, and every one I've talked to has said the same thing. Law is right brained, fiction is left. It  might well be that you're bringing your right brain to a left brain party. What the right brain does to fiction is it makes it too . . . organized. The grammar is perfect (read "stilted"), the characters are precise (read "boring), the plot is logical (read "telegraphed"). In other words, it is technically correct in every way but completely uninteresting to publishers. The organization skills you've learned and taught, in order to be very clear and concise, might have rendered the manuscript absolutely predictable and average.

Now, that's not to say it can't be fixed. Fixing problems is one of the things lawyers are best at. I've found that once you put a lawyer on the task of re-working how their mind works, it works really well and you wind up with the John Grishams of the world.

The trouble is, that without knowing exactly where the writing is failing, I don't have any way to help. So, here's what I'm willing to do. Send a private follow-up with your email address, written exactly in the format like this (or AllExperts will redact it and the message will be blank):

yourname at ISP provider dot com

I'll drop you a line off-loop. Right now, I'm in the middle of writing a book that's due to be turned in October 15th. But if you send me three chapters (up to 50 pages--because if 3 chapters are longer than that, it's part of the problem) of whatever book you have had the best response from, then as soon as I have time I'll look at it and let you know what I think might be the problem. Then I'll tell you how to go about fixing it. I will say I'm best at SF, mystery and horror, because that's what I write.

If you're interested, reply. If not, that's fine too. But I think this might well be the problem and if you're willing to do some work to correct it, you'll be published in no time.

Let me know and good luck either way!

Cathy

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Cathy Clamp

Expertise

I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.

Experience

I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Organizations
Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Publications
Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

Education/Credentials
My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

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