Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


Hello Dear Readers,

Today’s revelation may shock some of you. It may cause a few of you to take a hard look at your own success (or lack thereof).

There is one single reason I am not published. (You may never have seen an unpublished author admit to this before, so sit down before reading.)

The answer is…

(Drum roll, please.)


Yes, the only one I can blame for my lack of publishing credentials (except for my journalism articles, that is) is myself.

It’s not the publishing industry, because I haven’t given the publishing industry the chance to refuse my work.

It’s not my agent, because I let her go two years ago, and I still haven’t gotten off my duff to retain a new one.

And this is why I grit my teeth when people tell me to go with a smaller publishing house, to go Canadian, or to e-publish. Why would I aim small when I haven’t even tried for the big leagues yet? I want to try for the big leagues. I want to exhaust every other option before I accept that the only route for me is to publish my own work. I simply don’t believe that yet, possibly because I’ve been making my living as a writer for almost twenty years. (Which seems a shockingly long time to me–it’s over half my life.)

Yes, my life is busy, but I’m the one who sets my priorities. Every time I sleep in rather than work on my rewrite, that’s my choice. Every time I choose to read someone else’s work instead of hacking away at my own, that’s my decision. Letting my freelance journalism career suck up every creative impulse and bit of time I had for years was also my choice. Same with focusing on kickboxing instead of writing last year.

I have plenty of faith in my work. It attracted a big-name agent once, and I believe it can do so again. What I don’t always have faith in is my ability to stick to that commitment once I’ve made it. I write for a living, and that means the last thing I want to do in my spare time is write fiction. But if I ever want to write fiction for my livelihood (and I do), I have to put my time where my mouth is. I have to finish those rewrites, and even more importantly, I have to get them out the door.

As much as people would like to believe e-publishing is the key to fame and fortune for writers, that’s simply not the case. But if you’ve banged your head against too many doors, and no one will let you in because your work doesn’t fit an easily saleable category, it may be the right venue for you. If you do go that route, please please PLEASE do it professionally. Get a good editor (I don’t care how well you edit your own work; if it’s your own, you are missing some mistakes–trust me on that). Make sure your cover is professionally designed. Be prepared to spend a heck of a lot of time marketing your book, because without your blood, sweat, and tears, it’s doomed to failure. For more rarely considered pitfalls of e-publishing, please see Michelle Argyle’s wonderful article on the subject. (This one is good, too.)

I’m not against e-publishing, but too many writers have put unpublished work up for sale on the Internet before it’s ready. This is starting to make it look like amateur hour, and pretty soon people will be afraid to take a chance on an author they’ve never heard of–even if the manuscript can be theirs for only 99 cents. Ninety-nine cents of crap is still crap, and crap is never a bargain.

If I have the time, I’d like to publish Lost as an e-book, only because I can’t in good faith tell agents and publishers who has already considered it. But it certainly isn’t my priority. My priority is to follow the sure-fire method of success in the writing world:

1. Write. 2. Rewrite. 3. Polish. 4. Submit. 5. Repeat.

So wish me luck! I’ll be sharing my journey on here, as always, and I’ll be hoping that you share yours as well.

The good news is: when you only have yourself to blame, you have the power to change the situation.

Why aren’t you published?

Thanks for reading!
1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.


  1. Mystic_Mom

    Great post Holli, I know full well it is me who keeps my next poetry book from being printed, and my novel from being done. I know it. Gotta figure out the ‘WHY’ factor and then do it! 😀

  2. Laura Best

    Sometimes when I see the amount of work that some writers can produce I can’t help but be in awe. I have to remind myself, however, that I can only write at my own pace. I do try and write a bit every day, but there are times when I simply am not able.

    You’re right about us all being responsible for our own writing careers. I read about many writers who want an agent, but can’t seem to send out the queries. This is something we can control.

    At the moment I’m waiting. I’ve sent out some queries and have mailed out a few manuscripts. The rest is up to the Universe. At least until such time as I feel I need to once again, revise, revise revise…

  3. Michelle Davidson Argyle

    One thing I’ve found is that some people really aren’t cut out to work with a publisher or agent – they want to do everything on their own. And I can respect that. I certainly wanted to do that for CINDERS, and I did. I don’t regret it at all. But some people want to be with a big publisher, and I respect that too. Me? I want small. I didn’t settle going with a small publisher. I went with the best option for me and what I want out of my career so far.

    I’m happy you know which path you want to be on, and that you’re going to walk down it bravely!

  4. Lynette Eklund

    I know what you mean about doing the work. Being a monster-maker for films, my kids Halloween costumes suffer more neglect than most! It really does feel like I’m having to do work in my spare time. But you’re going to have to bite the bullet, girl. With the advantage of professional skills, you should be able to get the dirty work done much faster than the rest of us, so just pull the bandaid fast!

    Why am I not published? Because my agent just started the submission process a few days ago. (God willing —that will be the last reason I’ll have to give to that question!)

  5. Story Teller

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. Very insightful.

    @ MM – Good for you for taking responsibility. The WHY is probably that it’s so hard to make writing a commitment when there’s no external deadlines. You have your job, you’re running a farm, and you’re raising a child. Those are priorities that can’t be neglected. Once you figure out where you can sneak in some time, you’ll be off and running. DO IT. I believe in you!

    @ Laura Best – I’ve met so many of those writers, too! The ones that kill me are the ones who are asked to submit by agents who are truly interested, and who still don’t follow through.

    Good for you for trying to write everyday. Even if it’s just a little bit, it keeps you in the zone. It’s so hard to get back once you’ve lost it.

    @ Javier – Did you read Michelle’s articles? There is another side to self-publishing, and there have always been cinderella stories in the publishing industry. If I don’t have anything ready to go, I can’t publish it anywhere–that’s the point. Self-publishing is a lot of work, and it’s something I don’t have time for yet. Chris has Lost in a Kindle format, but I still have to go through it, page by page, making corrections on paper so he can correct them in the program. It will take a lot of time, and as I know I won’t be able to dedicate time to marketing it yet, I’m holding off.

    @ Michelle – Agreed, we all have to find our own path. I just hate being pressured to take one which isn’t my choice! There is no shame in going with a small publisher if that is what you feel suits you and your work. (I should add that when people suggest a small publisher to me, it’s a local publisher that is non-profit and prints about four books per year…none of which you can find in a regular bookstore. Very different from where you ended up.)

    @ Lynette – Best answer to my question EVER! Congrats! Have you had an agent all along, or is this a new development? Can you tell us a bit about your book?

    And you’re a monster-maker? That may be the coolest job I have ever heard of. I’d love to learn more about that part of your life, too.

  6. Kim

    I’m not published because I fear sharing. I fear being misinterpreted as something I didn’t intend, in particular if that something I didn’t intend is negative (which also works well with your post from today as it is also a form of social anxiety disorder). It is causing me terrible anxiety to even e-publish my novel and I procrastinated about taking the steps to do that for far too long. Somehow I illogically feel, regardless of the irrationality of it and how many postive comments I’ve gotten, that once I put it out in the public domain it will get trashed.

    It dishartens me when I read a book where the writing is substandard. Makes me think, “how did this person get a traditional publishing contract and I couldn’t?” My book is good. It’s been edited. It’s been polished. The cover design is being handled professionally. And it went to many many publishers that all rejected it for the SAME reason — doesn’t fall nicely into a target audience. That is an unfixable problem and it will be interesting to see what will happen when I publish it myself.

    I also haven’t written anything new. If I did write something new, I would try and publish it the traditional way first. The traditional way will hire marketers for you. My social anxiety dreads having to do my own marketing. I’m not good at jumping up and down and saying, “Hey look at me!! Look at what I’ve done.”

    So that’s why I’m not published. As with you, it is ME that is the cause. Notice I have managed to avoid mentioning children, full time job and very time consuming biking addiction. Those are just contributing factors as is kickboxing for you.

  7. Story Teller

    Good comment, Kim. Thanks for sharing. When I first starting reading your explanation, I thought “Oh, so it’s YOU.” Glad you ended on that note. 🙂

    The trick is to distance ourselves from our work…which is extremely difficult when our work includes so much of ourselves, as it does with writing. But–and this isn’t to scare you–when your work is available to the public, chances are someone will not like it. They may trash it, or just give you a negative review. You can’t please everyone, and those who can’t do love to criticize those who can.

    I almost closed this blog because of one negative comment. ONE. But it was so harsh that it made me question everything I’ve ever written on here. I had to ask myself if that one negative comment really meant more than all the positive feedback, the new friends, and the reason I started writing this blog in the first place. The answer was no, and I hope you will come to the same conclusion.

    It’s worth the risk. It really is. Good luck, Kim!

  8. Kim

    In a pinch of time, I wrote that comment quickly. Yes, what I meant to say is that, Like you, I also know that I am the one to blame for not being published yet. I accept full responsibility for that. And, I also am not so much bothered by not being published yet either. If the universe collides in the right way, I’ll work to make it happen.

    I also had an agent that came to me after looking at my first novel (and rejecting it) and said, “write something younger and I’ll look at you again.” This should have made me jump to write something new and send it off. I did write something younger in the next year, but I didn’t think it was ready to be seen yet by even my friends, let alone a top agent. At least it wasn’t at my standards. And that message from that agent came right in the midst of my marriage break up. My priorities were elsewhere and my priorities have continued to be elsewhere for a few years now. If writing is meant to come back as a priority for me, it will.

  9. Lynette Eklund

    I don’t want to sidetrack this thread because I think it’s a very valid discussion so, the short answers to your questions are:

    I write upmarket fiction. This is the first story I wrote and the one that got me my agent –but it isn’t the only thing I wrote before we found each other.

    The easiest way to tell you what I do for a day job is to post a link to my online portfolio/resume because it is an odd job. http://www.lynetteeklund.com

  10. Story Teller

    @ Kim – For sure, life happens. But it’s good you’re not beating yourself up about it. I haven’t mastered that skill yet.

    @ Lynette – Thanks for replying, and thanks for the link. I’m sure it will answer all my questions, so I’ll definitely check it out!

  11. Story Teller

    Wow, Lynette, that is the coolest website EVER! You’ve done some amazing work. I’m going to check out your blog…sorry it took me so long.

  12. Mystic_Mom

    Thanks for the encouragement Holli! I am working on that routine part…me and the boys and the critters. 🙂


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