In a continuation of my series on the nature of waiting, today I want to discuss some of the benefits of being a writer who bides their time.
For traditional publishing, there are a number of gatekeepers for a writer to pass through, each of which requires reflection on one’s material.
In pursuing an agent, writers often go to workshops, conferences, and then through the all-to-tedious submission process. These are all good things! Even when it may not feel like it.
With workshops, our work gets better. With conferences, our work gets better, and, if we’re paying attention, through the submission process our works gets better. This is due, primarily, to two things: reflection on our own work, and solid, constructive criticism.
I have never written something, that if I walked away and left it for a while, I couldn’t see flaws when I returned. The longer we spend away from something, the clearer our “editor” eye sees.
Some may argue they’ll get out of a writing groove, or forget the heart of the story, or lose momentum. I would argue that each pass of a manuscript requires a new writing groove, a new journey into the heart of the story, and its own momentum.
Writing is easy. Rewriting is hard. That’s why lots of manuscripts languish in desk drawers……
The beauty of conferences is that not only do we get to sit in on great workshops, hear wisdom from successful writers, agents, and publishers, but we also have the opportunity to get critiques from the very agents and publishers we want to work with. Take the feedback to heart! You don’t have to do everything a reader tells you, but you do have to pay attention. They have a point, that you must respect, and if you choose not to use their advice, you have to know why. And, you have to be able to justify the decision to keep your work as is, even if it’s just to yourself.
(As a side note. Never argue with an agent/editor/publisher about their feedback. It’s unprofessional and pointless. Take the note, say thank you, and move on. What you do with their feedback is up to you, but be respectful, they are putting time and effort into trying to help you make your work something an agent or editor will want to represent.)
Lastly, during the submission process, if you’re hearing “no, thank you” to every query, or even worse, the dreaded “if you don’t hear from us…” and you aren’t — that speaks volumes. There’s a couple things that might be keeping your publication dreams at bay. Here are a few possibilities.
1. You are querying the wrong agents, because you don’t know your market and don’t follow the guidelines.
There’s no excuse for querying an agent who only carries non-fiction, about your latest novel. Make sure you have spent the time to research agents who carry the kind of work you do. There are a lot of books out there that list agents and agencies and what they represent. Always check the agency websites for the most up-to-date submission information. Read a few of the books they’ve represented and make sure your voice fits in with their preferences.
2. Your query letter fails to catch an agent’s attention.
There are a ton of books, websites, blogs, and workshops on a good query letter. Have you done your research? Does your query letter conform to the expectations most of these sites outline? If not, get busy rewriting that query and researching what makes a strong query letter. Don’t be cute. Don’t be clever. Write succinctly and clearly. Your work should be polished enough to sell itself, it shouldn’t require a “clever” query letter. If you haven’t gotten a bite after a few submissions. Look at your query letter again. Can you make it better? (And be sure you’re getting the salutation correct – never Dear Agent. Or Dear Mr. Jane Doe. If gender is unclear, google them, see if you can find a picture or reference so you know if it’s Mr. or Ms. there’s nothing worse than getting someone’s name wrong. It shows a lack of attention to detail, why would they think you can write a book?)
3. Your writing isn’t polished/solid/original enough for mainstream publishers.
Step back from your work, if you can find a typo on the first page or even the first chapter, you haven’t proofread enough. If you’re not good at proofreading, find someone who is. This may mean hiring a freelance editor, but if you want to be successful, you need to have professional “tools.” Know your weaknesses. Do you have beta readers? People who will give you HONEST feedback about the viability of your work? These can’t just be people who want to make you feel good. They must be readers in the genre you write, they must have a strong understanding of story structure, and they MUST be able to tell you the truth. If you know they read cozy mysteries, and the book you’ve given them isn’t a cozy and they can tell you why it’s not a cozy, but you want to argue — you don’t understand your genre. If multiple readers tell you they found mistakes (grammar, spelling) or inconsistencies (character’s act in ways that don’t make sense, plot lines go nowhere, events feel unrealistic given the world you’ve created) it doesn’t mean your work is unpublishable. It means it’s unpublishable NOW. Take the feedback. Mull it over. Take time away from your manuscript, write something else. Then, come back to it with fresh eyes and do another rewrite. Be honest with yourself. If it’s your first manuscript, is it a learning experience and now you should write another? Or is there enough of value to keep rewriting? If you don’t think there’s anything you can “fix” but no one’s interested. Write your next book!
(Yes, you can self-publish and that’s a valid choice — more on that next week — stay tuned)
Almost every published writer has been through a process like the one I’ve outlined above. They’ve worked with writer’s groups and beta readers. They’ve attended classes and workshops and conferences, and applied what they learned to their work. They have most likely written multiple books before they sell their first one. They researched agents and publishers and submitted only when their work was ready. Then, after an agent said yes, they did a rewrite based on feedback from the agent. Then, after finding a publisher, they did rewrites based on the editor. Then another rewrite based on line edits. Getting the picture? Lots of rewrites. This can be a long process.
It’s a lot of work, but worth it. Put in the time to hone your craft. You wouldn’t want a doctor who’s never done a surgery to cut you open. You wouldn’t want to use the first draft of any Windows program. Writing is no different. Take the time. Work hard, but wait for the right time to submit.
Check in next week for more thoughts on how waiting plays an important role in a writer’s life.