After persevering through the daunting task of writing their first novel, some writers (like me) have made the monumental mistake of thinking it’s finished and query it too soon. Taking it out of the oven half-baked and presenting it to customers can be unnerving while they chew on the sticky dough. Most spit it out while others swallow the glop and try to come up with something nice to say like, “That’s damn fine coffee.”
It all started nearly seven years ago. I wrote a micro fiction and used it as the starting point for my first novel. After eighteen months of pecking away at it, I wrote The End, so it was done, right? I signed up to attend my first writer’s conference to pitch. What I didn’t know was that first really shitty draft (as coined by Anne Lamont), would remain that way for a while. That didn’t stop me from querying.
Funny thing is, I got lucky. It went out on full submission a few times. That’s a huge win for anyone who queries. But no one published it back then, thank God.
My book wasn’t done.
Any book published too soon risks wasting readers’ time. Mine would have been tossed into the gawdawful stinky pile of novels never to be read. But even worse, like a bad meal at restaurant most patrons won’t return. Readers will be reluctant to buy subsequent books of an author whose stories were half-baked the first time around. Who has the time to waste?
Here’s the real dealio according to my own facts and figures floating around in my tiny cranium. I figure about fifty percent of readers really resonate with the best books out there. Everyone relates through their own personal lens, point of view, and experience. There are a lot of best sellers and even prize winners that ended up in my donation pile. My pile would be different than your pile. It might be bigger or smaller.
I know that no matter how long I try to improve on my novels they will end up in someone’s stinker pile. The trick is to make that percentage as low as possible.
How do you do that?
Flash forward a few years.
Sometimes writers tire of rejections and give up. They shelve their first manuscript and move onto another. Or they pull the trigger and self-publish. I totally get that.
Not me. I’m still at it.
Am I wasting my time? Should I just self-publish? Not yet. Not while I’m learning so much through the process.
I’ve become the revision queen. My first manuscript is my master’s thesis of sorts. I’ve taken loads of classes while attending conferences, read daily blog posts by amazing writers, along with books on writing. I’m a human sponge. Feed me!
It’s not my only project.
I’ve revised it while writing new manuscripts and screenplays. The second book in the series is in a draft. The third in an outline. I recently finished another thriller. It’s in revision mode. I started a few other manuscripts which are in the cue.
Query rejections with advice.
There are a lot of writers who sniff when given advice along with a query rejection. That free advice can be golden.
When agents give me suggestions, I am very grateful and take another look at my manuscript. It usually makes sense to me and I can see how the book could be better. In those few cases where it didn’t, I always got the same advice from another agent so I would revise the offending pages. Free advice from those who are in the business of knowing what will sell? That is truly a gift!
Over the years, I took my first novel and combed out the tangles and reworked it again and again. There were times I thought it was finished. Then I took Donald Maass’s class and overhauled it last year. An amazing editor I met at a conference requested it and gave me detailed advice along with a rejection. I reworked it yet again.
I traveled to California in June and came up with a twist so big I had to retrieve the file one last time to weave it through. Now it’s done. Oh, sure! I hope to score an agent soon (send me positive vibes!) and go through final edits. Yes. There is always room for improvement.
We all crave books in which we can escape.
Sometimes books are light reads. Other times they’re all hooks, pullies, and grips. The best are those few which change us in some way.
As writers, we entertain, teach, and sometimes inspire. There are readers for every kind of book. Yours too. But please for the love of that heavenly scent, don’t be hasty. Work on it a bit longer before publishing it.
What’s the rush?
Whether you self-publish, go indie press, or traditional, the book almost always improves with new eyes on it.
Don’t take criticism personally or worse; kill the messenger.
Your book isn’t you. It’s a product. Something to sell. Step back before pulling the trigger. Think about the critique. What threw them out of the story? Could a change be made to take it up a level?
Lifelong learning fills our toolbox and inspires us.
I love to buy books on writing and reread old ones. Concepts can be understood right away but it can take a while for the lessons to penetrate our writing, or in my case, my pointed head. In order to implement them, we have to practice by writing a lot. Eventually, it becomes a part of our toolbox. Then we can toss out the notes and reminders tacked to our bulletin boards. We will have those tools at our fingertips.
Study what works and what doesn’t.
I read every night before bed. It relaxes me. Now that I’m a writer, I also look for passages that blow me away. How did they do that? I study them. Break them down like a spy searching for an encrypted message. It’s right there in those twenty-six letter combinations.
I’m finally reading Gone Girl. I saw the movie, but the book has so much depth and clarity. I’m nervous to read that scene with Neil Patrick Harris. Yikes.
The author, Gillian Flynn, got it more than right on her opening page when her husband Nick describes his wife, Amy. They’ve been married for five years. It’s their anniversary. What kind of images does that does that conjure up for you? Love? He describes the shape of Amy’s head and then her skull. Shivers. That’s brilliant foreshadowing in so many ways.
Flynn hardly ever uses taste, touch, or smell since a large part of the book is in a diary. When she does, it’s shocking and revealing.
When Nick describes the smell of Desi’s mother as “a female scent, vaginal and strangely lewd,” it repelled me. I probably made a face. That’s memorable.
Gone Girl is so twisted, it spawned many unreliable protagonist books by other authors like Alice Feeney’s Sometimes I Lie. The title alone tells you she’s unreliable. It’s a very good book too.
I’m sure both authors persevered through lots of criticism and revisions. And both translated to the screen. Feeney’s will be a TV show. Whoa.
I’m watching Sharp Objects and can’t wait to get my hands on that book. I wonder how Flynn writes the ghostly appearances throughout the series. Is that show dark or what?
And now for the hard part.
How to Persevere.
Rejection can knock us down. We can doubt ourselves. We have to pick ourselves up from the floor and start again. Writers write.
Whenever I get discouraged, I look for positivity around me. It never ceases to amaze me how The Universe responds to my sorrowful cries of woe. Okay. So it’s never that bad.
- I’ll open one of those writing craft books and flip to a random page and find inspiration.
- Or I might find a quote on Twitter or Pinterest that inspires me.
- I recently made a vision board which keeps me on track. Taking a look at it always pumps me up again. I’ll post about that DIY project soon.
Ask yourself: Why am I writing?
It’s a HUGE sacrifice. You gotta LOVE the dreamlike process of conjuring scenes and playing with characters, their worlds, and their stories. If you don’t love the process, readers will sense it. Quit now. Life is short. Do something you really enjoy.
Now I have another thriller to pop into the oven. I’ll revise and polish it until its crust to turns golden brown so when I cut it open steam rises and butter melts. Yum. My hope is I’ll have readers to taste it. Okay. Devour it.
A writer can dream, right? It’s what we do. As long as we persevere.
So now I’m craving fresh, baked bread, damn good coffee, and a good book.
Are you writing a book? Have you published one? What book genres do you like to read? I hope you like thrillers.
Do You Curse Brightly? How much is too much in a novel.