On Writing, Querying, and Perseverance

Tips on Writing, Querying, and Perseverance. How to handle rejections and start again. Writers, Authors, novels, fiction, querying agents, writers life, Books, Publishing #Writing #writingtips #publishing #WIP #Querying

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.

Read.

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.

Click for my adventures on the Wild Ride.

Related posts:

Do You Curse Brightly? How much is too much in a novel.

Crush Procrastination, Boost Your Blog Rank, and Improve Writing

What every writer knows about finishing

70 thoughts on “On Writing, Querying, and Perseverance

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  1. If moths and a slightly higher risk of a domestic fire are the only inconveniences of holding on to our growing pile of manuscripts a little longer, then surely we can put up with them, can’t we?

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    1. Ha! We can put up with them, Vincent. It’s all about finding the right home for it. Are you querying?

      By the way, I took a tip from your blog post and decided to write from the heart. It was cathartic! I hope it helps other writers who may feel stuck.

      Like

        1. There is a danger. My son is a music producer and graduated from Icon Collective Music Production School. One of his classes taught him to let their music go. I’m ready now. Finally! It would take time from other projects. Keep me posted on your WIPs!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post. It should be required reading for any would-be author. I wish I could make my seven-years-ago self read it before I self-published my first novel (not as half-baked as it could have been but could have benefited from a bit more time in the oven).

    The only thing I struggle with–and I’m gonna get dark here, as I’m wont to do–is running out of time. Literally. With each passing year I get more conscious of the precious time I hope is left to me. It makes me want to hurry up. Luckily I know better now, and I’m able to rein in the impulse to push something out before it’s ready, My current novel has been in the works for more than four years and is undergoing yet another round of beta reading. It probably has a few more rounds to go.

    I’m so glad you didn’t give up and I can’t wait to read what results from your perseverance!

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    1. Wow. Thanks so much, Audrey! I was a bit nervous in publishing this since I laid it all out there. But I found clarity in journaling about it.

      We can work on our projects forever since we are always learning new tips and tricks. I have to let this first one go since I have so many others. Danny is reading my new thriller, so instead of revising it before he can comment, I want to finish another one I started. I love the process of writing!

      I totally relate to your fear but I also have been watching The Crown. Queen Elizabeth is 92 and her husband Phillip is 96!!!! They seem to be going strong. So will we! It’s all about how we spend the time we have. I definitely need more breaks but I’m happy to write.

      I can’t wait to read yours, Audrey! Thanks again! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Looking forward to reading your thriller–hope to find it in my local bookstore before long! I had trouble with Gone Girl–very compelling but something about the narrator’s holding back of info was off-putting. Lotsa good agent query vibes coming your way. That’s what I’m doing this fall, querying for my upmarket literary/historical novel MS (how’s that for a boring description!). I’m ready to move on to the next thing though. Just started another WIP (novel maybe?) and am 2,600 words in. Feels so good to discover something new after so long!

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    1. Thanks so much and for the positive vibes, Rebecca! I actually got shivers when I read that. No kidding!
      I wish the very best for you too. Check #MSWL on Twitter and their website. That seems to be a pretty popular genre.

      I’ve heard Sharp Objects was a lot better. Last night I read when Amy comes clean and talks about how she thinks she did a great job of creating Perfect Journaling Amy. I thought it was over-the-top and gaggy. I’ll still finish it.

      Congrats on your new WIP! It does feel good to start again. Since my husband is reading my new thriller, I plan to finish up another one. I love writing!
      Thanks again for reading!

      Like

  4. I like you did the query option and got a traditional publisher. That was the good news. The bad news was I lost all control over my art and it took me three years to get it back. I’m self-publishing by choice since my goal is not to do what others think is best but to do what I know is right for me. Part of that is knowing without a doubt what one expects from this publishing journey. Fame? Stick with the query path. To grow as a writer? Take any path that helps do that. Excellent post, Susie. One piece of advice. Find your own voice. You’ve taken enough classes now just write until you get comfortable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your insight, John! You’ve been very successful with your self-publishing. It’s all about finding the agent or type of publishing that’s right for us. I’m a screenwriter too and realize even more hands get into that kind of pie. Yikes. I’m prepared for it though.

      Funny. Danny started reading my new thriller. Yesterday, he said, “It definitely has your voice.” Ha! I wondered if it is loud like me too. 🙂

      In the beginning, I tried out a couple of editors. One wanted to take my voice out of the book, slow it down, add words and sentence structures I would never use. I didn’t go back for more of that. It wasn’t me. Another found problems and let me solve them. That kind of editor is the best!

      Yep. I’ve been writing pretty much non-stop for seven years but will feel more comfortable when I have something on the shelf to show for all the hard work! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I figured you were at your own voice. Unfortunately there are others who want your voice to sound like theirs so beware (your editor example is classic) I’m sure you will eventually get an agent and it will be nice to be able to say “I knew her when” Best wishes, Susie. 😀

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  5. You are SO right about most authors pitching their books before they are ready for publication. I could identify with your journey completely. It takes patience, a willingness to accept constructive criticism, and many, many rewrites to end up with a good novel. Oops! And don’t forget, a good editor.

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      1. I did the conferences, the Maas workshops, the query writing workshops, the pitches, and then I heard horror stories from people who had lost control of their books and I decided to do the self-publishing route. The marketing is very hard, but when you are with a traditional publisher, they can cut you off at any time if your book isn’t selling, so there’s another downside to it. I suppose there are good and bad aspects to both options.

        Like

  6. Continue to WISH YOU THE BEST with your Writing 🙂 I pretty much read a wide variety and on average read at least 15 books a month. I carry a book with me most days. I love a good read that draws me into the story. Happy Day – Enjoy!

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  7. I’ve never written a book so I’m incredibly impressed by your commitment and passion to get your publication exactly as you want them. Not sure I would have that drive. And to have several projects on the go simultaneously is a little mind-blowing. Seriously impressed.

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    1. Thank you so much, Jonno! It’s a huge commitment, but I love writing. I usually work on one project at a time along with writing blog posts. That way, I keep a continuity and don’t have to reread. That said, I’m planning to finish another thriller while revising the new one. Whew! Keeps me out of trouble. Lol!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have written 6.. Lanark County Genealogical society is going to publish my historical stuff next year and I am donating my writing. I have three books I want to get out.. but just not ready.. it comes when it comes. Am I making money? Of course not. That is not why I am a writer.. I do things because I want too — everything else is icing on the cake.

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  9. I have persevered and finally leaped off the cliff. I’m either going to go splat or fly. We’ll see. My projected launch date is October 12. That might have to be pushed out a little since I’m going to be out of commission for a couple of weeks (vacation) but I did it. I sent it out for cover, formatting, publishing, printing, you name it.

    Now I’m all about marketing. That’s a steep learning curve as well. The more I read, the more I discover how little I know. (sigh).

    Thanks for the positive post. You are so right. Don’t send out a book that’s only half-baked. I’ll be sending out positive vibes that you find the right agent.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Like

      1. I’m self-publishing using Book Baby to help with the technical stuff. They’re designing the cover, formatting, obtaining ISBNs, putting in all e-book formats, etc. They will be the print on demand operation as well.

        You should be able to find the book in all on-line book stores. I’m hoping to have print copies in a few book stores here in Mississippi as well. I’m still working on all of that.

        Patricia

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  10. I thought I wanted to go the traditional way (and maybe I will someday, for one book). But the more I hear from traditionally published authors, the less I want to leave my indie niche.

    My favorite middle grade author wanted to write a book about Hatshepsut, Empress Cixi or someone else, but she wasn’t “allowed to”. Why? In her words, “My editor wants me to write the next ‘The Fault in Our Stars’.” (She hasn’t released anything since 2015, but she’s not young anymore, either!)

    My favorite dark fantasy author was dropped by 47North (one of Amazon’s imprints) a few months ago. Why? One of his books didn’t do well enough in presales for their liking. Fortunately, that didn’t stop him from going indie–he just released his latest yesterday.

    My staying out isn’t just “I don’t think I’m good enough”, it’s also “I don’t think I write what editors are looking for.”

    Like

    1. There’s only one way to find out! I love that we writers have options. It wasn’t always this way. Now anyone can get their books in print. That gives me some comfort. I’m open to all options. We’ll see!
      Thanks, Daya!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. You don’t know much about me, except that sometimes I growl at you. The other side of me is the music business, with people whose names you know. I was talking about almost this very thing with Nils Lofgrin (Springsteen’s E Street band, Neil Young’s Crazy Horse) We came down to this… study, practice, study, practice, study, practice… when you heart and soul is buried in there (making it not a product, which is for copywriters at a publicity company), your work — whatever it is — will be ready. There. I dropped a name. Someday, I’ll drop my musical miss’ name. Peace. RIP Aretha.

    Like

    1. Hey Ray!
      Sounds like a super cool business. Wow. We definitely need to put time into our work. I like your idea of embedding a little heart and soul in it too. I didn’t mention the luck factor, but timing can be everything.

      Now you have me wondering…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Timing is always everything. But, if your work isn’t excellent it won’t catch anybody’s eye. I’d also suggest that — just like in music production and producing — you take every rejection suggestion — with a grain of salt. Each agent or editor suggestion is about their publication group. Everyone has different editorial needs. If you follow every suggestion, your work can become very beige. I’ll tell you if you send me an email, I never put us out there in general circulation. 🙂

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          1. Same with photography. Sometimes a manuscript or a photo take is just practice. Just like writing, all art is like study, practice, study, practice… I have a jazz singer wife. Piano player too. 🙂

            Like

  12. Thank you for your openness and encouragement. I think as writers it’s needed to help keep us motivated and moving forward!
    I’m in the daunting querying stage. I’ve sent out four so far. 2 never responded and 2 were very nice rejections 🙂 Then I went through process of moving , and writing was sidelined for few months. Now I’m trying to get back on the query bus. But it’s hard to find the stiff upper lip and get on with it, lol. I’m going to try and make a small goal of finding one agent to query this weekend 💪🏼
    ( although I’ve heard the fall is a bad time to query. Have you heard that??)

    Writeoutside.org

    Like

    1. I’m so glad it encouraged you!
      There’s never a bad time except for the holidays. Four?? I’m past forty! But that’s spread out over several years. Most went out before the book was ready and several went to agents who didn’t even rep my genre. Lol. Not sure how that happened.
      A friend of mine who has published 14 books recently said, “Cast a wide net.” Easier to catch a fish when you have more than one hook!
      Good luck to you and keep me posted!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Phew! That makes me feel better. Maybe the initial ones hit the hardest 🙂
        I like that motto- “Cast a wide net” .
        I’m going to try fishing again this weekend and see what happens 😉
        Thank you so much !

        Like

  13. For what it’s worth, this year I self-published a book (Over the Hill on the Yellow Brick Road). I didn’t send it around to agents or publishing companies. I decided to self-publish from the start. I’ve been a professional writer for more decades than I can believe and have always made edits and changes based on what executives, head writers, editors and other managers have told me. I found the name of the game was compromise if I wanted to make a living as a writer. But!!!! I felt differently about my book. I wanted my book to reflect my own vision, and no one else’s. I knew my book would have an unusual format not typically found in bookstores. I was certain agents would tell me it wouldn’t be marketable for that reason. But…I have to say, the self-publishing process was really freeing. For once I could go with my own vision, without notes and compromises, and come out with a product that felt exactly right to me.

    Like

    1. That is so cool to hear! Congratulations. It sounds like you made the right choice especially since you’re already in the business. Now I’m curious about your format!

      I don’t think I could every self-publish a book since I would fritz out and worry about everything. It wouldn’t be worth the stress. I still get nervous when I press publish on my blog and I’ve written over 650 of them. Lol! I would consider self-publishing a non-fiction or compilation. Not as much blood, sweat, or tears involved!

      Like

      1. If you go on amazon.com, type in the name of my book, and then use the “look inside” feature, you can see the unusual format. I think I was in a certain place emotionally when I decided to self-publish. As you said, there are positives and negatives on both sides and each person needs to decide what is right for her/him.

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  14. It takes a lot of courage to admit you may need more revisions and persevere. I have published – and prematurely. While I got criticisms for my botched endings, enough people enjoyed the characters, etc to give me the hope to continue. You’ve got to believe in your characters and that will get you through.

    Like

  15. Loads of useful information. Thank you! Next time I’m in Boulder, maybe we can meet up. My sister lives in Nederland and I just got back from Colorado, so beautiful. I’m in the early stages of a novel and I’m taking a class this fall to tune it up.

    Like

    1. Thanks so much, Michelle! 🙂
      I have a good feeling about this last draft. I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed! The good news is the next ones won’t take as long. It was all about learning the process

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Love this! You’re right, writing takes huge sacrifice in time (and personal sanity at times). This is a great reminder to keep going (and not be so quick with the self-publish trigger). 🙂

    Like

      1. Hi Susie, I was but haven’t been consistent and I feel like the flame has died out on the idea. When it was good, it went well but most people underestimate what it takes to write. It’s a huge effort!

        Like

  17. All the above I agree with. I do not judge or make disparaging remarks if someone self publishes … but it is not for me. Five years in November it will be since I started to write my first novel to be, it has grown and morphed into something rich. Each time I learn some thing new I open that file and see more to be done. Well maybe one day … I will know.
    I flipped this but i am not certain in to what so I am off to make sure it is where I can readilly find it. P.S. The book is much more detailled than the film (Gone Girl)

    Like

    1. It’s easy to get discouraged, but there’s a spark inside me that won’t give up! I’m glad to hear I have a kindred spirit.
      Thanks for flipping! Into one of your “magazines” I hope.
      You’re right. I’m learning so much about the motivation of the characters in Gone Girl. Most of it flew right over my head in the movie!
      Good luck with your book, Ellen!

      Like

      1. Thanks Susite, I flipped into writing total fluke of course 😆 I will get the hang of flip and mix, one day. I have been and continue to be fighting a genetic condition it (amongst other nasties) leaves me with a brain fog like dementia, for days at a time. Fear of writing when I never know when or for how long it will stay has made me scared to touch my book. I am dipping my toe in the blog with little bits, flash and the like. After almost a year of not having the capability to focus and (only ‘re issuing early posts) I am as I say … trusting that I Will feel it coming on and stop until it passes.
        Not writing is not an option for me.

        Like

  18. THanks for sharing your story! I do read a lot but there are times: sometimes I read a lot and sometimes nothing. I found out its all about getting into the reading mood and making it a habit – like few weeks ago I did a 21-Day Daily Book Reading Challenge where we promoted reading 10 pg a day, and this actually helped me a lot to get back to my reading mode and pick up all those books again. Still reading a lot – maybe not daily but definitely more! 🙂

    Like

  19. I am currently in favour (after having had some books accepted by Indies previously) of doing POD. One can get the book out and being read, but any ideas or afterthoughts or valid criticisms are painlessly built into the next print. If one finds a good firm, it isn’t that much more expensive than printing bulk (here I exclude the Chinese printers who can do it for a song but one virtually needs a containerload!) and the quality tends to be better.

    Like

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