Knowing when to submit

Revision update: Done!

Yes, I did make my goal of finishing my novel revision by the end of February. Yay! My husband played videogames with a friend on Saturday night, so I took the opportunity to do three chapters, then I got up early on Sunday to finish the book.

Now, the big question is, what next?

This was my fourth revision round for this book, and coming into it, I felt like all the major problems were fixed — character, plot, story — and that was confirmed by my beta readers. So this revision was about fixing awkward sentences, evaluating word choices, and muscling up the descriptions, and I had planned to send it out when I was done.

Now I’m done, and I’m not so sure.

I was in a similar position with my first book, except that I had done many more revisions. I felt good about the novel, but not as confident as I feel now about this new book. I had a little voice in my head saying, “Hmmm, are you sure about this?” And then a bigger voice said, “Sam, you’re being neurotic. It’s fine. It’s good. Let it go.”

As it turned out, I made one of the standard mistakes a lot of writers make in going out too early. My query letter wasn’t the best that it could be, and I got only a couple requests for the book. I did more research and realized the beginning of the book needed changes, which I did, but the older version had already gotten some rejections, and closed off those agents to me. Then I redid my query letter in a much better way, and got a lot more requests, but still the book wasn’t as solid as it should be. It was roundly rejected with lovely notes about how great the writing was but…

All this, I should have known. And looking back now, I did.

So, now I’m in the same position with my second book. But this time, I’m not going to make the same mistake. Sure, I’m anxious and excited to start submitting it, but I’ve worked hard, and I want to give the book its best possible chance.

In this fourth revision round, I made a lot of changes, small ones, but a lot of them. And my gut is saying, “Go through it one more time,” just in case my typing wasn’t as accurate that I hoped.

In the next week, I’m going to work on agent research, my query letter and synopsis, then I’ll do one more quick read-though before I send it out.

If my little voice gives me the go ahead. 🙂

How do you know when your novel is done?

Write On!

How to query

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has an interesting post up today about query letters. It seems that a group of writers got together, worked on their query letters together then hired someone to submit them. The problem is the person who was hired didn’t properly research the agents or their guidelines, resulting in rejections for the writers and, I would guess, a waste of their time and money.

It’s a wonderful idea that in our busy life, we can concentrate on writing and leave the submitting to someone else, but, if you have spent all this time making your book the best that it can be, would you want to leave its future up to someone else?

Now, I’ve never used or even researched services such as these, and maybe there are good ones. But, if you’re going to use one, let Rachelle’s post be a cautionary tale and research them well.

However, keep in mind this: No one will care about the future of your book more than you. No one will care enough to spend the time researching agents for just the perfect ones, researching their submission guidelines and tailoring the query letter to them specifically. All of these things will give your book its best chance of getting noticed, so they’re all important and should be done right.

Remember literary agent Jennifer Jackson’s Letter From the Query Wars blogs posts: Last week she read 205 queries and asked for partials from 3 — just 3 out of 205! Imagine if out of those 205, she had 12 that all read the same way, were received the same day one after another and didn’t follow her guidelines, like those Rachelle received. Do you think any of those 12 would have been in the 3? I’m sorry to say that I don’t think so. As Rachelle pointed out, even if all those 12 were great query letters and did follow her guidelines, Jennifer wouldn’t be interested in following up on 12 books that are all the same. And she’d probably be a little suspicious. I would.

Don’t short-change your book. After you’ve done all the work on writing and revising your manuscript, take the time to write a great individual query letter that will stand out in the crowd; research the best agents for your particular work — not just your genre, but your style too — research their guidelines, the ones from their website not a book that might not be up to date; research their style of working, read their blog if they have one, their clients, their clients’ books to make sure your work will fit with them; then tailor your query letter to each one of those, personalizing the letter.

Give your book the best advocate it can have: You.

Write On!

When to submit your writing

A few years ago, when I started getting serious about writing books for children, I got a few ideas for picture books and, in between working on my novel, I wrote one. Picture books are shorter, I figured, and wouldn’t take me as long. WRONG! Of course, I didn’t know that then. I wrote, researched picture book word count, cut, cut and cut. Then tweaked. Then decided I was tired of working on it and submitted to agents. I got 13 very polite “no”s.

And rightly so. Now that I know a lot more about writing, and realize how very difficult it is to write a good picture book, I know that mine isn’t one. A sweet short story, sure, but not a picture book.

But the point I wanted to make was the reason I submitted my work when I did: I was tired of it. I believed in it, but I didn’t know how to make it better, and I thought I’d find an agent and/or editor who would see it’s potential and help me fix it. WRONG!

There have been times when I have been tired of working on my current novel, and they were all early on and usually came after long periods of not working on it. But now, I can truly say that I love my novel. I love the characters, I love the story, I love the quirky action pieces. But most of all, I love the characters.

Now, I don’t write this to say how great my writing is, only to show a difference in my relationship with my work. (I could very well be the only person in the world who will ever love this book :), and we’ll find out soon enough when I start sending it out.) I’ve been through many drafts, re-writes, polishes, and now, I love it. I always liked the story, but now, after working on it for so long, I love it. I’m not saying it’s perfect. I’m sure that if — when, my husband keeps telling me — I sell it to an editor, that person will most likely have insight that I haven’t thought of that will make it better. But for now, I love it.

And I think that’s when a work should be submitted. We have to sell our work in a query letter, a synopsis, and if we don’t truly love it, we can’t truly sell it. If we don’t love our work, if we’re tired of working on it, how can we expect an agent or editor to love it and want to take it on?

And from what I’ve read the last few weeks in my query letter research, that’s how agents and editors decide to take on our projects — they fall in love with them. Case in point, today I read a post on Herman Agency associate agent/author Jill Corcoran’s blog about editors on submissions. Corcoran listed a number of links to editor’s blogs where they discuss how they choose a project, and the common theme is — they fall in love with it.

Here’s what Little Brown editor Alvina Ling said on her blog:

It really IS like falling in love — I can fall in love with something, flaws and all. When I’m reading something that I’m really loving, my heartbeat will speed up. My mind will start racing, thinking about what I need to do to ensure that I get that manuscript. I’ll imagine pitching the book at our editorial meeting, and then at our acquisitions meeting. I’ll think about how I would edit the book, even what the cover would look like. I picture it winning the Newbery, making the NY Times bestseller list. In other words, I’ll imagine us married with children during the middle of our first date.

HarperCollins editor Molly O’Neill actually calls her blog post On Falling in Love (Editorially). She likens her job to being back in junior high. Here’s a quote:

If I’m going to have a crush (read: work on a book) for 2+ years, then I have to want to do more than just scrawl Mrs. Molly Manuscript on all my folders. I want to really BE in love. Real Love. With a project that makes me laugh for years. One that is smart. And deep. And fascinating. One that’s earned my intense loyalty. So, at the moment, I’m looking hard for an S.O.S. (read: Superb Original Story) that makes me fall in love.

And Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein offers up a talk she first gave at the Iowa and Arizona SCBWI Fall Conferences in 2004, called Finding a Publisher and Falling in Love: A Convivial Comparison. She describes the writer/editor relationship as dating and the agent the matchmaker. Here’s a quote from Cheryl:

If a manuscript works for me, it is actually very much like falling in love, where I just want to spend all my time with this book and ignore all my responsibilities and everything else going on in my life because I’m so enthralled by it.

(Incidentally, I highly recommend reading the whole of Klein’s “talk” because it has some really great information in it. Her tip on finding the hooks of the story to put in the jacket flap and/or query letter helped me — I think — figure out the last piece of the puzzle I needed for my query. We’ll see. I’ve sent it out to my email critique group for feedback.)

So, if you’re not really, truly, madly and deeply in love with your work yet, hold off on submitting it. If you’re tired of working on it, put it away for a few months and come back refreshed and with the desire to re-work and polish until it shines like an engagement ring. Then go find the right partner to marry it to.

Write On!