Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It won't be your first

Talk to any published author and they will frequently tell you the same thing. It wasn't their first manuscript that sold. Often, it is their 7th, 10th or even their 15th that finally attracted the attention of the editor or agent. Is it because they are "paying their dues?"


It is simply a matter that through all of their stories, they are finally finding their own voice and finding a way to tell the story naturally. They are learning the craft and learning about their own writing.

Beginning writers often have very forced stories. They go through the motions, they use their GMC worksheets and craft stories that have all the components they have learned from reading articles and attending workshops. Technically the story does what it is supposed to do, but it lacks the voice.

The reason I bring this up is to tell writers to keep on writing. So what if you get a rejection. Write a new story. Keep the stories going and you may find yourself being published. This business takes time.



  1. I want to believe this, I really do, but what I see is that the writer is wasting time too that he will never get back, that finished work gets "old" very quickly, and it does NO good to have agents tell each other they saw the thing two years ago, and it still has not sold. If I learned anything in years of freelancing, it was to never work on speculation, not one word. Editors with the best of intentions will send you off to do months of work, and not even remember your name when it is completed. They are busy and harried, and anyone can come up with an idea that "sounds interesting. Sure, go ahead and get back to me."
    I just read about a writer who won a major award. He said on PBS he spent SEVEN years writing the first book, and another seven to write the contracted second book.
    I am still hoping agents will agree to discuss a synopsis and three chapters again at conferences. I wold never tell someone they had to give up a year of their life to write an entire book before I would even speak to them, especially when so many agent sites report taking "less than 1% of unsolicited submissions."What is the point here, either than hoping most new writers will just go away? And again, I do understand agents are overwhelmed in a floundering industry.Your earlier post about agents asking everyone for fulls or partials so as to not hurt anyone's feelings, only confirms my belief that this route is even less effective than blind queries. At least agents are not forced to reject one in person, and the writer hasn't wasted a year working on a dead end. Am I really the only writer who feels like this about the current so-called conference system?

  2. Anon,

    I disagree with you about "wasting time you will never get back." I don't feel like I've wasted any time on the mss I've written that are still in my drawer. I've learned very important lessons from each of them---kind of like kids. Each one is a whole new experience. To expect your first manuscript to sell is, in many ways, like expecting to turn into Ralph Lauren with the first seam you sew. The art and craft of writing takes a long time. The understanding of the industry takes a long time, too.

    But Anon, I think if you begrudge the time you spend it pursuit of your dream, the writing will reflect your frustration. I certainly understand your frustration. Believe me, I do! But you don't want it to weave itself into your work. You don't want your readers to pick up on it.

    I agree that agents and editors often give mixed signals, but it's a neccessary evil. If they were rude and told everyone the ABSOLUTE TRUTH about their work, most writers would be devastated and would never pick up another pen. Even if you start as a subpar writer, that doesn't mean you'll never be successful. It only means you have lots of work to do and you have to decide whether your dream is worth the work it's going to take.

    As writers, we have to train for publication just like athletes train for the Olympics. Sprinters often train for years---race after race, track meet after track meet---for one chance to qualify or medal. That chance only lasts a few seconds in some cases. Can you imagine your entire career coming down to a few seconds?

    I know a year (or more) is a long time and I know it's the pits when you have to file that manuscript with all the others that have been rejected, but look on the bright side. Writers can write for a LONG TIME and we can reinvent ourselves anytime we want. And we can keep learning, polishing and honing our craft until it sparkles.

    So hang in there, anon. Just the fact that you follow the blogs and keep up with the industry tells me that you already have a leg up on lots of other writers. And remember, it only takes one YES! You might want to look for some conferences that offer several tiers of "face time." You also might tell the agent/editor you're booked with that you really want THE TRUTH and they might be willing to be more direct. (I think industry professionals don't always shoot from the hip because they're afraid a writer might flip out on them and cause a huge scene.)

    Anon, Please, please don't give up. Your breakout book might very well be closer than you think.

  3. Dear Lateia,
    What a perfectly sweet and thoughtful response. Thank you.
    Where to begin? Um...
    I hear over and over that writers who do not have a finished ms are "wasting an agent's time."
    Why? We are all attending the conference all weekend, and the agents are purportedly the ones who know the day-to-day market. Why not allow some specific time for writers who either have a synopsis and some chapters, or an "idea" to spend their very expensive 8-10 minutes discussing that project with the agent? The agent will then have the chance to say that in his experience the concept will not sell, or the market has changed direction, or that he already has 20 projects just like this in the desk drawer.
    "Respect" for a professional's time goes two ways, and the idea that one must spend a year writing a book every time one gets "an Idea, hoo ha," would be the very definition of lack of respect for a writer, to my mind. I'm not buying this turkey for a moment.
    BUT, what I do buy, is that publishing is in a state of great change, much of it negative, and the problem we all face is that tens of thousands of writers are frantically trying to fit into a couple of spare slots, relatively speaking, and no wonder it is getting quite ugly out there.
    I have zero patience with the apparently increasing number of writers who respond in ugly and downright threatening ways when their work is turned down. There is NO excuse for that. No one asks for an unsolicited query. The agent has no obligation to read it or respond in any way to your proposal, as far as I am concerned. Zero.
    What if we considered an end run around the whole mess that exists right now? Increasingly frantic writers who see the doors closing are backed into the corner of telling agents that their ms is done or nearly done. A few agents are picked as sacrificial lambs and the concept is trotted out to see if it appears to be timely and commercially viable. If one agent likes it, others may well also.
    If a couple of agents like it, one writes back and says that her mother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and her dying wish is to spend a year trekking in Nepal with her only child. AND the computer wherein the complete ms. is stored, just imploded, and OF COURSE there is no time now to recreate the complete ms., SO you hope they will understand you will get back to them whenever, quack quack quack.
    This situation helps no one. Why not let people tell the truth?
    Especially when they have spent a great deal of money to attend the conference. What else is business but a lot of chit-chat over a drink ? I can't imagine how 8-10 minutes of talking over a story idea is somehow "wasting" a agent's time. Especially when there is almost no chance the book will be taken on. Check the Jennifer Jackson blog and the hundreds of queries she turns down every week. I admire her honesty, that's for sure.
    I used to freelance full time, and have enough publishing credits to cover the agent's desk, if they want to see my writing, and so what I am willing to pay for is a chance to discuss a novel concept, given the shifting market, with someone working in that market. I'm willing to pay a lot for that chance.
    More later. Check the latest issue of Harper's magazine for the lead article, "The Last Dinner Party: Publishing Gets ready For A Life After Death," and the interesting Nathan Bransford and Ginger Clark interviews about the layoffs and changes in the industry. The Amazon bestseller list says a lot about where things are going, and the future of bestselling authors. Most instructive. And again, thanks for the thoughtful comments-we are heading into rocky seas, and only the tough and the cunning , sneaky even, are likely to survive.