Bad news, hard truths and dirty little secrets
One of the most common questions published authors are asked, especially by our unpublished peers, is “What advice do you have?” Maybe we have the golden nugget of information that will put them over the hump and help them land an agent or a publishing deal.
The Bad News
Most writing advice is the same:
- Write every day.
- Read widely.
- Writing is rewriting.
- Polish, polish, polish.
- Don’t send out a mass query email and CC every agent that reps your genre.
- Yes, even socially awkward introverted authors need to have a social media presence.
Thanks a lot, Melissa. I got that much from Google. More even. HAVE YOU SEEN THE AMOUNT OF WRITING ADVICE ON THE INTERNET?
Yes. It’s equal parts depressing and confusing. The truth is, there isn’t a magic formula for getting published. It’s a combination of talent, perseverance, and luck. Every author’s path to publication is unique, but one thing every published author has in common is the ability to finish.
More Bad News
Learning to finish doesn’t mean writing “The End” when you complete your first draft. Finishing is going back through your first draft with a fine tooth comb, finding and fixing plot holes and character inconsistencies. Searching your second draft for and deleting words such as then, that, just, actually, begins, start, really, to name a few, and recognizing your crutch words and phrases and finding new ways to say them. Sending your third draft to a first reader(s). (Never, EVER, send a first draft to a beta reader. Their job should be big picture read, not fixing grammar, typos and punctuation.) Evaluating their feedback, deciding what advice to take—Deep Thoughts from Melissa Lenhardt: Good advice isn’t always the right advice—and incorporating that into your fourth draft. At this point, some writers read the MS out loud or print it out to get a different perspective. Polish the fourth draft until it’s ready to be sent out to agents or publishers.
Move on to the next project.
What? Move on? But, I’ve just spent all this time on this MS! It’s my baby! I need to focus on it completely until it’s picked up. Plus, this article is about learning to finish, not moving on! *clings to passion project*
Moving on to the next project is finishing, or at least my definition of finishing.
The Hard Truth
If you don’t move on, you’ll never get published.
That’s right. The key to getting published is starting the next project.
That makes no sense whatsoever.
You won’t grow as a writer if you keep rewriting the same MS for ten years.
Maybe. But, this MS isn’t perfect!
The Hard Truth, Part Deux
It’s never going to be perfect. It will be polished, marketable, saleable. But, nothing is perfect. Ever.
I reject your reality and substitute my own!
That’s too bad, because it’s time for the dirty little secret.
Are you ready?
The Dirty Little Secret
Publishing is slow. Cold molasses slow. Shifting tectonic plates slow. Slower than my morning run slow. Getting an agent takes time. Polishing the MS with the agent takes time. Submitting to publishers takes time. When publishers acquire books, they are usually working on their list two years down the road. I’m not going to ballpark average time from query to publication date because there’s no way to gauge it. As I said above, everyone’s path is different. But, what I can tell you from experience is this: there is nothing worse than waiting around on an agent or editor to respond. The time will go much faster if you have a new story to take your mind off the fact that EVERYONE HAS FORGOTTEN ABOUT YOU! They haven’t, but you’ll think they have. You might even send your publishing specific email (you have one of these, right? An email with a professional name, not HotMILF907 or DoeFamilyKidz? If you don’t, get one.) a test message to make sure it’s working. Not that I ever did that.
When you finally do hear from that agent or editor and, God forbid, the answer is, “This isn’t right for me right now, but query me with your next project,” you’ll be that much closer to being able to deliver the brilliant manuscript that will get you and agent, and a publishing deal.
Melissa Lenhardt writes mystery, historical fiction, and women's fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in Heater Mystery Magazine, The Western Online, and Christmas Nookies, a holiday romance anthology. Her debut novel, Stillwater, was a finalist for the 2014 Whidbey Writers' MFA Alumni Emerging Writers Contest. She is a board member of the DFW Writers' Workshop and vice president of the Sisters in Crime North Dallas Chapter. Melissa lives in Texas, with her husband and two sons.
Catch Up with Ms. Lenhardt: