Thursday, March 24, 2011

Just keep writing...(or why manuscripts are like ex-boyfriends)

One of the best pieces of advice you'll find on this whole journey towards publication is: write another book.  Now this advice can be either incredibly helpful or incredibly depressing, depending on where you are in the writing process.

Once upon a time, I wrote a middle grade adventure/fantasy.  There was a secret magic school and sinister bad guys who forced the students to eat avocados!  I made a lot of classic mistakes in the manuscript and in the querying process.  I queried way too early.  I'd do a little research, send a batch of queries, refresh my email, more research, refresh email, get rejections, revise the manuscript, do a little research, send another batch of queries, refresh my email....on and on and on.

About six months passed between when I sent my first query and my last.  My manuscript changed dramatically during this time and my body of knowledge about the publishing industry grew exponentially.
A month or so into this process, I read some statistic, or maybe it was just anecdotal evidence, on an agent's blog (either Janet Reid's or Kristin Nelson's--both are INCREDIBLY helpful for queriers), but basically she said that writers hardly ever--like never--sell their first book.  I was devastated.  I was working so hard!  How could this be?  Digging around on author's blogs, you'll find almost all of them have at least one (if not five) books they've written and are "trunked"  or "shelved."

I called my mom with this horrible news.
Me:  "Mom!  I just read that, like, no one gets their first book published!"
Mom: "So, write another book."
Me: "But it's my baby!"

At the time I was pissed off and horrified.  How could she just tell me to write another book?  She just said it in her cheery tone like it was nothing!  I've just spent almost two years of my life on this and she says write another book!  

I honestly felt like my child had died and my own mother was telling me, it's ok just have another one.

Well, guess what happened?  I wrote another book.  Because in this whole writing game, there's an awful lot of waiting.  Just to keep myself from refreshing my email too many times, I started something new.

So I wrote while I waited and eventually this rebound story started getting exciting.  I saw how much BETTER it could be than my first book.  So by the time my last partial rejection came in, I was so wrapped up in this new story that it didn't hurt quite so much.  It was ok.

Now, I don't think of that first book as a lost child.  I think of that book like I think of my 8th grade boyfriend.  Sure it hurt A LOT when we parted ways when I was 13.  But now?  Do I think of him as the one-who-got-away?  Do I fantasize how things would be different if things had worked out with us? NO, definitely not.  I learned a lot from that first relationship and I might have looked him up on facebook, just once, but that's it.

Giving up on or shelving a manuscript is a lot like a break up.  It hurts like hell at the time.  But as long as you keep putting yourself out there, you'll find someone new.  And after a while, this new person is so great, you can't even remember what you saw in that last story.

So now that I'm back at another waiting stage in this whole process, I have a little song I like to sing to myself.  You know Dory, from Finding Nemo?  She sings "just keep swimming, just keep swimming..." Well, whenever I'm tempted to drive myself crazy refreshing, I sing to myself "Just keep writing, just keep writing."


  1. Very fitting since I just watched Finding Nemo yesterday (it's on at least once a week at our house)! It was great to hear more about your journey--thanks for the encouragement to keep at it :)

  2. I love this post! I'm working on my first book and I've felt discouraged at times that it may not make it to publication. But you're totally right. When I'm done with this one, I'll just write another and another and another... :)