Before I get into this post I’d like to request a restart of 2016. One where there are no terrorist attacks in Jakarta or anywhere else. One where we don’t have to say goodbye to Alan Rickman or David Bowie.
On with the article.
I’ve seen a lot of posts about query letters and the fine art of finding an agent or editor to represent your work. As writers we all hope to make so much money we can finally buy the elephant we’ve always wanted (I refuse to believe I’m the only person that wants one). There is a lot of advice out there from agents and editors themselves and from pro authors who have been through the submission process and come out the other side with book deals and interesting scars (you knew about the knife fight stage of the process, right?).
But what I don’t see often is anyone looking at how frightening the process is, especially if you’ve never done it before. I’m right on the cusp of sending out my novel to prospective agents and it’s bloody terrifying. Your novel is (I hope) something you’re proud of, that you’ve written, edited, had edited by someone who edits and then edited again. You’ve fought for it, spent months or even years on it and now you have to send it out to be judged.
So that fear creeps in. The voice that says this isn’t good enough I need to rewrite it. I’ll just hold off for another few months. Or years.
The real problem there of course is that sometimes that’s the right instinct to have. Sometimes your book isn’t ready yet and you do have to go back and work on it some more (this is one of the many reasons you should, if you can, hire yourself a good editor to look over your work, they’ll tell you if it’s not right). And sometimes your book is good, and it’s high time to send it out into the world. There’s no concrete way to tell the difference beyond getting other people’s opinions and your own experience.
This is why I still think short fiction is such a good thing for novelists to write. Writing and submitting short fiction can teach you a lot of lessons in a very short space of time, including how to follow submission guidelines and how to take rejection. Submitting for your novel won’t be any less scary, but your experiences in short fiction can help carry you through that fear.
I give all this advice on the basis that I gave in to that fear last year. I put off sending out the novel I’m about to send out now, even though it was ready. I thought I was only putting it off for a month or two, and that turned into a year when life got in the way and I let my anxiety about my own skill level get to me.
One of the things that helped was making sure I had my research down. Once I knew that at the very least I knew how to write a query letter, how to research an agent and how to write a synopsis I felt less anxious. After all I’d spent so much time on my novel it would have been terrible to hamstring it with a bad query letter. I did a lot of my research by going through the website Query Shark . Janet Read (the shark in question) gives excellent, blunt advice on the hows and whys of query writing. I can’t recommend it enough.
The other thing that helped was that I blatantly stole one one of Sarah Gailey’s goals from last year, which was to get to one hundred accumulated rejections in a year. This is genius. You don’t have a lot of control over who says yes to your book, or when…but you do have a lot of control over sending out submissions. By targeting a certain number of rejections, it means you can’t slack off on sending things out, but it takes some of the sting out of getting no for answer (or more likely, nothing for an answer). You don’t have to use this method of course, but it made me feel better.
Fear is a weird thing. Sometimes it keeps us safe, sometimes it holds us back, and we have decide for ourselves what it’s doing at any given moment. If you want to your book out but you’re feeling that fear, I hope this helped.
Good luck. I hope you get to buy your own elephant.