Just finish the first draft of your novel? Please don’t send it to agents… – LG O'Connor

Just finish the first draft of your novel? Please don’t send it to agents…

Or hit ‘Publish’ on Amazon if you’re self-pubbing!

The first thing that comes to mind when I see first time writers, such as myself, post something in one of my writing communities to the effect of: “I just finished writing my novel, and I’m ready to query agents. Does anyone have any advice?”  The robot from the 1960s show Lost in Space pops into my head yelling, “Warning, warning, Will Robinson!”

When prodded you find out they’re not talking about a fully edited book, their usually talking about their first draft (or even their second).

I’m knee deep in revisions. If my editor is reading this, please close your eyes and try not to kill me. I know… I need to write the ending of book two. That’s my plan for this weekend.  Sorry all, but I digress.

My first novel, which I naively considered finished on St. Patrick’s Day, 2012, has undergone quite a bit of development, review, and revision since then based on feedback from editors, critique groups, beta readers, and even an agent or two. My hope is that now it is closer to being finished and something worthy of being published.

My most recent revisions, completed about a week ago, included writing two new chapters to start the book. Plus, I needed to reorder the first eight chapters to increase action and add more tension.  Let me mention, this is my third Chapter 1. To top it off, I’m now re-working Chapter 1 on my second book, and I haven’t even finished writing it yet (A note to my editor: I promise the first draft will be done by August!)

My point, after all this set-up, is for first-time authors who think the next step after completion of their first draft is to query agents and publishers – let me say this with as much love in my heart as possible – Don’t even think about it. Unless your plan is to use your rejection letters to wallpaper your spare room.

Chances are if you’re like me, or any of the other new authors I’ve critiqued or beta read for, you’ve committed errors you weren’t even aware of – some of them egregious. Trust me, as much as you’d like to think agents and editors will overlook your transgressions and see your brilliance shine through your submission—they won’t.  As one agent said at the Writer’s Digest Conference East in April, “I can fix plot, but I can’t fix craft.”

So, here is some advice to consider BEFORE sending out work to Agents and Editors and clogging up their already overstuffed inboxes:

Seek constructive feedback, and be open to accepting and acting on it where it makes sense.  If criticism sets your teeth on edge, or you think the source of the critique doesn’t understand your work after you’ve heard the same feedback multiple times—let me say this clearly—you’re not ready to be published. And you’re definitely not ready to query. You only have one chance to make a first impression, and agents won't take a resubmission of something they've already rejected, unless they asked for it. Some options:

  • Find beta readers who can give feedback on the experience of reading your story (can be friends).
  • Find critique partners who can point out flaws in craft including: passive voice, characterization, pace, plot, etc. (should be other writers).
  • Find a writing critique group online through a writing community or in your area through Meet-up.
  • Brenda Drake launched a site called www.cpseek.com to help connect writers with Critique Partners and Beta Readers.

Another option is developing and honing writing skills is through taking classes. I took a great one at NYU after I completed the first draft of my first book. For five weeks, I worked 1:1 with an editor through email and over Skype. Many people also recommend reading some books on craft. It’s not the way I learn best, so I can’t comment other than to say that I found books marginally helpful.

Finally, whether you can afford it or not, hire an editor. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make, and will pay off. I promise. Even the most famous writers need them.  But if you really, really, really can’t afford an editor, then beta readers and critique partners are a must.  Expect to revise, revise, and revise again.

When you know you’ve nailed action, pace, voice, plot, etc., based on the feedback received, then send out query letters to agents and editors, or hit ‘publish’ on Amazon if self-pubbing.

And don’t be surprised if it’s the fifth draft or the twenty-fifth.

Write on!

Does anyone have any additional advice for new writers?

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2 comments
Hades-uftg Tartarus says July 22, 2013

I agree with everything you’ve said. I always say the same things to other writers who claim they’ve finished a book. One of the problems I’ve noticed is that writers don’t want to deal with revisions because either they truly believe their MS is perfect–the next best-seller; or they are too afraid to tackle the task. There’s not much you could say to writers who believe their work is perfect to persuade them to revise their work. And there’s not much you could say to the ones who are too afraid of tackling a revision, either. They perceive reviewing and rewriting as starting over again. Of course, that’s not true, that’s just part of the process. The thing is most new writers don’t understand that. One of the reasons for this is that wherever you go, people tell you that in order to become a writer the only thing you need to do is to finish a first draft; and the only way of doing that is by sitting your butt down and write, write, write. That’s good advice, but the problem is that a lot of people do just that: they sit and write. Aimlessly. They believe that no matter what they write, as long as it’s reasonably plotted and makes sense to them, it’s good to go. More often than not, these writers have poor grammar and story-telling skills. They tell instead of show; they write story and plots that have been done to death in a very mundane way; they misuse words–I recently read an excerpt where the father of the MC who was some kind of were-animal bit his daughter in the “juggler”–they don’t fulfill genre expectations… the list goes on.

So if I may, I’d like to add that wannabe writers should get into their heads, first and foremost, that writing is a process. It’s something that requires a lot of time and work. And it’s all individual. Some writers might be great and might just need a little work. Some writers might be fantastic with grammar but not so good at story telling and vice verse. Some writers might only need one or two drafts whereas others, might have to rewrite the whole MS 50 times to just to his/her voice. These are things writer can only discover as s/he works on the craft; and by getting reliable and helpful feedback.

Good luck with your book!

Reply
    LG O'Connor says July 25, 2013

    Thanks for your added insight 🙂

    Reply
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