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:
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.
Does anyone have any additional advice for new writers?
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