Monday, January 9, 2012

When To Take The Next Step

photo credit
I have a small announcement before we begin. There are so many amazing posts out in the blogosphere that it's tough to get to them all. I know I can't be the only one to feel that way, so I'm going to take a break from my Thursday posts and I ask that the time you would have spent visiting me, you give to a new blog you haven't yet visited. In the meantime I will be posting on Mondays and you can always find me on Twitter!


Heather asked: "How do you know when a book is 'done' enough to start sending it out on submission?"

And C. Lee McKenzie asked: "How do you know when a story just isn't going to work, give up and move on to a new project?


At first glance these questions seem quite different, but the answers are remarkably similar. The thing is the manuscript is never ready. There is always more you can do, and you can drive yourself nuts doing it! We really need to ask ourselves if we've done our best and then what our time is best spent on. Here's checklist:

  • Have you given the manuscript time to rest between revisions? It's essential for fresh perspective. 
  • Have you had critique partners and beta readers go through it? Have you revised sufficiently based on their notes?
  • Have you done a pass for grammar, word choice, superfluous words (e.g., I could hear the bang), and general polish?
  • Have you written a solid query letter and researched agents/editors?
  • Are you at the point where you keep changing the same sentence back and forth? That's a good sign it's time to let go. 
At this point you send it out. Test the waters. I recommend sending around five queries to start. Make sure each is personalized. Why do you want that agent? Hopefully not because you picked her out of a hat! See what your response is. If you don't get anything consider taking another look at your opening pages or query letter and try again. Rinse and repeat. He he. Then comes either the offer you've hoped for, or the realization that you aren't getting anywhere. How do you know it's time for the drawer?

My honest advice is to work on a new manuscript right away. To start something WHILE you are querying. It keeps your mind off things and helps keep your confidence up. With each thing we write, we get stronger. But if not, here's another checklist:
  • Have you tried a hundred agents? That's a good number. No really. It's true. I'd say if you haven't hit sixty, you haven't done enough. But that's my opinion mind you. 
  • Have you made your query and manuscript as strong as you can?
  • Are you going cross-eyed trying to figure out what else you can do?
  • Have you written only one book?
Now this last one is very important. I believe it gets easier with each manuscript to distance yourself enough to be objective. Plus it looks good when you have more than one project. Keep writing. Perseverance is the key. 


  1. I completely, completely agree that the best thing to do while querying, or while on sub, is to write something else. It gets you away from the "if this ms doesn't succeed, I'll die!!" perspective.

  2. I'll admit I haven't been personalizing my queries and I'm still getting requests. Half the time I don't have a reason for querying a particular agent other than because she reps both YA and thrillers/suspense (my book is YA suspense). But there's not point telling the agent that is why I'm querying her. She already knows what genres she represents (I saw that on an agent's blog once).

    I'm all for starting a new project. Not only do I forget about the queries I'm still waiting on. I forget to send more out. LOL

  3. Such a good questions and with each manuscript I learn something different about that. And yes, with each manuscript I learn a bit more about objectivity and trying to find that. Awesome beta readers help too!

  4. After I've worked with my critique group, got it beta read about 4 runs, and used my editing tools (the free ones) to clean it up, then revise once more. I work on my query letters. Takes me about 20 tries to be happy with it. I post it on Absolutewrite/forums query hell and yalitchat then its off to about 5 to 10. If I get no bites then I rework it.

  5. Those were really great questions, and you're right, Lisa: the answers are incredibly similar. I do agree that with each MS you do learn more about your writing and it gets better so that you can go back to those earlier projects with a fresh perspective.

    Great post!

  6. 100% yes! Those questions certainly aren't easy ones to answer, but you're absolutely right about the answers being pretty similar. I also agree that it becomes easier to distance yourself after you've written a few manuscripts--once you've been through the write, edit, rewrite, query process a couple of times, the entire process (although always difficult) because easier to swallow.

  7. This is such a great list, Lisa. And I think starting the next project is HUGE! Same with resting periods between drafts. This whole thing is such a big learning experience. I'm amazed at the difference not only between drafts, but between projects. The growth is (hopefully) obvious.

  8. Great questions, and great answers! Always, always have something else to work on. The only things I would add: unless it's your very first time querying, I suggest querying more like 10 at a time,and keep sending them out. With a 10-20% success rate (for even the best written queries), it's going to take time. And, like Stina, I (generally) didn't personalize, unless I had ACTUALLY, TRULY met the agent or had some real personalization to put in there. It's a business, and not personalizing didn't affect my hit rate.

    p.s. I think a lot of people are cutting back on blogging with the new year!

  9. I could hear the bang? What's wrong with that? :-)

    These redundancies keep sneaking him and I haven't figured out an efficient way to weed them out.

    Given that I generally like only 1 out of 100 images posted on DeviantArt, I'm not surprised that it would take 100 agent queries to find a match, even if you are very polished. Art and writing are so subjective!

  10. Excellent points! The last one is key for me. I've now written 3 stories (at least???) and I'm hoping I'll feel confident enough with this one to hit those query trenches. I know a LOT more than I did on my first one :)

  11. I'm a blogger-backer-outter, too. I've started bloggin only on Mondays, except when something special happens. I love reading other writers' blogs, but, like you, I can't visit all those I want and still move forward on projects that are hanging fire. I always seem to have too many stories going at one time, so I'm scaling back on that as well.

    Thanks for tackling my question along with Heather's and for doing it so thoroughly. And I thought how generous you were to suggest that we go to a new blog and say hi, instead of visiting yours that one time. Great idea. I'll pop over to Heather's and tell her hello.

  12. Hi Lisa,
    I absolutely agree on that last part about writing more than one book.
    You have to write lots. It's not a "waste of time" to write a book that won't be published - it's a learning experience.

  13. Some more great advice that I'm not quite ready to put into practice...but each day I'm getting closer. Just found a new blog I'll slot that into Thursday.

    It won't be the same, but that's what chocolate is for!

  14. I like the twin P's - patience and perseverance. Great advice as usual. When I used to design lighting in theatre I would tweak and tweak until opening night, that was my "hands off" moment. Okay, sometimes I even went back and "adjusted."

  15. As usual, awesome advice! I especially agree with diving right in to another project, not only to keep your writing momentum, but as a distraction.

  16. So nice to have all this in a tidy list.
    I completely agree to continue working out your writing muscles daily or at least almost daily so they don't get weak.

  17. Thanks for this! I'm planning to take the next step with my WIP in a few months so this is a great checklist to refer to before I press "send." I want to query 100 agents with this one. Hopefully something good comes of it. If not, I'll keep writing more books. :)

  18. Great advice. It's so true that a manuscript never seems ready. There is always more to do, yet at some point it's time to move that puppy on and start something new. Continued writing and perseverance is the key to success.

  19. Super advice! I'm getting ready to query my first project (guess that means I need a query), it's not there yet, but I can feel it getting closer. And once I have this project sent out, I have another in the wings, started, that will get my attention.

  20. I went through numerous rejections before reaching acceptance.

    I almost gave up on a manuscript this summer, but my critique group and beta readers came to the rescue. I also allowed the manuscript to sit for months unread. Of course, there are manuscripts in the past I gave up on, but they were good practice.

    Your advice is awesome, Lisa.

  21. I love these tips. They are all so true. The way I can get some perspective on my work is to put it aside for a while and start something new. When I come back to that first piece, I can see it with a fresher eye.

  22. You always know how to answer my next question. You know this is where I am and I'm about to pull my hair out. I think it's time to query. I'm scared at this point I am over editing and as you said, it's never done, you can always tweak it.