How I Write: Knowing and Growing (when to submit)

(Check out Ansha’s blog for participating writers.)

I finished my first draft of my first story. And I knew I was ready. (cough, cough) So I submitted. Yup. And I got rejected. Double yup.

Agents wish writers would wait before submitting. Unfortunately, after our first story with maybe some revisions thrown in, we think we’re ready. Because we don’t know any better. And I say kudos. Go ahead. It’s a brave first step. We need those form rejections to realize we have a lot of growing to do.

After several rejections and critical feedback, I stopped. I knew I had more to learn. I wrote another couple stories, maybe queried a couple agents, but then stopped and moved on. Yes, I could have rewritten those stories and rewritten and rewritten, but I needed to take what I had learned and apply it to something new.  I could have queried every agent on the face of the earth, but I didn’t. They were practice novels. I could do better.

If you’re a beginner and you’re not quite sure how to revise yet, (or you think you don’t really need to) I say query a bit. Get your feet wet. But read craft books, read books, and continue to write. Don’t stall your writing for your first story. Move on.

You’ll know when you’re really ready. The feedback from readers/crit partners will be more line editing. You’ll know the checkpoints of macro and micro editing. You’ll have figured out how to intertwine emotion and tension into the heartbeat of your story. You’ll know about scene and structure and goal and motivation. All that good stuff.

And if you mess with that manuscript anymore, you’ll kill your voice and any raw emotion you had. That’s when you might be ready.

All you can do is craft the best query you can and send it out there. Easy squeezy. (cough, cough)

How do you know when to stop revising and send your baby out into the world?

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12 Responses to How I Write: Knowing and Growing (when to submit)

  1. Robert Guthrie August 11, 2010 at 6:32 am #

    For me, the baby doesn’t get out in the world until after many, many rounds of readers – crit partners, writing groups, beta readers (not 100% clear what those are – acquaintances?). Which of course means many rounds of revisions. More readers. Rinse and repeat. Many times. At some point we intuit (or someone tells us) when the time is right.

  2. patti August 11, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Well, I sent it out before it was fully developed, wasting lots of stamps and paper.

    Then I attended a writers’ conference, got a professional edit, and put the onus of that editor to wave her arm traffic cop style and say Go.

    “An Irishwoman’s Tale” was sold later that year.
    Sigh. When is it ready? Dear one, so much depends on God’s timing. But it sure helped to have a professional take my hand and help me “cross the street.” There’s lots of traffic out there!


  3. anne gallagher August 11, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    I think you’re right. I think every new writer needs to experience the query/rejection thing first to fully comprehend when is the right time to send out the ms.

    My first book I sent out as soon as I wrote the end. I thought it was fantastic. Of course the query was also horrible. Unanimously rejected. I jumped on blogs, grabbed a few books, revised, rewrote and waited 6 months. Feeling confident, sent it out again with a much stronger query — got several partial requests but no fulls and I finally figured out why. I gave it up for now where it sits quietly under the bed.

    I read more craft books, visited more blogs and wrote my second book, a totally different genre, where I think I’ve found my voice. While writing my second book, I think I’ve gained a confidence to not make the same mistakes I did in my first. I’ll be ready to query soon.

  4. Ansha Kotyk August 11, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    How to know when to submit? I think it varies with each work… and really I don’t know if I’d ever know.

  5. Catherine A. Winn August 11, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    “Yes, I could have rewritten those stories and rewritten and rewritten, but I needed to take what I had learned and apply it to something new.”

    This is such good advice. It was hard for me to put my first MG in the drawer and move on, but I was surprised how much I had learned when I began the next. I have two others in there with it, querying on one that I know is really ready, and working on something else. Now when I go back and look at the first one, my cheeks warm because I was so darn naive! Every new work teaches something so it’s important to just keep writing.

    • Laura August 11, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

      Robert – Sounds like you are on the right path.

      Patti – How wonderful you had a pro to help you along the way. Conferences can be wonderful in that regard.

      Anne – Good luck with your querying – when it’s time!

      Ansha – You’ll know when you get there!

      Catherine – I agree! It is sooooo hard to shelve a manuscript after we’ve spent so much time on it!

  6. kris August 11, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    I agree that it’s important to get those form rejects–though you should still try to make it your best. Sometimes a little humility goes a long way next time…


  7. Lydia K August 11, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    I make mistakes, like sending it out too early. But what I’ve learned it not sending it out simulataneosly to a thousand agents. I get feedback, and revise, and submit to a few more.

    This, along with finding a beta who fits me really, really well, has allowed me to finally figure out when my MS is ready.

  8. Tatiana Caldwell August 11, 2010 at 7:10 pm #

    My first novel was a practice novel. When I finished it and submitted it and got rejected, I moved on. I read a LOT of books on the craft, joined some professional organizations, got a critique partner, entered it contests, and put my ALL into it.

    Submitted it after much revising. Got rejected. Revised again based on feedback, repeated. Got more rejections. I repeated this over the course of 2 years, until I had revised this book more than 10 times based on feedback. It hasn’t sold yet.

    I have since moved on and written 3 more books, sold another, and yet I STILL feel that book #2 is my best work yet, and worry if I can ever live up to it again. And it’s just sitting around on my hard drive.

    Maybe it’s still not done? 😉

  9. Kay August 11, 2010 at 9:02 pm #

    At first the thought of writing a “practice” novel horrified me. Why do all that work for no one to ever see it. But the further I get into writing my first novel, I am learning that nothing I do with it is wasted–even if it remains forever hidden in my house. The learning from actually doing it is invaluable.

  10. Karin August 13, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

    It seems the best time to send it out is when you are still excited about it and still afraid it might not be good enough. Usually this is between one and four years worth of working on it.

  11. Adina West September 25, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    Just stumbled onto this post – and I have a slightly different perspective than some!

    I have a failed manuscript mouldering on my hard drive which I took over six years to write. I never submitted – I never even finished it – but I learnt a great deal while writing it.

    My second manuscript was written more quickly (15 months from idea to submission) and the big difference was my professionalism in writing and editing it. For the first time I was taking my writing seriously, and that was what gave me the courage to finish…and send! I was very fortunate in getting an agent from this manuscript.

    So I think I learnt more from my earlier manuscript and the mistakes I made there than from rejection, per se. But everyone has a different way of learning. So I think it’s not how often or whether we get rejected that’s important – but whether we learn, and continue to become better writers.

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