First of all, I must say that I have been absent from my blogging duties after being knocked down by one nasty summer head cold/sinus infection thing. Why do I always seemed to get the WORST colds in the summer? I wouldn’t know exactly what is was because I don’t like to bother my doctor for things like colds, flus, arms falling off, etc. – only real medical emergencies. I was actually in danger of being dragged into my lovely physician’s office for some serious care as this sickness held on way past it’s welcome – over a week of miserable leaky/stuffy head pain and sleepless nights. (This very whiny writer is ever so glad she married a nurse who loves to take care of her when he isn’t taking care of critically ill patients at the hospital. I’m like a vacation after taking care of actual sick people all day.) Maybe he was being sarcastic…
Anyway, now that I can feed and bathe myself (was that going too far?), a long overdue series of posts has been promised about knowledge tidbits gleaned from THE AMAZING SCBWI conference.
So here we go with post NUMBER ONE. Oh! It’s so exciting!
Speaking of which, THE NUMBER ONE complaint I heard from almost every editor and agent who spoke at the SCBWI LA conference was that writers are sending out their manuscripts too early.
Author and Editor Deborah Halverson echoed this when she reported her findings on the survey of the market:
“Of the unsolicited manuscripts, editors are wading through too many not ready to be submitted.”
I must admit that I myself, am a recovering premature querier.
That’s right! When I first started out on this writer’s journey, the minute I wrote the words, “The End” on my very first novel, I couldn’t wait to get that newly minted manuscript hot off the printer, into an envelope, and out to the mailbox to be discovered – remember when we mailed queries? If not, don’t tell me. The only thing I discovered was how fast I could receive form rejection letters. Even by snail mail, you can get them pretty damn fast.
When Newberry Award Winner Clare Vanderpool gave her keynote address, she said it took her 16 years to get her first book published. SIXTEEN YEARS! I’m a little over halfway there, but I still wanted to cry. Then she talked about how during those years, while she was writing her book, Moon Over Manifest, whenever and wherever she could – even at stoplights - she was also studying her craft, practicing it. She learned that you have to put in the miles. She said one of the major factors for her success was joining a critique group. Sometimes we think what we write is good and it’s not and vice versa. That it’s important to know that what we’re putting out is what we intend.
You should know this before you start submitting your manuscript. You should know if your story flows well and makes sense to unbiased, knowledgeable peers before you blow your one chance with that dream editor or agent. Submit your best, your most polished work. How will you know if this is your best work unless you slow down and put in the time? Unless you get a second or third opinion? Whenever you finish a draft, put it away. Sit with it a few days before you start revising. Re-read it. Revise it. Revise it again. Have trusted readers read it. Revise it again. My good friend Anna Myers says she’d let someone see her first draft as soon as let them see her dirty underwear. You sure as hell don’t want an editor or agent to see your dirty drawers, do you? You know I’m not one for ironing, but I’d probably even iron my underwear before I’d send it to an agent.
Josh Adams of Adams Literary gave this advice to new writers during the Agent Panel: “Do everything you can to be ready, to be polished. There’s such a rush to be published. Do your research. It’s important to find your voice and the voice of an agent who will be an advocate for you.”
There is no hurry. Everyone is waiting for your best.
The only reason I can see for someone to be in a rush is if they are trying to catch a marketing trend and this is another major fallacy that writers should avoid. I will address this in the next post. Until then, keep practicing your craft!