Say when

As writers, how do we know when it’s time to throw in the towel on a manuscript?

Wait a minute, I hear you saying, we’re writers. We NEVER give up. Persistence, perseverance, plugging along!

Yes, persistence is a virtue. As is patience. But just like the child who just won’t give up her favorite stuffed animal long after she’s outgrown it, we writers often keep submitting or working away at a manuscript long after it should have been filed away.

Friends and family keep asking me why I stopped querying my first novel. “Why aren’t you still trying?” they say. “Why can’t you do that and work on the second book?”

Well, I could. But just because I wrote the first book – and it got a few full requests, and I received some very encouraging feedback – does NOT mean it’s going to be my debut published novel.

How do I know this?

Well, let’s see:

  1. Along with some strong praise, I also received a few strong pans.
  2. I heard “No thank you” from several agents I had researched and who appeared to be a good fit.
  3. I heard absolutely nothing from several more agents.
  4. Last, but certainly not least, I had to admit I wasn’t completely satisfied with the book. And I wasn’t enjoying revising it any more.

Other projects were filling my thoughts and calling my name. I may still return to my first novel. But I’m betting that was practice. A very dear writing friend has written four novels – all of which were well written and certainly publishable. But when I asked her why she kept writing new novels instead of revising and resubmitting the first few, she had a great answer. Those were her learning curve.

Every book she writes is better than the last. (And her first was darn good!) Instead of chewing over the same leftover meal, she took what she learned and cooked a fresh one.

I’m still learning. I’m not a bad writer. I’m going to be a better one.

Let’s review Leslie’s Rules for Letting Go:

  1. What is your feedback telling you? No reply to a query is an answer. It means you never got past the slush pile.
  2. How many queries have you submitted? The actual number isn’t important (though if it’s only a few, you need to persist). It’s the reply ratio that matters. See:
  3. How many requests for a partial or full have you received? If those requests are a significant number proportional to your queries, that’s a good sign. Again, actual numbers aren’t important. It’s the ratio that matters. As long as I was getting a full or partial request for every 5-10 queries, I felt it was a good sign.
  4. What are your readers telling you? If you’re getting positive feedback, use it and keep on querying. If you’re getting negative feedback from more than one reader -or worse, none – that’s telling you something. Something you may not want to hear, but something important. People do not like to tell other people bad news, whether it’s that the floral cropped pants you bought make your derriere look like an overstuffed armchair or that they just couldn’t finish your story.
  5. What are your critique partners telling you? Are they tired of seeing the same manuscript over and over? Revision is vital – both rewriting and polishing – but just like a good bread dough or meat loaf mix, sometimes manuscripts need a rest. If you overwork your dough or your meat loaf, it comes out tough. All the goodness is just worn out.
  6. Read your story afresh. If you can read it on a Kindle, so it appears like a “real” book, so much the better. (Do NOT read it on your computer. At least print it out as a double-sided manuscript.) Be brutally honest with yourself – is it really the best it can be?
  7. Are YOU tired of your story? Are you enjoying the hard work of writing or revising it? Do you find yourself constantly thinking about it – or finding other things (anything) to do instead of working? Are other characters demanding that their stories be heard? Are you invested in the story?

After you’ve applied the rules and asked the hard questions, you’ll have an answer.

What about works-in-progress? How do you know when to soldier on and when to start something fresh?

Well, similar thoughts apply. See Rules 5-7.

Like many things in life, this isn’t guaranteed. Your mileage may vary, as they say. But I will guarantee you that if you wrote one book, you can write another. That’s when you need your persistence.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Say when

  1. Great advice, Leslie! I write picture books, but the same applies whether picture book or novel. My first (and only so far) book was not the first story I wrote with the intent to get published. It’s wasn’t even my second or third–more like my tenth or twelfth. I recently revisited that first story I wrote back in 2005 and now it’s getting a major overhaul. There’s hope for it yet! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Lauri! There’s always hope for our work – but sometimes we need more distance than just a few weeks or even a few months. Conrgats again on your first – but not your only! – book!

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