Moving on

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First off, HUGE congratulations are in order for our very own Faith Hunter whose latest release, Mercy Blade, just debuted on the NYT list!!!!  WAHOO!!!  What a fantastic way to kick off the year!

One question I get asked a lot is whether I knew that my first published book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, was “the one.”  My answer is yes and no — I knew I loved the book, I knew it was different and I liked the writing, I was excited about it’s possibilities but… in this industry it’s just impossible to know what “the one” is.  Especially since I’d really felt like the book I’d been writing before FHT was “the one” and as it turns out, after several rejections I realized it wasn’t.

It’s never easy to go through the amount of dedication and hard work it takes to write, revise and submit a book only to then have to shove the sucker unceremoniously under the bed.  The reality is, if you didn’t love the book you’d never find the time and patience to actually finish it much less go above and beyond.  So how do you know when to call it quits and start working on the next project?

A friend and mentor once told me “finding an agent with the right book is easy, finding an agent with the wrong book is almost impossible.”  At the time I was submitting what I thought was the right book (it wasn’t) and so her advice frustrated me to no end because I didn’t want it to be true.  And to be fair, there definitely are those cases where a book was rejected by 100 agents before being picked up by number 101 and sold successfully.  We all know those authors who were soundly rejected only to later become publishing phenomenons.

But there are also those authors who spend five years revising the same book over and over again, submitting it to hundreds and hundreds of agents.  My advice to almost all of those authors is: put it away and start writing the next book (unless you’re writing high literary on a 1 book in 5 year schedule in which case, I’m not the person to turn to for advice).  Most authors don’t sell their first books.  Many don’t sell their second books.  Or their third.

So when do you put that book aside?  Here’s how I approached it: first, you have to finish the book.  There are only so many times you can revise that first chapter before you have to move on to the next and then the one after that.  If you find yourself churning over the same stuff over and over again, push yourself to move forward.  Honestly, if you’re rebooting the same project more than a few times you should step back and reconsider whether you need to move on to the next project.

Then, once you’ve finished you need to revise and I don’t just mean run spell check.  I mean dig into that story and do what it takes to make it the best book you can.  Easier said than done, I know.  I figured that I was done revising the book when (a) I knew that if it was rejected there was nothing more I could have done to make it shine and I’d have no regrets for having sent it out in that condition and (b) when I was just down to nitpicking over minor word choices that didn’t change the scope of the whole book.

Next: start querying.  That’s also when you begin the next book.

And then you revise that book the best you can, query and start the next book.  How many times you’re willing to do that will differ from person to person.  I set my own initial goal at ten years hoping that I’d be able to complete a book and query it every year.  Because I’d set out this plan I already knew what would happen the moment I received any rejection: I’d keep going.  And once I’d queried the agents on my list… I’d move on to the next project and keep my fingers crossed.

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9 comments to Moving on

  • Good advice, Carrie. It can make the moving on easier to bear in mind that the book you are shoving under the bed isn’t dead. Not only did you learn a lot from teh writing experience, not only might you pillage it for characters, phrases, core ideas or whatever in subsequent work. You may still sell it. This happened to me with a book that had been rejected many times and abandoned. I persuaded my agent to take it out again after I had sold my first book and we sold it right away!

  • Great advice, Carrie. I heard something similar to this from a few other authors. Thus, I started another series with my second book instead of writing a sequel.

    My first book, Shadowslayer, is being queried right now, while I revise the second. Shadowslayer hasn’t had enough rejections to trunk, nevertheless, I can already see the flaws in it, and hope to avoid those mistakes in subsequent books.

    Regardless of Shadowslayer selling, I’m hoping to start querying Song of Fury late this year. If Song of Fury sells first, maybe I’ll get what happened to A.J., and sell Shadowslayer as a result. One can only dream.

    Cheers,
    -NGD

  • You got it right, Carrie. Learning to let go can be hard. Even with short stories. I’ve gotten fairly hardnosed about it after all these years and can take a story out of circulation when its time, but it took me awhile to get there. Then again, sometimes . . . well, I have this one story that has been rejected many, many times, but there’s something about it that keeps me sending it back out. Oh well. :(

  • I needed to hear this, Carrie, thanks. I have a number of projects lined up for the year, and one of them is a book that I’ve been trying to place for some time. I was thinking that I would try one more rewrite before moving on to other things, but I wonder if I shouldn’t skip it and move on right away. Not sure what I’ll do, but you’ve given me something to chew on, and I’m grateful.

  • Then, once you’ve finished you need to revise and I don’t just mean run spell check. I mean dig into that story and do what it takes to make it the best book you can.

    I *think* that’s where I’m at now. I haven’t started submitting it, beyond a few pitches at my local writer’s conference. My BIC time has been sadly lacking of late, though, so it’s hard not to feel frustrated.

    Thanks for getting me thinking about this.

  • Great advice, Carrie. I especially like the idea of starting your next book as soon as you start querying on the last one. Waiting to until you’ve gotten a lot of no’s on book one before you start writing book two is not exactly motivational.

  • >>I set my own initial goal at ten years hoping that I’d be able to complete a book and query it every year.

    With this line you proved early on that you were in it for the long haul and that you are a professional in every way. I am not surprised that *the one* came long before the 10 year goal.

    And thank you for the congratulations. I am still overwhelmed.

  • Carrie – great post! I wasn’t able to sell my Dark Dragon Fantasy novel, a book that I *loved* and which I thought was the best writing I’d ever done. Eventually, I trunked it, with the full intention of selling it later – you know, when I was such a huge bestselling hit that any publisher would recognize the genius of my words.

    When I took the DDF out of the trunk last year, I discovered that the first chapter was possibly the best thing I’ve ever written. And the rest of the novel was *terrible* – it relied almost entirely on an unlikely coincidence for the plot to advance at all. I started to fix it, as best I could, and then I realized that my heart was elsewhere.

    Back to the trunk with it – maybe forever. But that first chapter…

    Thanks for getting me thinking about this!

  • Wow! Nothing like waking up on the west coast to a bunch of wonderful responses – yay!

    AJ – exactly! There’s always the chance of selling it later which is great advice to remember. Sometimes a story might be a harder sale initially but once you have a name established a publisher is willing to take a bigger risk.

    NewGuyDave – that’s always a difficult question: whether to work on a second book in a series or move on to something different. I tend to advise people to move on to something different because even if you sell the first in a series you’ll generally have plenty of time to write the next one to fit the publishing schedule.

    Stuart — stories are hard! My husband is a short story writer (just sold one today – yay!!!) and it’s fascinating to see how that market differs. He generally always has a story out on sub and will go through the list of which pubs he thinks will work and then he moves on.

    David — that’s so hard! I did that with a novel idea earlier this year — I kept trying to work and rework and finally I had to admit that the story was just broken and put it aside. I just glanced at it and realized that maybe I can rework it for a short story so thankfully not all is lost!

    Laura – revising can be daunting but also super exciting! I love having the chance to attack the book and pull all the random strings together to make it shine. Good luck!

    Edmund – that’s so true — the other reason to start right into the next project is that it’s REALLY easy to get discouraged and want to just give up when you start receiving rejections. And the thing is — everyone gets rejected at every stage of their career. The trick is figuring out how to protect yourself against them and not give up!

    Faith — I’m still so excited for you that I can’t hardly stand it!!!

    Mindy – it’s so interesting how time changes the way we see our own writing! That’s another great reason to start on other projects because it allows you to look back at your earlier work with fresh eyes (and it’s true that I think you learn something new with each thing you write).