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.