Your first manuscript is your baby. Your pride and joy. It’s going to get you an agent, spark a hot bidding war between 1-6 of the Big Six, and before you know it Oprah will be holding it up to a hoard of adoring fans.
Except here’s the reality check: maybe not.
I’m navigating the murky swamps of submission right now, and I fully expected to be a basket case. Instead I’ve found that any rejections don't sting. Thinking about possible future rejections, maybe having to go on a second round, having to shelve Blessed Among Women…nope. Doesn’t hurt a bit.
And now you’re thinking: she’s crazy and a liar. I may be the former, but as anyone who has been on the receiving end of one of my pathetic excuses will tell you, I am not the latter. I’m being 100% honest when I say that I’m prepared to let go of Blessed (for a while) if now is not its time.
Why? A couple of reasons.
The first is that two weeks ago I had a couple of days of teetering on the brink of genuine tragedy that put the whole “is-my-book-gonna-sell” waterworks sharply in perspective. I am not exaggerating when I say that those issues I was facing resolved in a miraculous way, and thankfully everything is going to be all right. But facing true hardship showed me that everything that’s happened so far with my book has been a blessing (har har har), and I need to be grateful. I am.
Another is that I was working on my second novel. I got it up to a decent wordcount and sent it to my agent and my agency’s editor for a dollop of their signature genius on how to make it sparkle. It’s a novel I started when I was deep in the late stages of querying Blessed, when things were really starting to happen, and it was nice to have a work-in-progress as a distraction. Bonus: I fell as madly in love with novel #2 (Class of '98) as I did with Blessed, and I proved to myself that I could do the writing-a-whole-book madness again. It’s completely different than Blessed—instead of a darkly sweet and tragic love story, it’s a frothy contemporary time travel—but you write what’s in your head, not what you think should be on the paper. That's a post for another time.
Hence the point of this post: I’ve seen lately in various author communities a disquieting trend. Statements like:
“Can’t wait to get an agent/self-publish/contract so I can quit my job!”
The problem: your agent isn’t going to pay you, submissions could take a ridiculously long time, and both traditional and self-publishing are not exactly the easy path to Big Money Avenue. As a debut author your advance will likely be a couple grand doled out over several payments. In self-publishing, there’s no way to be 100% sure how your book will do. It’s fine to fantasize about huge advances and book tours, but think of it like winning the lottery and be aware that those things come with their own issues, which brings me to:
“If I write an amazing query, then agents/editors will be beating down my door.”
The problem: if you write an amazing book they will beat down your door. If you fail to do that before you write an amazing query, then they will request your work, actually read it, and send you a very polite form rejection telling you to keep on trying. And amazing means amazing to someone, not to everyone. If you could write a book everyone would love you and Oprah would already be besties and you probably wouldn’t be wasting time reading this blog. And even if you did write an amazing book, there’s still one more step…
You have to write another one. No excuses. No exceptions.
Assume that you aren’t Harper Lee. Assume that if you want to build a career as a writer in whatever avenue you choose then you will need to build an audience. And to build an audience, you need to write books. Plural. If you sign with an agent, he/she will be delighted to hear that you have other projects in the works. If you self-publish your readers will be glad to hear you have another title coming out. And no, that doesn’t mean ideas. Ideas are cheap. They’re easy. Books are grueling, put-in-the-hours work. And if you have two or three ready to go, then if the first book doesn’t sell, NBD. You’re ready to try again without having to spend months or years of your life trying to get another book together.
So yes: believe in yourself and your story. But make sure that you have a realistic picture of what the future holds and your role in making that future a reality.