On writing


As a writer, you learn a lot from the submission process. Reading up on how to query, finessing your letter every time you send it out. Getting to know other writers, finding out what other authors go through—first in getting an agent, and what happens after that.

In fact, early success can cause its own problems through inexperience.

Take this example.

A writer I know netted the interest of an agent on her second query. The agent told her she loved her work and was interested in representing her. They agreed to call a week later to talk about the novel.

The writer was deliriously happy for a week. Then came the phone call. According to the writer,

“She spent fifty minutes trashing my novel.”

There are two responses to that, and it depends how much querying experience you have had as to how you respond.

If you’re new to the writing/querying business then you’ll be sympathetic.

“How awful,” you might say. “You were treated so badly.”

Yet those of us who’ve been querying a while will be thinking (and trying to say, but more tactfully),

“Do you realise what that means? You had an agent who loved your work. She agreed to take you on. She spent fifty minutes on the phone talking about ways to improve your book. Fifty minutes! And you’re insulted.”

Because in that time we’ve spent querying, we’ve haunted the internet, talked with other writers, read about agents, polished up on our queries, polished up our manuscript, and we’ve learned some things we didn’t know when we started out.

Somewhere along the way we come to understand that our book isn’t perfect. That getting the agent is only the first step to getting our novel published. That the agent will want us to fix things before he/she sends it out on submission. The editor will want changes too.

If my writer-friend had been submitting longer, she might have understood this. Instead, she was still too new to the process.

As you can imagine, she promptly parted ways with her agent. Two years on she is still bitter about the whole trad-pub thing and has adopted indie publishing with fervour.

I’m not sure if she’ll ever realise it was her own inexperience that set her along that path.

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