Wednesday, July 22, 2015

ANSWERING YOUR QUESTIONS: The Best Way to Fill Time While on Query or Sub

Hi all,

I'm working through a bunch of new content right now, but I've had several questions sift to the top recently from other writers, so I thought I'd take a stab at answering them here.

This is one I get A LOT. I see it from aspiring writers who are querying, writers whose agents have their manuscripts on sub, and authors who are working with editors and have large gaps between deadlines, or waiting for a verdict.

I've been in all those places--I've queried five times and got agents twice. I've been on submission to big editors three times. I've had manuscripts waiting to be acquired by an editor I have a relationship with, and I've had down time between deadlines where I'm waiting for an editor to come back to me with notes.

I've tried to deal with that "Dead Time" a lot of different ways. But there's only one way I haven't regretted:

Jumping into (or back into) writing another book.

Now, before you go all "Yeah, yeah, heard THAT before . . ." there's four very important reasons why writing something new is the right answer (and only one situation in which it isn't). (If you skim everything else, read Point 2 in detail--because that's the guts).

1. Stay Ahead of the Curve

There are no guarantees in this game. If I've learned anything in the last three years--in which I've gained and lost an agent, self published, had my book acquired, gone through the traditional publishing process, looked for agent again, got another contract . . . blah, blah, blah--it's that nothing is guaranteed. There are no easy answers, no safe doors.

Even if an editor loves your stuff, even if an agent is raving, even if you had multiple offers on your last book . . . it doesn't matter. When push comes to shove, you're still looking for the next contract, hoping you've got something the professionals (or the readers) can engage with.

So the sooner you have new material--polished material--the better. Especially if you do get that contract and (*Fireworks!* *Confetti!*) the publisher is interested in seeing what else you've got because maybe they'll offer a multi-book contract?

If you're self-publishing, this is even more important, because you need to be building your backlist. The more books you have for sale, the more there is for a reader who's picked up your book and loved it to check out and purchase next.

2. Become a "Real Writer"

Do you know what authors with agents and editors have to do? They have to work to deadlines. They have to create on-tap. They have to switch between projects because they're proofing one Galley while they're writing the first draft of another.

They are doing what needs to be done, whether it "feels good" or not.

I can't tell you how crucial it is to learn to do this. You can talk to be about being an artist until you're blue in the face--and yes, I agree, we writers are artists--but our art has to be consumed on a commercial level. Either through a publisher, or through the process of publishing ourselves.

If you're going to work with a publisher, you won't have a choice. You have to work to deadlines, even if the muse is asleep. You have to work on multiple projects, whether your inspiration burns bright or not.

You have to work. The sooner you can develop the self-discipline and time-management skills to do that, the better. And the easier your career will be--and the more publishers will want to work with you. Don't underestimate how people talk. And how professionals hear what isn't said. If your agent isn't raving about your ability to work under time pressure, or your editor had you missing three deadlines last year, they will think hard about the next project and whether they want to go through that again--and they'll probably tell their friends too.

So what I'm saying is--keep writing, setting goals, pushing forward even when it's hard. Because you'll teach yourself to be a professional.

3. Avoid Writer Neurosis

It's really easy to get completely stuck on speculating what's happening out there with your book baby. Did the agent like it? Will they offer sub? What if they ask for an R & R--what are you willing to change? Or if it's with an editor, what if they don't like the latest book? What if they think it sucks? Or what if they love it and they offer a HUGE contract . . . .

The possibilities are endless, as is the mind-spiral you can get into trying to talk yourself into, or out of, whatever option is currently front-of-mind.

It isn't healthy, and it isn't helping you. It's harder to be professional when those calls do come, if you're on the id death-bend because someone told you the manuscript was "powerful".

Turn all that energy, all that focus into the new project, because what if this one doesn't sell? The sooner you have another manuscript to go out, the sooner you can be distracting yourself from the submission process again. Just sayin'.

4. You Get Better With Every Book

I don't care if it's your first novel, or you're Stephen King, every book you write teaches you something. Every book makes you a better writer. Every hour spent writing helps you reach your goals faster. Even the false starts and terrible first drafts. Because, seriously, your brain needed those steps (your heart probably did too).

Look at every word you write as another step towards your goal, another brick in the House of Career Writer you're building. Be humble. Keep learning. Get better--because either this book you've got out there is going to get picked up, or it isn't. If it doesn't, you need something else--something better!--to try. And if it is, the better writer you are, the better chance that project has of succeeding.

So, that's my take on the importance of working through the dead air. The only other thing I'm going to say on the subject is: WELL DONE, YOU. You wrote a book, you're getting it out there. No matter which stage of the process you're in, you've just achieved more than most of the writing population who will forever look at you with envy because they just wish they could be on sub . . .

Your Turn: Have you experienced Dead Time and how did you deal with it?

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