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Fears and hurdles and send buttons

In my daily swim through queries, I’ve noticed an interesting trend in opening sentences—something to the effect of “I feel that now is finally the right time to send this your way,” or “I’ve been sitting on this novel, too afraid to send it out until now.” Which leads me to believe that as many people as there are that email me telling me they’ve gotten over the fear of reaching out, there are just as many–if not more–who are still hesitant to hit the Send button. In past blog posts I’ve talked about the query process, but today I wanted to dig a bit deeper and reach those who haven’t yet cleared that first hurdle.

My question is: what’s holding you back? Maybe it’s timing, maybe it’s perfectionism. And I’m willing to guess it also rests in that highly inconvenient fear we all experience throughout our lives of rejection.  But I won’t deny that you also probably feel the odds—technical, rather than emotional—stacked against you.  If you’re keeping yourself informed and involved, reading blogs, and doing whatever you can to learn more about the industry, there’s no doubt that you’re hearing different advice from different sources: “do this” or “don’t do this” or “text attached” or “text included in the body” or “spell check.” Everyone remembers spell check, right?

The fact is, it’s competitive out there, and a realistic attitude is an imperative. And expectations are inevitably high because we want to see the absolute best that you have to offer. It’s a tall order, I won’t deny it.  But here’s the thing: sometimes you have to tune out the noise and dive in. Of course you want your work to be as perfect as it can be, but you also can’t wait forever for that perfection to happen.  At a certain point, you have to go for it, because you never know what could be waiting for you on the other end.

Are any of you out there are feeling this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

10 Responses to Fears and hurdles and send buttons

  1. I was less scared of “diving in” when I knew next to nothing about querying, when it was just this letter I had to write. Now that I’ve been reading industry blogs for awhile, I’m paranoid about all the things I *could* be doing wrong…hah. Information overload, I guess.

  2. Lance Parkin says:

    The fear I always had was ‘this is it’, that the moment I pressed that button, my fate was sealed. Not a fear of rejection so much that there was one chance to get it right, and that I might blow it, that my name would get a permanent black mark in the Big Book Of Agents.

    Which is silly, if only because unless you somehow managed to run over the agent’s dog with your submission first time around, it’s not like they’d remember you the next time.

    That said … if you, the writer, aren’t sure if it’s ready, it’s definitely not ready. If you have any doubts, at all, *about the work* don’t think you’ll sneak them past the agent.

  3. I’m sitting on my queries now due to timing. I’ve got a full-time job and grad school to balance on top of writing, and I know it would be very stressful (more than normal) to try to promote a book while writing another if my (hypothetical) agent and I managed to sell it quickly. In a year I’ll be done with school, and my mental energy will be less split.

    Still, I can’t imagine telling the agent, at the query stage, that I’ve been too scared or had this manuscript sitting around for a few years. It just seems an unnecessary waste of words, which are precious in a query. Furthermore, it seems to lack confidence, and if you aren’t confident about your book, why should a prospective agent be?

  4. Stephanie P. says:

    For some, for me, keeping your work within the cocoon of the promising reviews of writing teachers and your own mental universe protects it from the harsh reality of the market. You’re proud of your work, you have the feedback of writing professionals that you’ve got something here, but can you “sell it” and will someone sell it for you? Procrastinating on the query process prolongs the fantasy just a little bit longer. But eventually you realize that you gotta throw it out there if you want it shared, like you mention.

  5. Hillsy says:

    How much do I loathe the word “perfect”. It’s such a non-word. It’s become a by-word for “Exceeding Basic Standards”. If it was “perfect” you wouldn’t need editors. Semantics maybe, but we’re told time and time again it has to be “perfect” before it goes out….it damages a person’s ability to judge their own work. I think anytime someone uses the “perfection” or “perfect” a demon ought to be summoned to bite off one of their fingers.
    Right – now that’s cleared up!

    Lance’s comment – “if you, the writer, aren’t sure if it’s ready, it’s definitely not ready.” – got me really angry. I hammered out a reply but it was too beligerent and grossly unfair considering it’s just a comments board.

    See this mentality, this equivalence of the Author’s value of their own work to the (Very vague) objective value of it, is at the core of the problem Steph raises. When the two are roughly aligned, an Author will send out work when he thinks its reached a certain standard. No issue there at all. The problem arises when an Author’s self-confidence fluctuates either over or under the (very rough) objective value of the work. Too high Confidence and they are extolling literary bilge as Hemmingway. Too low and excellent works never see the light of day.

    Steph mentions fear of failure, but I don’t think it’s *that* type of failure (Not getting partial requests, full request, offers, sales etc) that hampers a lot of people. It’s the fear of failure yourself, of not doing the best you could, that’s crippling. And with something as subjective and complex as literature, knowing that you’ve done your novel justice is nigh on impossible.

    One of Heinlein’s 5 rules is that the person who tinkers endlessly with one work will never be published. Someone who believes they cannot judge their own work in a qualitive sense is destined to be one of these tinkerers. That’s not Right or Wrong, Fair or Unfair. It just is.

  6. Lance Parkin says:

    >The problem arises when an Author’s self-confidence fluctuates either over or under the (very rough) objective value of the work. Too high Confidence and they are extolling literary bilge as Hemmingway. Too low and excellent works never see the light of day.<

    My initial point was simply that if you find yourself thinking 'I wonder if I'll get away with that?', assume you won't, go back and rework it.

    Authors are weird – massive insecurities, coupled with the arrogance to go up to people and say 'I've just written 100,000 words and for $20 I'll let you read them'. An agent isn't assessing your self-esteem, though, they're assessing the words on the page.

    Think of it this way: an agent is going to be able to make a decision on the book, what will they like and what won't they like?

    If you find yourself cursing agents and saying they're blind to truly good books and only interested in things about vampires, then … you're not ready.

    If you love yourself so much that you think you're Hemingway, then the very best thing you can do is send it to an agent this instant, because there's a 99% chance that you need a swift, sober rejection to shock your system. And a 1% chance you're Hemingway. I'm rounding up that last one, obviously.

    If you can't begin to answer that question, there are two or three levels of 'not ready to submit' there.

    It's not about you being perfect. It's also not about tricks to get you through the door. Here's the secret: it's not about you at all. It's not the writer, it's the writing. The protagonist of this drama is the manuscript you submit. As long as the manuscript's not a nervous, indecisive wreck or an arrogant whining piece of shit, it doesn't really matter whether its author is.

  7. Hillsy says:

    Lance: Kind of feel this has run out of steam but….

    “My initial point was simply that if you find yourself thinking ‘I wonder if I’ll get away with that?’, assume you won’t, go back and rework it.”

    See this is what I think is wrong. It’s a feedback loop. It’s an “If NOT GoTo 1″ command that can be stuck permamnently on. In general I agree with the sentiment, but (as with the use of “perfect”) the language is more grandiose and stirring and wrong than the actual truth of it. I grant you that that is the truth of almost all sentences that involve even the merest generalities (including the one I’m in the middle of writing) but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attach caveats.

    Objectively, you’re right. The writing is the only important part. However, the applied scenario is that the writer does matter a bit, because he’s the one that’s got to stick the damn thing in the envelope and mail it.

    In an ideal world an author wouldn’t have to deal with their own evaluation of worth. That would be dealt with by some large, mystical council that e-mails you a percentage value each time a draft or revision is completed. All an author would have to worry about then is improving the MS with each revision (Notice I accept that any author must know the difference between better or worse – I can’t help those that don’t). Once a certain value is attained – DING! – off the the agent it goes. Problem is this doesn’t even exist in Neverland and that’s a place that sits outside of time & space.

    For a not inconsiderable number of potential authors, their perception of their own work is destructive because they are stuck in a feedback loop, improving their work but never knowing when they’ve reached “Good Enough” (1.Revise, 2. Assess Work, 3.If NOT “Good Enough” GoTo 1, 4. Send to Agent).

    Now whether or not these people (those that can write to publication standard but are striken with chronic low self-evaluation) should continue to persue publication is another thing entirely.

  8. Lance Parkin says:

    >Objectively, you’re right. The writing is the only important part. However, the applied scenario is that the writer does matter a bit, because he’s the one that’s got to stick the damn thing in the envelope and mail it.<

    Yes. There are two sets of problems: the ones with the writing, and the ones with the writer. I think a lot of prospective writers concentrate on the problems with the writer, not the writing.

    This is going to sound harsh, and I don't mean it to be (god knows I went through the same process), I'm just trying to be practical: a lot of people who want to be writers seem to concentrate all their energy on their own drama, not the one in their books. All the things in their life that stop them submitting in the short term.

    I said it about myself, Stephanie said it – you end up in a holding pattern of 'one day, I'll send it in'. So you can say (either to others, but usually yourself) 'I hope to get my novel published'. With no actual prospect of that. Is it 'fear'? I think, just as often, it's comfort.

    The way *out* of that feedback loop is to stop thinking of it as your 'journey' and start thinking of it as a career. If you want to be published, you want to be paid for your skills and labour. In other words, it's a *job*. It is, or can be, or is often, a great job. It's at least a job with no commute where you use your brain and creativity and so on. But you don't get *any* job by sitting on a CV and never letting anyone see it. Just the opposite. You hone it, you work out who'd be interested, *you send it out there*. If it doesn't work … you fix the CV. Or you start again from scratch. And you don't give up on the idea of ever being employed because you didn't get your dream job first time around.

    You can still be a writer after you've had a rejection letter. They were rejecting that submission, not you as a human being. They weren't blackballing you from the Club of Authors. They didn't like that particular submission. Put it aside, do not be tempted to tinker. Try again.

    And I know I'm repeating myself, so I won't bang on any more, but, creatively, a good mindhack is simply to look at what you've written and ask 'what would an agent think of this?'. If nothing else, it keeps your focus outwards.

    I found an essay by Virginia Woolf the other day that nails it, I think – the great authors are not the ones who are technically the best at writing, they're the ones who are 'persuasive'. You believe the world they're writing about.

    You will never write something that's technically perfect. You have to write something with a strong central idea, characters making interesting choices, and you have to get straight to the job of hooking your reader. Go bold and try to stand out – most rejected submissions are not appalling rubbish written in crayon, they're just … bland. Anyone could have written them.

  9. Lisa Marie says:

    “I found an essay by Virginia Woolf the other day that nails it, I think – the great authors are not the ones who are technically the best at writing, they’re the ones who are ‘persuasive’. You believe the world they’re writing about.”

    I like Woolf more and more by the day. ☺

    I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why I’m reticent to hit the “send” button until just recently. I’m loathe to go into specifics. I can only say that keeping apprised of what’s happening in the publishing industry gives me little reason to trust its collective judgment.

    Border’s is gone, and Barnes & Nobles is faltering. This suggests to me that while the publishing industry won’t go away entirely, the business model entailed might change drastically – sort of how it changed in the music industry (and the newspaper/magazine industry, as well). Chalk my reason up to “uncertain” in terms of a career decision.

    • Lance Parkin says:

      “I can only say that keeping apprised of what’s happening in the publishing industry gives me little reason to trust its collective judgment.”

      The publishing industry is not a monolith, it doesn’t have ‘collective judgement’.

      They do all seem to be leaping headlong from having the only entertainment product that’s cheaper to buy than to pirate (the paper book) to a model set up by hardware manufacturers to provide those manufacturers with free content (ebooks for Kindles and iPads). That’s … bizarre.

      It depends what you want to do. What will the role of an agent be in the self publishing, level, free content world of the future? To cut the best deal and protect their clients’ interests. How will agents make money? By making money for their clients. What’s the problem going to be? As now, there are two problems: big companies who see your books merely as ‘content’ and consumers who want to pay as little as possible for it.

      I don’t think waiting for things to shake out makes any sense. Things will always be shaking out. It’s easier than ever to get what you’ve written published. It’s harder than ever to get *paid* for writing. These two trends will continue. The problem is always going to be to stand out in an overcrowded market. Having an agent at your back, making sure that you didn’t give away all future rights to your intellectual property, is always going to make sense.

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