Thursday, April 23, 2009

On Knowing Whether It's "Ready"

It's a question that plagues every writer-with-a-finished-manuscript. Am I ready to query? Have I done all the editing I possibly could?

Fear of failure, at this juncture, will only serve to paralyze you. So it's important that you have a balanced combination of I know I can always make my work better and I have worked hard and I'm ready to throw this out there.

While I can't comment on each individual author's process-toward-success, I can certainly comment on submissions to the Secret Agent contests. I'm not going to comment on individual submissions, and I am not referring to any one submission in particular when I say: I think some of you may have jumped the gun. Honestly? I don't think you did it on purpose. But here are a few pointers to bear in mind prior to our next Secret Agent round. And remember--when you submit here, you should be ready to submit to agents. All the prizes are related to the Secret Agent's reading your work. And if it's not ready, you're wasting the agent's time (and your own).

So. The Secret Agent contest is not yet on your horizon if:

  • The manuscript isn't finished. 'Nuff said.
  • This is your first draft. I know you're elated to have a finished story in your hands, but there's a long, long road of edits before you.
  • You haven't gotten any outside feedback. Family members don't count.
  • You haven't let the manuscript rest for a while and gone back to it for another round of edits.
  • You're not sure of the genre or reading level of your story.
  • You're not sure what a literary agent does or why you might need one.
  • You're not ready to hear anything negative about your writing.
I think that covers the main points.

What if you've gotten some outside critique and you're still not sure? Well, in my opinion, if you're hearing the following, you still have plenty of work to do:

  • "Overwriting" or "too many adjectives" or "too many adverbs"
  • "Problems with tense/sentence structure/grammar"
  • Your writing is "confusing" or "hard to follow" or "convoluted"
  • "No voice" or "inconsistent voice"
  • Writing sounds "amateur" or "young" or "inexperienced" or "awkward"
If you'll notice, the above all have directly to do with the WRITING. Not with the story. And certainly not with you, personally.

Signs that there are problems with the actual story are comments leading toward "plot holes" or "can't suspend disbelief" or "no character development" or "doesn't make sense." You catch my drift.

Do I have time to read each entry carefully and determine whether it's "ready" for the barrage of public critique that will follow? No. That's why I'm placing this squarely on your lap, where it belongs.

Because "your lap" is where it sits each time you query an agent. Best foot forward and all that.

Okay? I want you all to SUCCEED. Let's get tough with ourselves and really dig into our work. Then, when we post it for critique, we'll get so much more out of it. The "bad fluff" will be long gone, and our best writing will have an opportunity to become even better.

Whew. End of topic.

And now I'm going to tie up some loose-ish ends and get ready to celebrate my birthday tomorrow. Oh, yes. And it's going to have chocolate in it. Chocolate frosting, actually--on vanilla cupcakes. And someone else is making them for me.

Does it get any better?

I am seriously obsessive about cupcakes. Even over cashews.

I think.

What do I want for my birthday? An agent. Followed rapidly by a huge book deal. If you can arrange that for me, please send me an email before midnight.

You're all awesome! See you tomorrow.


  1. How about cashews on top of your chocolate frosted cupcakes? Happy Birthday!

  2. How do I know my WIP isn't ready for SA's eyes?

    I'm afraid to show it to my critting group.

    :O !!!

    I'm cleaning it up right now for group eyes, and hopefully the SA eyes too. Miserable work that...

    Happy birthday, Authoress. Hope you get your wish. ;)

  3. Happy birthday!

    Great thoughts, and so very true! :D

  4. I love this post. It's thoughtful and instructive. Srsly.

    But I'm afraid my favorite part is the typo:

    Best food forward and all that.Because you then go on to discuss which is the best food? Cupcakes or Cashews?


  5. LOLOL!!! Oh, NO! Ya, that wasn't a typo so much as it was a Freudian slip! Guess I'll go fix that...


  6. A good reminder, Authoress. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  7. Happy birthday! My wife is going to be so grateful to you as your food comments have made me go start some cupcakes and she LOVES cupcakes! My kids are gonna be grateful too :)

  8. Happy Birthday!

    Wow, I hope mine is ready. The crit partners seem to think it is. I'll catch one of the contests one of these days, I swear I will.!

  9. April birthdays are the best! (Mine is Tuesday, the 28th.) Hope you have a happy one!

  10. Great post and happy birthday Authoress! May that magical email appear in your inbox before midnight.

  11. Great post and happy birthday, Authoress! One hint about the birthday wish. Make sure when you blow out your candles, set a time frame for the agent to come knocking. You definitely don't want to leave that wide open.

    Enjoy your cupcakes!

  12. Happy birthday to you!

    Great post. I think the issue is that people *think* their work is ready when they post it. Your reminders are great. I might suggest writers have someone who is farther along in the process or more experienced review the work, because the publishing professionals have much higher standards than friends, family and even some writing groups.

    Also, I have beta readers that love my work - which is different from having at least one kick-ass critique partner who is going to pull apart your work on your behalf to make it better.

  13. :) Well said! Which is precisely why its unlikely I'll be entering an SA until 2010 . But when I am there, I'm really looking forward to it all. You provide us with such a fantastic opportunity here. Thank you! Hope you eat cake today.

  14. Authoress, Happy Birthday tomorrow! You know I'm sending cashews your way. :)

    This was an excellent post, and very helpful. You have such a talent for stating things in a gentle, informative way. Thank you.

  15. Happy Birthday.. Here's a few more cupcakes to celebrate. Excellent post!

  16. Happy Birthday Authoress!
    Enjoy those cupcakes like no one's business because you totally deserve them.

    Thanks for the post and you're right, it is damn near impossible to find that line between "I know I can always make my work better and I have worked hard and I'm ready to throw this out there." But this blog often helps illuminate it. :D So thanks!

  17. Very well-written, instructive post.

    Happy Birthday! I hope you get your wish!

  18. Hi

    Thanks for the well-written post. Happy Birthday! I hope we all get what we wish for. Have a champers on me.

    cheers olga

  19. Good advice on know when you're ready. Happy Birthday

  20. Happy birthday! So... did an agent come a-knocking before midnight? And I think it's very appropriate that your birthday is the same day as Shakespeare's birthday is celebrated!

  21. Happy Birthday, Authoress!

    My fave b-day card points out that "stressed spelled backwards is desserts. Coincidence? I think not."

    Enjoy your cupcakes and achieving your wish/dream!

  22. Wonderful post, lots if useful advice, thanks :)

    Happy Birthday! And enjoy your cupcakes :)

  23. Whoops, I thought your birthday was the 23rd, but it's the 24th. Forget the Shakespeare stuff. The 24th is the birthday of Sue Grafton though (I had to find another author for you) and she seems to be doing pretty well for herself!

  24. Happy belated birthday, Authoress, I hope you get a contract for your birthday. Have a great year.