(Post inspired by a #Pitchwars and @tammy_oja convo)
How do you know when to hit send?
Here’s the thing: You can literally spend 20 years polishing the same thing, getting better with every revision, pushing more with each turn.
Every published author I’ve known sees things a year later, two, five, ten..whatever. Things that once the book/story is published, they’d change. This applies to even luminaries like Tamora Pierce and Neil Gaiman.
The first short story I ever submitted for publication was picked up at the first place I sent it to. Knowing what I know now about the publishing industry, I recognize that 1. That project was limited in market. 2. It worked because the narrative arc was very personal, and 3. I used what I knew at that time about what that specific market was looking for, and what works well for the audience, to try to push that project into where I thought it had the best chance to succeed.
I had perfection paralysis.
I justified it in a million ways. I wasn’t ready to dive into a publishing career. I wasn’t going to put out less than my best. I wasn’t. I wasn’t. And then I blinked, and a decade passed without my putting out another thing.
If I query, I want to query my strongest project to the best agents. I’m talking those who rep people like Maggie Stiefvater, Victoria Schwab, Cat Valente, Seanan Mcguire, etc. And when I eventually do so, I will have easily 6-10 projects where, with some good editing, can line up for the market.
But if I don’t get past the perfection paralysis, they will never see the light of day.
There’s a point at which perfect becomes the enemy of the Done.
My boyfriend and I have been cleaning out the excess stuff in our apartment. Do we really need 350 pens/pencils? Probably not. That shirt that doesn’t quite fit right, I can send that to the local thrift shop.
He’s been working on the same box for over a month, breaking down various office supplies into specific categories. Ball point pens. Novelty pens. Fountain pens. Quill pens. Mechanical pencils, 2 pt. Mechanical pencils, 0.5 pt. etc ad nauseum. I wanted him to just count how many pens/pencils there were so the next time we’re tempted to pick up more when school supplies go on sale, I can avoid it!
There’s a point where being perfect is counterproductive. Where you’re further polishing something that is already golden.
The hardest thing?
Recognizing when you’re nearing that point.
We all want to put our best foot forward. But you’ll never be perfect. The hardest thing to do is to put yourself out there. Yes, they may reject it. But they may not. You’ll never know until you find the courage to hit submit.
So how do you figure out when it’s good enough, and silence the doubt that whispers that it’s awful?
- Great crit partners. Critique partners are rather different from beta readers in one key way: Beta readers should focus on how the story makes them feel. Their job is to make sure the story resonates on the emotional level. Does it feel like the pieces come together into a coherent whole, and if they react the way they’re supposed to? Then you’ve done a good job. Crit partners go further than that. This is a fine art, not everyone can do it. Make sure your crit partner understands your vision for the story. If you mean it to be a thriller, but they think it’s supposed to be a romance with a suspense subplot, their feedback isn’t going to be as useful for you. They’re using the wrong lens for it. Great crit partners will help you find not only what’s wrong with a story, but how you might fix it.
- Alternately, an editor may be used for the same purpose, and a good one comes with the advantage of understanding the market you’re targeting. This is especially useful if you’re looking to self publish, or if you’re working in a really tight genre, like SF/F where a LOT of writers are writing, and few places are buying. Sometimes, they may even suggest you change major things about your novel, like adding a subplot or removing a character. They should also be able to explain why that would help the novel. Any editor who doesn’t explain the why something works or doesn’t isn’t objectively working on the material, but subjectively. That can work, but often leads to projects that drift into someone else’s vision, or don’t fit with their market. Editing is 40% gut, 60% knowledge, and the head needs to guide the heart.
- If you don’t understand WHY someone’s giving you that feedback, ask them for more clarification. Sometimes a suggestion won’t resonate with you, but it reveals an underlying issue that needs addressed. It’s always acceptable to ask for clarification. Most good editors/critique partners will explain why when they’re doing it, but sometimes it needs more digging to get to the actual issue, so don’t be afraid to talk it out further with them. Bouncing off each other often results in the BEST ideas!
- Most of all, know what you want your story to be, and how it fits into the market. If you can’t define the genre of it, at least in a broad stroke, and you don’t know what the core of your story is, you won’t be able to revise to create it. Keep that vision in mind as you revise, and use it as a target ONLY. It’s the goal, the dream, but you will never get it EXACTLY like it. Just make sure it aligns. The best novel, shined perfectly, won’t get picked up if the agents or editors can’t figure out how the hell to sell it. Better to put it out as strong as you, your betas/crit partners/editor can make it, test the query waters, and evaluate. Try it on your mid level agent list, the agents you’d love to sign with but aren’t dream level, and see what kind of responses you get. If you get a lot of requests, aim it towards your dream agents, you’ve got this!