Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wishing for a Writer's Deus Ex Machina

I don't know when to quit. With this book, anyway.

I wish there was some mechanism, a whooping alarm or a decisive trap door or something, that would sound off when I've sent my last query on THE TRAVELERS. You know, the last one I should reasonably send. Before I go into delusional writer's territory, querying a book that will Just Never Make It.


I know all the inspirational stories. Everyone rejected J.K. Rowling. Brodi Ashton queried a hundred agents. Elana Johnson queried 188 (one hundred and eighty-eight!) before she found her agent.

But maybe (probably) I'm not Brodi Ashton or Elana Johnson. Maybe I'm not talented enough. Or my first novel is too first-novelish. Or people don't care if the main character gets fed through a woodchipper.

I went through all the things listed in this post for how to tell if it's time to put your novel away, and I thought they maybe applied to TT. But I didn't know if I really felt that way, or if it was rejection-based disappointment flapping its jaw.

So when do I give up? When does this novel get lovingly wrapped in paper and stuffed in a drawer?

How did Beth Revis, who has NINE drawer-novels, know when to put each of them away?

In the lowest of the query trenches (form rejections on my subs!) the answer felt like, "Right now, you idiot, how could you have even thought you should query this piece of garbage?"

This sign would have helped. Maybe a good business to market to writers?

So, I tried to declare my own Deus Ex Machina (yes, I'm aware that's the opposite of how it works. Shut up.) And I said that if my project wasn't pulled for the next round of the Miss Snark's First Victim Baker's Dozen Auction, I'd put it on the shelf, forget about it for now, and pour myself fully into ONE. It had a 10% chance of being pulled from contest slush, so I thought it would at least be a definitive "yes" or "no." (I want to say very clearly for the record that all my CPs thought that this idea was completely moronic.)


And then a crazy thing happened. The ladies doing the choosing pulled TT from the slush and decided to put it on the auction block. There went my big plan for knowing for sure when to quit. The auction goes live to crit on Friday and to agents on Tuesday, and it just might be the big opportunity for me that it was for these ladies last year.

It's a funny thing, writing these projects we love. The littlest thing can get us down, make us want to host a manuscript-based bonfire party. But then something else can bring us right back to loving our manuscript, and save it from a future in the drawer for another week, or another month.

And the only thing we know for certain is that nothing about this business is easy - not even knowing when to quit.


Have you ever drawered a project? How did you know when it was time? Were you as much of a drama queen about it as I've been?

15 comments:

  1. So I seriously wish I could answer this question for you, but you know me--I never "shelve" a novel. I just put it on a leash and carry it around behind me until I think of a way to make it better. I feel like every novel has the ability to hook an agent, you just have to keep tinkering with it and wait for that moment when everything comes together.

    But that's just me. I'm sure a lot of people will say I'm stupid and optimistic and there are definitely times when you should be shelving your novel.

    But oh well! Baker's Dozen! Whooooo!

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  2. Congratulations on making the auction! That's super exciting!

    Not sure I can offer any helpful suggestions, as I have never been in this phase of the process. But it seems like the most important thing is to just make sure you're working on something else, as well. And heck, query the 200 agents just so that you know you gave it your all.

    Because otherwise, how do you know?

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  3. I have at least two drawer novels and several unfinished, almost complete manuscripts. But I knew when I finished each of those that they weren't ready for the public. Not that they might not someday, just that I'm not ready as a writer or the public isn't ready for them. It's not any one thing that tells me to let them go, it's just a gut feeling. And if your gut isn't letting you go (or your characters are keeping up at night, invading your non-writing time and otherwise driving you crazy), keep at it. But when you know it's time to let go, when you're sick to death of seeing those words (the ones you now have memorized from too many read-throughs), it's better to set it aside and move on.

    On the flip side of that, shelving something now does not necessarily mean it's shelved for good. The part of my book with Gabriel & his mother was something I wrote ages ago for an entirely different project. I came across that scene while playing around with Emma's story and that character, one I thought was dead and buried in a drawer forever, became Gabriel. The entire story changed and grew until I had something I did feel was ready for the world.

    Now, I'm at 20+ queries without even a partial request and every agent who has given me feedback has basically told me that it doesn't matter how good it is, no one is buying paranormal/urban fantasy. Does that make me want to give up? Oh yeah! But even if I put it away for now, focus on my WIP with a lot more marketability, and let it go, I don't think I'll shelve it forever. I believe in my story - and I believe in The Travelers too.

    (If nothing else, maybe an agent will pick up ONE and then want to take on TT too!)

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  4. There's no way of knowing. That's why you can only give up when you're ready, and if that's never, then so be it.

    Jenny said no on is buying paranormal, and that may be true, but the trend will come up again. When it does, I'd have no problem revising and re-querying LBD. It sounds cheesy, but your gut should be the only benchmark you use for when to keep going and when to stop.

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  5. @Chessie - If you ever - and I mean EVER - give up on TN, I will turn into a giant lizard and rampage your campus or the town in which you currently reside. And then NYC for good measure.

    @Annalise - Thank you! And yeah, that is something I've thought about - querying literally every agent out there. Its soemthign to think about.

    @Jenny - Thank you for the reminder that shelving isn't permanent. And for the inspiration. <3 you.

    @Gina - Yeah. I just need to wait till my gut calms the eff down I guess. xo

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  6. I've never drawered a project before, but I'm still working on my first and second ones, soooo ... I can't answer that question for you. But I'm so excited that you got picked for Baker's Dozen! That must feel awesome! Good luck!!

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  7. Quit your whining!!! ;)

    You already know my personal stories about drawer screenplays that went SOMEWHERE. So, never give up home... you just never know.

    But, it's really a matter of how you feel. When you're done, you're done. At least for me, I can't push through something after that point. And, just because it's in a drawer for years doesn't mean you'll never return to it. I'm working on a book now that was shelved thirteen years ago!

    You're incredibly talented. If it's not TT, and you stick with the crazy writing game, I have no doubt it will eventually happen. Your a quick writer and a quick learner... it's only a matter of time. :)

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  8. I was nodding my head through this entire post because I too pretty much gave up on querying my finished MS just after I submitted it to Baker's Dozen. And it was chosen. And an agent won a full.

    That being said, I have a stomach-dropping number of fulls out being read. Apparently I can write a good query. But so far no bites. That's harder (for me anyhow) to deal with than rejections to the query.

    But this is all exciting and filled with possibility!!! Best of luck!!!

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  9. @HELENE. Can we please be besties? I can't even find you on the internets! WOE!

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  10. :-)

    I know, I know. I don't blog. Full time job, freelance job, writing, life....not enough hours in the day.

    I'm on twitter and facebook though! www.twitter.com/helene_dunbar

    Thanks for the awesome feedback on my submission (#32) by the way! :-)

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