Sunday, May 31, 2009

How to Decide When to SEND!

Last sunday I posted on the issue of how long to wait once an agent or editor requests a full or partial manuscript.

The reason was, of course, that Donald Maass just requested the first fifty pages of my novel and I made the choice to say that I would like a little time to send it.

So, now we get to review some of the comments and try to make the most well informed choices that we can.

Picture that you will soon have the same thing happen for you. Are you ready--now? What would you do? What are some of the key things that you should think about?

The following points are based off of the comments from last Sunday. Check it out if you are interested in the details.


1. It does not matter when you send your stuff if it is crap.

I love this one. There is so much truth to it! Thanks notenoughwords.

In Maass's new book, which is pictured above, he says, "The majority of writers seek representation or publication years too soon. Rejection slips quickly set them straight" (p.3).

I have a friend that read screenplays for a Manager/Agent. He got angry with amateurish mistakes and was pretty direct about saying that it was rare for him to actually bring a screenplay to his boss.

And this, of course, brings me back to Pam Binder's advice to wait, because industry people have told her that most writers send their stuff too soon.

The important thing, in my opinion, is not so much to wait or not wait, but to know if what you are sending truly is slushworthy or if there is something to it that warrants an agent's request to see more.

How do you know?

I think that contests and short story publications are two of the best ways.

Diane and Patrick both have quite a few short stories published. I think that says a lot about a person's writing ability and, if the story relates to your genre or novel, that says even more.

2. Strike While the Iron is Hot!!!

The point Patrick made is that sending the full or partial off right away may not increase your chance of success, but it will increase your chance of getting thoughtful feedback. I might add that Patrick is not just BSing here. That's been his experience, and it has been mine. (Although I could add that an editor who liked my web page took some time to write a personal e-letter, even though I took about half a year to send her the first fifty pages).

Clearly, I did not strike while the iron is hot. I chose to spend a bit more time making improvements.

How many of you would feel you would need to do the same thing if you were asked to send off the first fifty pages or the whole manuscript right now? Just curious.

Well, here's the deal. Imagine that I, or you, were in the position to say, "I will email you the partial before you can get back to New York!" I think that would maximize the interest level. That would be striking while the iron is hot. That, by the way, is my goal for all future agent and editor interactions with this particular novel!!!

But regarding this novel--this particular moment in time--I plan to send off the pages within the next two or three weeks. And if you are wondering why I would wait that long it is because I have just one and a half more weeks of teaching classes and then it's an open week with kids in school/daycare. That means I will have a week to focus in on making improvements on the whole novel before I'm taking care of the kids during the day and before I move to Minnesota. And, just in case you want to know, I have detailed notes from an ideal reader who has recently read my novel. If I was just thinking of the first fifty pages I would have sent the stuff right away. I'm thinking about the whole thing.

I really want to be in a position to send the whole manuscript off when (if) it is asked for. Taking a bit of time will allow me to do that. And, I think, that's when a person really ought to maximize on an agent's or editor's interest.

3. Still Discovering New Things?

I think this is the hardest variable to factor in. What if you are still discovering new things about the world you write in or about the characters? What if you feel that there is a missing scene that you could start writing any day? What if you feel that your ability to craft a story keeps on improving and you feel the pull to just keep on revising and revising and revising?


Davin, over on the lit lab, responded to last weeks post on his Memorial Weekend blog. I thought that he had some insightful things to say. One thing that really struck me is that an author can work on a novel for years, but feel that their book is like a cake a five year old made. He posed the question of whether it's easier to fix a cake that a five year old made or just make a new one.

My thought was that it is better to send off a story after two years of work and get rejected than to continue revising and revising and revising. There is somethng real about rejection and, if the story has promise (which it better), the agent may include an encouraging note.

"Once in a while an unready but promising manuscript will cross my desk. Wanting to be encouraging, I send a detailed email or letter explaining my reasons for rejecting it" (Maass, The Fire in Fiction, p. 4).

With that said, I think there are three levels a story may be at, as far as submitting work to industry people goes: slush, promising, and ready to be represented.

Wouldn't it be better to find out if there was anything promising about those first chapters?


It's good stuff! I've just read the early chapters so far, but I must say that I loved the opening and it was a blast to read one of my favorite authors on the craft of writing talking about my favorite fantasy series. And one of my favorite subplots no less.

Let me know if something he wrote has clicked with you!

I could include more of the valuable comments from last week, but this post is already getting a bit long. AND, I REALLY WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK.


What's your experience been? Have you waited and waited? Why?

Have you sent off your stuff? What made you think you were ready?

Has a contest or a short story gotten your novel off the slush pile?


  1. Thanks for telling us some about your feedback. It's interesting to hear other writer's opinions on this topic. I used to fall into the "strike while the iron is hot" category, ready to send out pages right away. But, most of the time my manuscript was not near ready. Now I am the kind of person who wants to keep revising every time I see my manuscript because I see more and more I can improve on. I feel as thought I am constantly learning and I want to apply that to my manuscript.

    I am slowly learning to find a happy medium, to take my story in steps and apply a more well-thought out edit, before telling myself to remain confident in what I've created and take the next step.

  2. What I don't understand is how an agent would know of your work unless you sent it....and then, why would you send it if you knew it wasn't finished?? You only have a limited number of chances w/ that agent. Why contact them if you know your ms isn't finished or polished?

    I hope this comment isn't offensive or too forthright. My experience was to write the complete ms, rewrite it...go to conferences, revise it again...and again...then when I thought I had the best possible thing, I queried.

  3. Cindy, thanks for the comment. It is interesting to see that as writers we can change how we go about it. I am glad to hear that you are looking for that happy medium.

    Tess, no worries. Did you ever talk with agents when you went to the conferences?

    I love that you brought up the idea of the "best possible thing" because many times I have thought that I have the best possible thing. What happens, as Devan points out in his blog, is that as writers we just keep growing and so we want to keep working on our story so that it will grow with us. We could be years into the project (and countless revisions later) and still want to go deeper and deeper because that is the nature of a person that is in love with their story world. At least that's been my experience.

    I understand that your process has worked for you. That is very admirable!!! My experience has been that the more people that I give the story to the more I understand the dynamics of how people interpret the story. It's like I get in tune with people's reading rhythm and want to refine the writing more so that it jives with the reader.

  4. I'm currently in the midst of waiting. I did some writing, got some feedback, edited, entered contests, got lots more feedback, and am taking two months to learn.

    I don't mind the rejections if there isn't a need, it doesn't fit, etc. But I don't want to be someone who didn't do my best.

  5. Karin. That's very cool that you are doing the whole writing, feedback, contest and more writing and revising thing. I especially like to hear that you are all about doing your best. Somehow hearing that from people, especially people that are actively improving their work, makes me want to jump in there and work away to make my stuff the best it can be too. It's a good and contagious spirit.

    One thing that I've noticed from conferences is that editors and agents will often say that you can send your stuff in when it is the best it can be right now or when it is the best that it can be when you are ready. It's your choice and both ar good choices. I enjoyed listening to an editor from TOR tell a small group that I was in a story about how a woman sent her requested materials in a good six months after a conference. (and by the way, if I did not make it clear, the recent request that I had was from a conference) He expected to find problems within the first forty pages, but was happily suprised. Of course, as the story goes, he requested the full and published the book. The moral of his story was simply to be patient with yourself and to send your stuff when it is ready.

    Judging by the fact that you are getting feedback and going back to rework your stuff I would guess that what you call your best work will continue to improve. I believe that as long as the feedback is from an ideal reader it will allow your best to get even better.

  6. Dave - some really good points. Yes, I met agents/editors at conference when I was still working on my novels, and I did discuss it w/ them - even got critiques, but never went so far as following up w/ a submission until it was finished. I totally get your point about feedback and how it can help us know where we are in our work. Good discussion over here!

  7. First of all, a request from Maass is AWESOME. I am in complete awe of your utter coolness. And totally jealous. So, even if it doesn't go further, kudos!

    Second of all, I am one of those who queried way before my book was ready. But I only discovered that by querying. So I would say, go ahead and do it.

    That said, in publishing time, one year is equal to a century (or the other way around?) so a few weeks is nothing. It's well worth it to take a few weeks to tweak that manuscript to being perfect.

    And if you send it in and it's not perfect after all, I wouldn't assume the rejection means you couldn't resubmit the same project at a later date if you've substantially revised it again. Just my two cennts.


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