Wednesday, 23 April 2008

When is the right time to submit?

We had a writing group meeting on Saturday, another lovely brunch that lasted all day. Although most of us have known each other for at least a couple of years, I feel that by meeting as a small group, regularly, we are really starting to get to know each other on a different level. The vibe felt different this month, stronger, as though we hit a wavelength or something. For one thing, we talked more about writing and related topics than usual. We still allowed ourselves to digress, but I sensed a growing trust within this group, which is fabulous.

One of the things we discussed at length is when you should start submitting your novel to either editors or agents seeking representation. By this I mean at what stage of the manuscript's development.

There are two basic points of view. The first is that you commence once you have three chapters (or whatever the standard submission amount is) and a synopsis that you're happy with. The advantage of this is that the first three chapters are being assessed while you complete the novel, meaning that you don't "waste time" waiting once you've finished. Because, as we all know, it takes six months to hear anything back and we will most likely have to send our three chapters to many many publishers/agents before acceptance.

The second point of view is that you write and rewrite and rewrite and edit and make it perfect before you send it anywhere. The advantage of this approach is that your manuscript is probably a lot better than it would have been at the three-chapter mark, thus you give yourself more chance of acceptance. Also, you can spend the waiting period writing your next novel, which, if you're a fantasy writer, makes a heap of sense. Because we all know that publishers want fantasy trilogies generally, so books 2 & 3 will be required post-haste!

I confess I subscribe to the second point of view. Others in the group are trying to convince me to start sending my first three chapters out, but the thought makes me shudder. While it is confidence-boosting to have others believe that it is ready, in reality I know that it is not. They just think I am being paranoid and a perfectionist. Well, perfectionist I can handle. But I don't think I'm paranoid or self-effacing. The hard fact is that I know it can be better! And I would much rather have finished the entire rewrite at the very least before sending any of it out. Besides, I haven't yet exhausted my list of potential readers yet. Surely an aspiring novelist needs a trial audience.

So for the moment I will withstand their buffeting and cajoling and teasing. I will finish my rewrite and then I will edit it and then (and only then) will I consider submitting it anywhere. But I'd better actually start writing again soon, or all this will be moot!


  1. I think there are a number of factors that need to be taken into consideration when determining the right time to submit (bear in mind that my opinions are based on my own writing experiences - scientific articles). I think it largely depends on what your goals are. Is the writing process itself the most important part, or is the readership? In my case, it is the readership - the more articles I have, the more they are read and potentially cited. Therefore, I don't want to spend too much time fine tuning a manuscript, especially if there is a chance that it will require any rewriting after it has been reviewed...

  2. Mmm, an interesting quandary, I know.

    Having read your work, Ellen, I would say that you should definitely start putting it out there. The standard is professional, and it's time people (publishing people) started to see your name.

    I understand about re-writing and making it perfect, but I've come to the conclusion that there is no 'perfect'. There are many ways to write the same novel, and in the end you will choose the version you like and go with that.

    What I have found in my limited experience of submitting and being rejected, is that the biggest learning occurs not polishing one manuscript many, many times, but putting it out there when it's been drafted and polished. It might also work to submit the first three chapters when you have half the book written, though I don't know if this is the wisest thing to do for a beginning writer. Getting to the end at least in first draft, means expanding your initial vision of the story, which may require going back and inserting scenes or details that will foreshadow something that you only discovered yourself when you got to the end.

    For me, submitting, getting the feedback (whether good or bad), and starting another novel armed with the new insights gained through the process is where the real leaps and bounds occur. And just on a personal note, my writing tends to get worse if I edit past 2 drafts.

    I realise everyone has to get there in their preferred way, but let me say this: There is no difference between the quality of your writing, Ellen, and that of many published authors. There are books being published out there that are not (dare I say it?) very well written. Those people put their stuff out there, most probably persevered through some, or many rejections, and were eventually successful.

    The real issue, I think, is perfection. That is all fine and good. Perhaps you don't want your novel to be out there unless it's spectacular. It would be fabulous indeed to be a writer who is celebrated for their superior work. But beware that some writers never feel their work is good enough, and therefore, never end up submitting anything.

    It's rare for any writer's first manuscript to be accepted, so my philosophy is: You're going to get rejections, so why not get as many out of the way fast and get on with the real business of being a published writer.

  3. Hi Ellen,
    as you know, i don't do much in the way of re-writes unless i'm really pushed. But i do know that from what i have read of your stuff, i agree, it's time to get it out there. even if it is, as suggested by 'scribbly' just to familiarize the industry with your name. still, do what feels right for you; it's your life, you can't actually do it wrong.

  4. Thanks for your kind comments, guys. But you speak of this as though agents/editors/publishers actually remember your name! I'd be willing to bet they don't (unless you have a porn star name). Also, we're talking about a 120,000 word epistle, which has taken me YEARS to write. I'd love to think I could churn more out in a fraction of the time, thereby learning from my various failures, but I fear the reality is quite different.

    Scribbly - I do like your idea that there are many different ways to write the same novel. This is something I can relate to!

    Also I will chose to take your comment
    "There is no difference between the quality of your writing, Ellen, and that of many published authors. There are books being published out there that are not (dare I say it?) very well written."
    in the positive spirit in which I believe it was intended :-)


  5. Ellen - I have to agree with you on this. My experience is that if someone reads your three chapters and they definitely want to see more, you'll get a pretty fast response. If you don't have the rest ready to go, it's a black mark against you. The pond is too small, and yes, if you get that far with a prompt "I want the rest" and you can't produce it, of course that editor will remember you! They took the time and had enough enthusiasm to contact you, and you weren't professional. How are they to know you haven't only got those three chapters and nothing else?
    As for the idea that if you send your novel out now (3 chapters and synopsis) you'll get feedback on whether your stuff is OK or not - sorry, that won't happen either. If it really is ready, you'll get the request for more. If it's not, you'll get the standard No thanks.
    Someone will always argue about this and say I'm wrong, but the rare occasions when something else happens other than what I've said is the BIG exception.
    If anyone wants a reality check on publishing these days, try reading either Editorial Anonymous blog or J.A. Konrath's blog, for starters. I've had more than 30 books published and the acceptances have shown me as much about how publishing works as the rejections.

  6. Thanks - assuredly more strong reasons for waiting until I know it is 'ready'. (Or as ready as I can make it.) I remain firm in my resolve!

  7. Yep, I'm in the send-it-when-it's-ready camp. I did send mine out once unfinished (when prodded), but I was close to the end, and indeed finished the same week I got asked to sub the whole manuscript. If the editor wants to see it, they want it sent straightaway, not eight months later, by which time they've either lost their initial enthusiasm, or have forgotten who you are. As Anonymous said, it's all about acting in a professional manner.