My novel Latent, which eventually became Control Point was ready for prime time (i.e. good enough to win the support of the biggest agent in the business) about 6 months before I sent it to my agent. I lost those months to a miasma of self-pity, low self-confidence and ennui.
In the end, the only reason I got up the gumption to send him the manuscript was that I was heading off to Iraq and I didn’t want to get zapped and never have him see the thing.
I’ve told this story before, but I told my agent not to tell me what he thought of it, figuring that his response (positive or negative) would distract me from what I need to be doing (like fighting a WAR).
Of course, he gets the manuscript, loves it, and spends the next four months sitting on his hands waiting for me to come home.
Add that to the six months where I was too scared to send it to him and I delayed my initial publishing deal by almost a year.
Here’s the point: You have to have guts.
You have to believe in what you’re doing. You have to press forward firmly and boldly. Once you’ve written a good book, that you *know* is the best thing you can produce, you have to bite the bullet and take it out to market. You can’t sit and stew in your own bulls$#t.
I also sent my agent three novels before that. None of them was ready for primetime. None of them was nearly good enough. In retrospect, I knew it. A part of me knew my craft wasn’t where I needed to be. My bones were telling me that I had a few miles to go yet. But I was too excited at the prospect of having a heavy-hitter interested in my work. I was too worked up over the possibility of being a PROFESSIONAL WRITER.
So I pulled the trigger. Three times. I sent an incredibly busy man, a kingmaker in the industry, a guy who barely has time to breathe, THREE bad books.
You know what saved me? My agent and I are dear friends. In between manuscript rejections, we’d been meeting for dinner, going to the theatre, playing Scrabble. If it hadn’t been for that, I’m not sure that he’d have been willing to keep reading my work after I’d given him THREE bad novels.
When I think of how close I came to burning that contact, to losing that in, I practically have a panic attack.
Here’s my point. You can’t be Emily Dickenson. If your GOOD novel just sits on your hard drive, gathering dust, if you lack the faith to go out into the marketplace and pump your stellar work, then you’re not going to get a book deal (or be a self-publishing success).
But even more importantly: In writing, your name and reputation is all you have.
Many great writers talk about the intense and increasing pressure of a novelist’s career. The demands level-up on a rising current requiring each novel to be better than the last. Go ahead and phone one book in. One is all it takes. Once readers associate your name with drek? They’re not going to read you anymore. Agents and editors are no different.
You are your brand. You’ve got to make sure that whatever gets under the nose of anyone other than your most sympathetic beta-readers is absolute gold. Anything else risks your reputation and the possibility that your audience will write you off saying “I’ve read him/her. Didn’t work for me.”
What’s a novelist’s most critical skill? Finding that balance. Knowing when good enough is really good enough, when it’s time to stop massaging and start trumpeting. I’ve been at this seriously for 15 years and I still haven’t mastered it.
But I make it a priority, and if professional writing is what you aspire to, you might want to consider doing the same.