Anyone who has had even a passing acquaintance with the publishing industry knows one inescapable fact: things don’t move quickly.
Part of this institutional/traditional, part of this just inevitable due to the fact that it takes a long time to read a book, and in order for a book to be published a whole lot of people have to read it along the way.
But for an aspiring author, there is an even greater danger than getting trapped in the vortex of publishing time. And that danger is impatience.
Check your impatience
Impatience is perhaps the single most significant obstacle you will face on the path to publication, and it can pollute your experience in a vast variety of ways. It sneaks in, grows, and then injects its tentacles and poisons you with a toxic brew of frustration and short-sightedness. It feels no pain and can’t be reasoned with.
Impatience sits on your shoulder and messes with you at every stage of the publishing process.
Writing: “You’re totally finished!”
Revising: “Who needs revisions, it’s perfect!”
Research: “I’ll just call an agent to ask how to write a query letter.”
Querying: “E-mail blast!!!!!!!”
Following up: “Two weeks to read a partial??? Time for an angry e-mail!”
Don’t leap into an agent’s arms
But perhaps the most dangerous period where impatience can affect your judgment comes when you are offered representation and are trying to decide on a course of action.
By the time an author is offered representation, chances are they’ve been working at it for years and have been dreaming about it for longer. Every cell in their body will be shouting, “Take it! Take it!!!” (Here’s how to handle an offer of representation).
But here’s the flip side. When I was an agent I read submissions from authors who had told me they had an offer of representation on the table. I read the work, kept my own impatient instincts in check, and let them know that while I saw a great deal to like in the material, I didn’t think the work was ready, and suggested the outlines of some revisions that I hoped they would work with me on.
In each of these instances the authors agreed with my revisions, but when faced with an offer of representation from an agent who wanted to submit immediately, they went with the other agent. I wished them the best.
But several times after that authors came back to me after an unsuccessful submission with the unrevised manuscript, wishing they had taken the time to revise. At that point I couldn’t really help them because it had already been seen at the major houses.
Now, who knows what would have happened had I helped them revise?
I wouldn’t have necessarily sold these books had they worked with me, nor did I necessarily blame them for taking the bird in the hand. At the same time, these authors ended up regretting their impatience. Their gut was telling them to take the time to revise, but impatience overruled.
Successful published authors tend to have the patience of saints when it comes to writing and revising. They’ve learned that there is no greater danger than putting something out before it’s ready.
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The Crystal Faerie says
This is cool. Personally, I would rather tell my impatience to shut the hell up and get the revisions done so I can submit my top job to whomever else I end up being able to submit to.
And I agree with Madame Yang. If Stephen King does it, why shouldn’t I? I’m certianly not better than he is!
Thanks, Mr. Bransford, for the advice, though. It helps to know that someone else thinks being patient is good.
I am new to your blog, but I feel like I just stumbled across a wonderful gem! Thanks for the great advice!
Lady Glamis says
After 12 years of learning how to write. . . I’ve learned a little patience. Now that I’ve finished my first novel, I’m being even more patient and letting 24 people read it to let me know what they feel could be better. And I’ve done that three times through three drafts . . .
Just want to make sure it’s the best I can do at the moment before I query.
Personally, I would greatly appreciate an agent telling me that my work could be better. Sure wouldn’t want my first published work to be an embarrassing display.
I would count the opportunity to revise as a chance to grow as a writer – because criticism itself is a lesson in elegant patience.
Thanks for a well done blog, Nathan. Having had a few rejection slips for my MS submissions, I think I sensed in your 9/12 blog post some good pointers… I shall continue to submit and see where it leads me.
I polish and polish and re-write like crazy… and then submit to peer review before final polish and… well, you know.
Mrs. Tomacina Wuthrich says
I liked the sage advice on your blog. I have a son who is an aspiring author and I sent him the link to your blog. His name is Crystin Wuthrich. Thank you.
Why has it taken you so long to write this post? Why has it?
But, hey — that’s novel writing for you. Procrastination at the start, impatience at the end, steroid injections in the middle.
Patience is good but sometimes the publishing companies and editors stretch the friendship. I hade a picture book text with a publisher (600 words) They stated to allow six months for consideration. I gave then ten before I queried (no rejection is good news) Their reply was “We like the story and would like you to make a few changes for us…” Brilliant. Six months later and still no news. After another query and another month I received a very brief “Not for us rejection”
This publishing company does not accept simultaneous submissions so my book has been out of action for over 18 months with nothing to show for it.
There is Rush but there are editors who take advantage of the patience rule.
Wanda B. Ontheshelves says
Your story is quite scary – sorry you got the reject at the end of it all.
18 months out of commission on a picture book – painful.
I haven’t heard back on a picture book text that I sent out (ahem, that perhaps I flatter myself calling it a picture book), but I thought it was just one of those “if you don’t hear from us by X amount of time, we’re not interested” – ??
From what I see in the news, the subject of my picture book is only going to get “more topic-er and topical” all the time…but instead of sending it out more, I’ve been doing artwork for it (watercolors).
I heard illustrator/writer combos are more desirable than just text alone…
Wow !! an incredibly important blogger for an aspiring writer like me . Your post is nice too !!
Loren Eaton says
“E-mail blast” — two of the most-dreaded words in the English language.
I am naively surprised by how much stress self-editing my first novel is causing me. It began as fun, and was as I saw my word count increase and the characters develop. Now its much less enjoyable. I’m expecting another baby soon and life is going to be about that for a while afterwards. What if I never have anything to show for the time I’ve invested over the last year? How soon will I get another opportunity to concentrate on writing ? How long can I expect people around me to put up with me?
It is good to know I’m not alone.
Strangely, I’ve found watching TV profiles of crime writers an antidote to discouragement and impatience to be finished. (Its not my genre but there’s a series on British TV at the moment.)
I actually don’t mind how slow the industry moves. And I am a VERY impatient person. But I like the fact that waiting to hear from agents regarding your first novel while you’re writing your second can: a. Raise your anger levels, thus motivating you to prove that you CAN write a good novel; and b. Make you nervous and anxious enough to use your time wisely instead of “wasting” it reading blogs.
Clearly I need more rejections! 🙂
david santos says
Thanks to everyone for the great feedback on beta readers. (There’s a great community here.)
For me, it’s been professors and fellow workshop members. While I value their opinions (a lot), they read as writers… naturally. I need someone who just reads, and reads a lot. I have family friends in mind, but it’s a scary thought, handing it over to someone who knows you personally.
Deaf Brown Trash Punk says
yeah. it’s like that with screenwriters, too. people want you to read their barely-written scripts and it’s all shitty and they demand opinions. But like… writing requires patience, and patience is a virtue.
Lauri Shaw says
This is valuable advice.
The other side of the coin, though, is that it’s hard for a writer to know when an agent or editor has dropped the ball because they’re frightfully busy and they need a “nudge” – or if they’ve decided they’re no longer interested and they can’t be bothered to tell you.
Yes, that’s unprofessional, but unfortunately it does happen, sometimes even with the most reputable agents and editors.
Having enough people blow us off at any stage in the game can make us think we’re getting that treatment all the time, even when someone’s just honestly busy.
I’d never fly off the handle at somebody, but I can certainly understand the frustration that drives these reactions.
The right amount of patience probably comes with experience. When you’ve already been down the road once or twice, it’s easier to gauge what’s really going on.
My Semblance of Sanity says
Alright, I know how busy you are and most likely will be reading MSs instead of personally emailing your commenters and that is totally cool…but I just have to get this question out there and if you have a sec, great. If not, I will sit in turmoil a bit longer. (*smiles)
I have spent the last 3 years attending SCBWI conferences, participating in critique groups, polishing, editing (and trashing in some cases) and submitting many picture book manuscripts. Although I have had some interest, that is where it stopped…just an interest but no intent.
To bide the time (I am sorry this is getting so long but I am a writer, what do you expect?) and to get paid, I have spent those years freelancing for regional parenting magazines, parenting websites, a humor Mommy blog and even scored my own humor/inspirational column in a REAL newspaper.
Like one of those “forest for the trees” analogies, today it hit me…while receiving one of many calls I get telling me about how my latest column had the in stitches and made them think all at the same time, I peeked through my “fan mail” folder and it dawned on me… “I think I am trying to break into the wrong genre.”
Can I base the decision to switch gears on an large internet following, fan mail and phone calls?
I just don’t want to spend the next 3 years collecting rejections in just one more genre! (Speaking of impatience!)
Thanks for reading. Hope you will respond.
Kwizat Hazerat says
I’ve been patiently getting a query just right for you, for the last week or so.
However when I try and email you at email@example.com I keep getting bounce backs, has your email been changed or is it just down?
Nathan Bransford says
I’ve been getting e-mail, so it’s not down. We have filters in place for the size of the e-mail as well as SPAM, so make sure you’re not sending an attachment, and you might try it without links. If that fails, you might try and use a standard e-mail account like Gmail.
Julie Weathers says
Patience is about as required as plot.
Personally, if someone I respected made some suggestions, and I agreed with them, I would put everything on hold right there and make the revisions. I have one shot at making a good first impression with an editor.
I also have one shot at making a good first impression with an agent. That’s why my wip is going through a pretty tough crit group. I can look at the manuscript until I’m sick of it and still see what I think is there. Fresh eyes see what is actually there.
As for the end of the end of publishing, I view it much the same as complaints about the younger generation. I once read a man’s thoughts about the younger generation and thought how accurate he was in many respects. Then the author quoted the reference source. It was written by a Roman in something b.c.
Books will never die. We just need to evolve with the times.
Good post, Nathan.
This rates up there with some of the best advice. My #1 best advice I ever received – write and then step away, breathe, read a book, do something. My personal style: write the rough draft, put it aside for a couple of weeks, do a read through, make revisions, step away, give it a couple a weeks . . . well, hopefully I painted a clear enough picture. This works for me. I normally do at least five drafts before I even consider writing the dreaded query letter. There’s nothing I hate more than finding an error in published writing, e.g. ‘their’ instead of ‘there’. The biggest error I ever found was a minor character’s name. Within the first 30 pages of the book, a very minor character was named ‘Steve’ (not the real name). Fast forward to the last 30 pages of the book and the character was suddenly called ‘Bob’ (again, not real name). Holy Cow, Batman!! The flow of the reading came to an abrupt halt as I flipped back to the front of the book and scoured the pages for the character’s name. Patience is definitely the name of the game in the writing process. Thanks.
Great post, Nathan, and thanks. It has fostered a number of replies regarding “beta readers,” a new term to me but a process that also requires some patience. In addition to my wife, a great first reader, I try to find people who have some connection or skill in the category I’m writing if I want serious input.
But equally, I saw an item recently regarding a theatrical director working on a musical. It was said that such a director ought to be 100 percent willing to listen to any and all ideas — and equally, fully ready to reject 80 percent of them.
I think there’s a corollary for writers using beta readers.
My experience hasn’t been quite that high, more like rejecting 60 percent of the input received from beta readers (as you point out, you might want to go higher than that when receiving professional advice!). But at that point, it is still the writer’s vision and the writer should hold onto it. And yet, sometimes those outside ideas can really help with focus, accuracy, material you forgot to explain …
Wow. Talk about great timing. I finished my latest rev. and the MS is out to some friends and fellow writers. I am SO impatient – I want them to call me – yesterday – tell me it’s perfect and let me start querying.
Unfortunately, at the back of my head is the little voice making fun of me and telling me their all going to think it’s crap.
I’m hoping it’s somewhere in the middle 🙂
“…no greater danger than putting something out before it’s ready.”
Damn you and your well-reasoned logic!
Thanks for the incredibly awesome article on impatience. I actually have a couple of friends going through this right now. One who is under submission and painfully waiting responses (hopefully good), and the other who promised herself she’d take the first offer that came knocking and is now knocking herself in the head a couple of months short of a year because nothing has been done.
It is hard to have patience and wait when your baby’s life is at stake. But hey, nobody ever said being a parent was easy!
botoks kremi says
Their gut was telling them to take the time to revise, but impatience overruled.
kilo vermek says
But at that point I can’t really help them — it’s already been seen at the major houses.
thanks for the great post 🙂 it made me slow down and think about everything i’m doing. I will take the extra time and really make sure I’m not rushing any of the steps.
Çatlak giderici says
I did some beta reading in the past actually. It helps the author and the publisher. Good writing.
I really liked the post. I'm a wannabe 12-yr-old YA fiction novel author whose MS is ages post-completion. I don't think that the idea on 'beta-readers' is wrong, but I don't really like the idea of it myself, since if one wanted their novel to suit everyone, such a nvoel would cease to exist completely since everyone has a different view of the world!
Still, I guess it's just another 'to each their own' situation, but Thanks A LOT for the advice!