Ready, set…wait

Continuing our theme of “if only I would have known” this month at Mysteristas…

On Tuesday, Kate Lansing talked about how there’s really no rush in publishing, even though we think there is. If we don’t get that book done, we can’t query; and if we don’t query, we won’t get that agent and if we don’t get on it RIGHT NOW all the agents will be gone and we’ll never get published…

<pause for deep breath>

All this put me in mind of my first book (okay, not technically my first book, but the first I felt was good enough to put out there) two years ago. I’d been working on this puppy since 2013. I’d done a critique group. I’d paid to have it professionally edited. This book was ready. I was ready. It was time to query. I was prepped for some rejection; I knew that was part of the game, but I believed in this book and it was time to jump into the pond.

I wrote a query. I sent out about 20 of them. I pitched at a conference. Radio silence. I reworked my query and sent out another 20 or so letters. A few compliments, but mostly “this just isn’t for me” or radio silence.

I admit it. I was devastated.

Devastated enough that I paused writing book 2. Maybe I wasn’t as good as people told me, as I thought. Maybe I should hang it up. But then came along 2016 and The Great Short Story Challenge (or so I have dubbed it) – and I got three acceptances. In a row. In fairly prominent anthologies. Then a fourth rolled in.

Okay, what gives?

By this time, I’d finished book 2 with the help of a new (fabulous) critique group. I was prepared to shop it as book 1 of the series and even sent out one full manuscript. I started book 3 (or book 2, depending on how you look at it), decided I just can’t write and critique at the same time, so pressed pause in the critique process to finish Draft Zero.

But book 1 was still there. I still liked it. I thought it had potential. So I started working on it again with the new critique group. And I learned something very important.

It was not The Best Book It Could Be.

If only I’d known that in 2015. I wouldn’t have pitched. I wouldn’t have burned those 50 agents. I would have taken the time to do the hard work – the work I’m doing now – to make the book better. Because although I went through a period last month where I really hated the thing, two days ago I got an idea that made me fall in love all over again.

There are so many things that make it nearly impossible I would have known that two years ago. I’m a better writer than I was back then. I’ve written more words. I have a solid group at my back, pushing me to do better (even if sometimes I feel like hanging up my keyboard when they don’t quite love my monthly submission as much as I do). It’s possible that I couldn’t have written this book back then.

But I sure wish I’d have know that two years ago.

Fellow Mysteristas – what do you wish you would have known before you took a big plunge?

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Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She's worked for fifteen years in the corporate world, but finds making things up is far more satisfying than writing software manuals. A lifelong mystery fan, her short fiction has been published in online magazines Uppagus and Mysterical-e. She has also had stories included in Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales, Blood on the Bayou (the 2016 Bouchercon anthology), Fish Out of Water, and Mystery Most Historical. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime. Visit her online at http://lizmilliron.com, find her on Facebook at https://facebook.com/LizMilliron, or follow her on Twitter (@LizMilliron).

11 thoughts on “Ready, set…wait”

  1. Great post, Liz!! I remember feeling the exact same way about my first couple novels. I was convinced they were *perfect* and ready for querying, lo and behold they weren’t the glimmering masterpieces I thought they were 😉 But each novel taught me so much about writing, skills I leveraged in my third novel. One of my fave things about writing: there’s always something new to learn!

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  2. I like to think that each story I write is stronger than the last.

    What I wish I’d known? The sheer amount of time inolved. TIME to write, TIME to learn, TIME to revise, TIME to… you get the idea. Finishing with TIME to promote.

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  3. Don’t feel bad about that, Liz! All you can do is write the best book you can write at the whatever moment in time and you can query your first book again if you revise it. 🙂 I’m sure we’d all rewrite our old books if we could, even the ones that make it through and end up published.

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  4. Sue, ain’t that the truth. And sometimes that one person is you at different points in your life.

    Peg, yes, TIME! Amazing how much it takes. Which is why that question “how long does it take you to write a book?” has so many answers.

    Sam, thanks! Based on what I’ve done so far, this one is going to get ripped apart and while a lot of the basics might stay the same, a lot is going to change, too.

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  5. Great post, Liz! Here’s the thing: how do we know if the book isn’t good enough until someone in the business tells us? We’re working in the dark until then. The radio silence isn’t helpful and I got a lot of that. But after I won the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic grant, agents and publishers started taking the time to tell me what I needed to do. And that has been really helpful. I also used the grant money to attend the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference which, I feel, advanced my writing a lot. The writing seminars are more advanced than you get in the bigger conferences. And you can get critiques from people who know what they are really doing. I got critiques from Hallie Ephron and David Corbett. If anyone wants to learn more about writing, that’s the place to go.

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  6. Keenan, I know. Fortunately, one of my critique partners is published and a two-time Agatha nominee. Another one just scored an agent. So at least I feel when they give me feedback, it’s based on comments by people who have “been there.”

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  7. Oh, you’ve learned what we all do–that it’s Never As Ready As We Think It Is. Closely followed by, It Can Always Get Better. But only to a point. Then it really is ready to send out in the world. As you have seen!

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  8. Sometimes it’s a fine line between Ready to Be Read by an Agent and Keep Revising. The trick, of course, is knowing which is which. I’ve gone through some of the same travails. Still am. Moving on from 1 to 2 and 2 to 3 can be a bit . . . discouraging. But hey, if we were normal we’d think we shouldn’t start Book 4. Good stuff on this post.

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  9. Jenny – thanks. And yes! After drafts and and edit I was SURE this was ready. Uh, maybe not. Although I’ve heard published authors say they go to readings for books that are “out there” and still find things to change, so yeah – gotta let go sometime.

    David, you are so right. I guess the only way to find out sometimes is to take that leap, huh? Thanks for stopping by!

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