Monday, March 12, 2012

Giving Birth To Premies: When Acting Impulsively Can Hurt Your Writing

by Cat Woods

My nephew was born early and the doctors did nothing to stop his delivery. In their defense, he had a large head and weighed nearly seven pounds. Neither his measurements nor his calculated due date gave any indication that he was eight weeks premature.

As the first grandchild in the family, his birth was joyfully anticipated. His struggle to survive was not. Quite simply, the doctors had made a nearly fatal error. Not unlike some writers I've known.

Premies arrive in this world before they are ready. Among other things, they struggle to breathe on their own and eat on their own. They cannot regulate their own body temperatures and their heartbeats can be erratic. Over the first few years, their physical and emotional development can be stunted as they valiantly attempt to catch up to their full-term peers. In short, every day is an effort to survive.

As writers, we often put ourselves in premature situations. We are so certain we are ready for the next step, we jump at the opportunity to query and submit long before we hit our professional due dates. This often ends in rejection ... or worse.

**A Word of Caution**

Creating and sticking to a publishing plan of action is a lot like committing to a pregnancy. A mid-term mind change can effectively destroy all viability. Therefore, it is vital that we understand the ins and outs of the publishing biz long before we embark on our query/submission journeys. Once we have committed to a plan, we must very seriously consider the ramifications of switching gears halfway through. If we decide termination of one plan is in our best interest, we need to act professionally when it comes time to wrapping up all loose ends before moving on.

Mid-Term Writing Risks

  1. Querying Agents After Subbing to Editors: While this doesn't sound like a big deal, it can have a huge effect on an agent's ability to represent a certain manuscript. Agents possess no more power than Joe Writer when it comes to resubmitting a project. If we've submitted our work to editors, agents lose the personal edge to call on their insider knowledge of those editors. And in this business, personal relationships between agents and editors can make the difference between a deal and a rejection.
  2. Querying Agents After a Self-Pubbing Fail: More than a handful of writers have fallen into this trap. After a dozen or so painful rejections, Willa Wanna-be self-pubs believing the masses will LOVE her book ... because, well, because it's dang good. For 1001 reasons Willa Wanna-be decides to go back to the Agent Submission Process. Agent Incredible will very likely shy away from this project for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest reasons being that once a book already has an ISBN, the opportunity for a solid publicity push has decreased exponentially. This translates to a serious loss of sales potential.
  3. Querying Multiple Projects Simultaneously: While this sounds more efficient than detrimental, having several projects in the hands of a handful of agents can really muck up the query process. Nicholas NetCaster grew impatient with the time it took to get a response and figured he'd up his chances by sending several stories into the query world at one time. Having to 'fees up to his faux pas when more than one agent expressed interest turned several on-the-fencers away. They simply did not want to deal with untangling his literary knots. Once a problem, always a problem? Maybe not, but why set yourself up for long explanations and perceived unprofessionalism?
  4. Querying Half-Assed: A favorite editor of mine frequently blogs about this problem. Isabelle Impulsive sends query letters to agents while submitting packages to editors while keeping track of nothing. In time, Polly Publisher and/or Agent Incredible get around to the submission. S/he wants this project, but ... Impulsive Izzy already forgot who she sent packages to. She's already a) signed with an agent, b) signed with an editor or C) self-pubbed and D) failed to let any of the above know about her promiscuity and mid-term abortion. This can make even the most patient agents magic-marker your name on "the list". And trust me, agents and editors have been known to talk.
  5. Marrying the Not-One: After being painfully single for a lifetime, Patrick Premie not only dates the first agent or editor to bat her eyes his way, he goes for the ring exchange. I can't say this enough: Do a background check on your literary love match. Preditors and Editors, baby. Word of mouth. Blogs, book acknowledgements and bad press (or no press). You would never let a proctologist deliver your baby. Why would you sign a contract for your picture book with an agent who only reps erotica? Or hasn't sold anything in three years? Or who really is a scammer in disguise preying on your desire to see your name in print?
  6. Inducing Pre-Term Labor: Worse than signing on with an incompetent book doctor is inducing labor yourself via premature self-publishing. Please, please, please wait until your writing has reached full-term. Wait until you are absolutely certain your manuscript is the best it can be. Wait until you can commit to a full-scale marketing plan. Wait until you hear back from all agents and editors you sent a query to. Wait until you have a doctorate in self-pubbing so you don't end up in a legal battle over minor mistakes. Wait for the right time to do your project justice, and most importantly, wait to self-pub for the right reasons. To do otherwise is to shortchange yourself and your writing career.

How have you ever misjudged your writing due date? How has this changed your writing journey? Please share your premie stories and tips of avoiding them to help other aspiring writers reach full-term with their projects.

After giving birth to four healthy babies, Cat Woods would like to deliver her juvenile fiction to a bookshelf near you. You can follow her writing journey at Words From the Woods.


Jean Oram said...

Cat, I love how you wrap stories around your posts.

Now. Fess up time. Of course I queried prematurely! I'm only human after all. The nice thing was that I quickly realized some of my errors and backed off. Did some major editing, then went back out. Nope. Still not at full-term! Back to editing, getting critiques and reading the very essential book for new writers by agent and author Noah Lukeman "The First Five Pages." After reading this book I realized I had gone out in the literary world with my pants down around my ankles. Eep!

So, my advice? Before you query do the following--check out Noah's book (very readable and affordable--do the exercises!) or a book similar, edit your book like nuts, get some crazy-a$$ed critique partners who will hammer home the fact that you don't even know how to use a comma (but they still love you and your characters so keep writing!), get others to read and critique your query. And write another book. It'll show you all the errors and flaws in the first book.

And of course, keep your chin up. All these so-called over-night success stories you hear about are almost always many, many years in the making.

Good luck!

Darke Conteur said...

Ha! I love the names! :D

Jemi Fraser said...

Awesome post, Cat! I stumbled onto ACQ early on - thankfully! I still sent out queries too early. At least I only sent out a few and I was lucky enough to get some fabulous feedback from those agents. I'm still learning, but I'm getting closer to being ready to query - again! :)

Yvonne Osborne said...

Another great post, Ms. Cat. I queried too soon with my first novel (totally ignoring my creative writing teacher's advice). I though all I had to do was type THE END and off it went. What an idiot. What's amazing is that I actually got some nice personal rejections, a request for pages and one for a full. Makes me wonder what mighta been, if I'd only listened.

p.s. did I tell you how much I loved your story in Spring Fevers?

Cat Woods said...

Jean~ lol, I think we could have an entire post devoted to From the Write Angle confessions. I love your honesty here and how well it highlights the evolution of knowledge we get by inserting ourelves into communities like AgentQuery Connect. Receiving feedback is a crucial part of the maturing process.

*so is giving it*

Cat Woods said...

Darke~ thanks! I think my quirkiness is what makes me a prime candidate for writing juvie lit.

Guess I've never quite grown up yet!

Jemi~ I have nothing but praise for the AQC community and the knowledge I've garnered since joining. And I wasn't all that green when I started. Just proves how every single step along the publishing path is a learning experience. Now in particular, with the changing technology and the economic uncertainty of dead tree books and brick and mortar book stores.

Cat Woods said...

Yvonne~ after reading your writing I can see why you got such positive feedback even with a premie submission.

Even as a seasoned writer, it is so easy to feel elation after completing a piece that we don't realize how much we don't realize. Not until it is too late.

Is there any way you can salvage your first novel? Fingers crossed this is so.

And thanks for enjoying Annabelle. I wrote it long ago, in another time and was thrilled to have the opportunity to finally share it.

Christopher Hudson said...

I wasn't a premie ... I was a postie ... and I've late ever since. After hundreds of queries, I've tossed in the towel and gone indie .... I did, however, take the time to polish my MS for prime time ... no home runs so far, but at least I'm in the game.

Josh Hoyt said...

Great post I think it is very important to follow the ideas.

Cat Woods said...

Christopher, I shall adopt your new word. "Postie" is a great description for those who understand the business before querying.

Best luck on your self-publishing endeavor. I've heard of some really successful authors in the recent past.

Thanks for your kind words, Josh. Writing is tough and if we all work together maybe we can ease the way just a bit!

Hugs to both of you~