There are many writers who labor over a manuscript for long periods of time without any particular agenda or deadlines. They love to write, they have something to say, and they are working to say it in the best way possible. Others are more ambitious—they come to us with a very specific timeline, and they want to know if we can help them get their book published within that timeline. But sometimes even SMART goals aren’t so smart.
Many of you know that The Writer’s Ally used to be called Ambitious Enterprises. I used that business name for many years because it captured the essence of the kind of person we love to work with—people who are ambitious, who have big dreams and are willing to do the work to achieve those dreams. So in general, you can believe me when I say that I applaud those writers who set goals and take steps to make them happen.
But then, once in a while, we get an email that reads something like this:
I’ve written my first novel and I’m anxious to get it published as I know there are many readers who would enjoy my story. My goal is to have it published within a year.
Most recently, a very similar message came from a young woman who had only recently graduated college and who wanted editorial feedback on her memoir draft, which she’d written over the course of her last couple of years in school. As is often the case, our editor most well matched to her book couldn’t begin work for a few months, and she was dismayed. So we reassured her that putting off her publication goals (just for a bit) was not a bad thing.
In fact, we believe it is a critical step in her growth as a writer.
While most if not all writers feel some level of anxiousness and excitement about publishing their work, a rush to publish is fueled by misplaced ambition, because publication as quickly as possible is not, and never should be, the ultimate goal. The goal should be to write a great book that therefore deserves to be published and that is worthy of your readers’ valuable time and hard-earned money. You owe it to yourself, if you are at all serious about being a writer, to practice your craft and take whatever time it requires to learn how to write an engaging, effective book. You owe it to yourself to give your experiences the attention and seriousness they deserve as well.
Rather than viewing the upcoming months as wasted time, her would-be editor and I encouraged her to work on the draft more herself between now and the editor’s start date. We invited her to stay in touch so that she could get guidance on her revisions. Since her Free Project Review revealed that she wasn’t very familiar with her competition and didn’t have a clear picture of where her book would fit in on the shelves, we also advised that she should read some really good memoir, especially those that are similar in nature or themes to her own.
It’s as much our job as book editors to give good, honest guidance to our clients with regard to their careers as writers as it is to edit their work. If they reject this advice, it’s on them. But as a professional I will do my utmost to convince you of the course of action I think will get you to your goals, even if it’s a truth you don’t want to hear. And advising that one put off plans to publish their work, especially in this era of near-instant publication tools and platforms, definitely falls into the category of frequently true and frequently uncomfortable advice.
To help take the edge off, here are three tips for keeping impatience at bay and giving your manuscript the love it truly deserves:
1. First, if you’ve quite literally just finished writing or revising your draft, put it away somewhere you won’t look at or think about it for a while. Give yourself at least two full weeks, ideally a month or two, to regain some objectivity before you dive in again. There is no other way to get distance from your own work except to give it time.
2. While you’re waiting to return to your manuscript, identify the 3-5 top selling books in your category and read them. Yes, read them, cover to cover. Take notes, even. Pay attention to why these books became top sellers—what’s great about the writing or the content? What else was going on when they published? How does your platform compare to these authors’ backgrounds at the time of launch?
3. Now, go back to your draft and read through it, start to finish, making notes and comments but NO EDITS as you go. Pretend it is someone else’s book. Pretend it’s from one of your fellow critique group members, or better yet, pretend it is another book competing with the 3-5 you just read and evaluated. Write the comments to the author as if that wasn’t you. How does this book compare? What would make it stronger? What did you learn from the other books’ example that you can apply to this one? I guarantee that you will find plot holes, failed character arcs, and other problems you didn’t notice a few months ago.
What tips have you employed to help keep you from submitting or publishing your book too soon? This is such a common struggle for writers of all types, I’d love to hear about what’s helping you!