A few weeks ago, I had what I thought was a nearly finished manuscript. I’d worked on it for a while, had three betas read through it and was generally happy, so it was totally ready for the writing contest I entered (Pitch Wars.)
Except it wasn’t. Do you ever have a moment where you forgot to do something? Like when you’re home from work and forgot to send that one email, or you forgot the one textbook you needed to do your homework in your locker? That was me as I helped a fellow writer with her own chapter one. I found myself saying, this is wrong, too much of this, too little of that as I edited and it slowly dawned on me that I was making some of those same mistakes in my own MS. But I had already pressed enter, I had already sent it, it was too late to take it back.
I realized something then. Had I been swapping chapters with someone before, I probably would’ve caught these mistakes. I probably would’ve had a better book going into the contest. So as you might’ve guessed I didn’t get into Pitch Wars, but I did gain something valuable from entering: the community. I know everyone says that, and no it’s not to placate you, it’s the reality of it for the majority of entrants – you probably won’t make it in, but if you play your cards right you can still gain writing friends and critique partners that will completely change your journey. In a totally awesome, kick ass kind of way. Aside from being a writer, I work with authors for a living, and one of the biggest mistakes I’ve noticed is impatience and unwillingness to take critique.
A lot of this comes from sitting with your manuscript for months/years/whatever and letting friends or family read and give you their feedback. Maybe you have a harsh uncle who told you it was just okay but if he’s not also a writer, how can “just okay” help you to fix it? How is that feedback constructive? How is it helping your writing become better?
Now comes the part where you have to be really, really honest with yourself. Don’t tell me the answer, don’t even tell your friends who’ve read your book. Ask yourself honestly – have you gotten unbiased feedback from people who are not related to you? More than one person? Have you applied any of said feedback effectively (as in sent it back to them or others and gotten a better response)?
If not, you’re most likely not ready to query agents. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, I’m not saying people who write on their own, with no help, and query don’t make it. It happens sure, but it’s hard. It’s nearly impossible to catch everything on your own when you’ve already read it 700 times, to make sure the story arc works, that your characters are well defined and sympathetic. And if you have been querying agents and getting rejections without the benefit of CPs beforehand, that could be your problem.
Having CPs and readers more far along than I am is transforming my manuscript from something I liked to something I adore, something that might actually have a shot. I knew going in that there was something not quite there yet about my MS, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was but with the help of the friends I’ve made, I’m not only identifying these things but fixing them.
Trust me, I get how scary it is to have someone tell you that your writing doesn’t work. But not exploring how your MS resonates with others is the easy way out. It’s the best way to throw away all the other work you’ve already done. It’s quite easy to stare at your words lovingly, convincing yourself that others will see in it what you do, that agents will see it. Until the rejections begin rolling in and then what? You give up, or blame it on everyone else, or keep querying despite the rejections piling up when really the problem is you’re afraid to face the truth about your writing. This might seem harsh, but being a writer is hard. Fucking hard. And if my words save you from sending out a manuscript before it’s ready that’s fine with me. Your story deserves a chance, but it’s best chance comes from you letting others help you along the way.
Need a CP? Check back here for the next CP Match date announcement (the last one *just* passed on 9/12) Or reach out to writer friends on Twitter for help finding one!