Ready Or Not (Because You’re Never Truly Ready) – One Manuscript’s Journey

Writing is patience, writing is patience. Damn, I am not a patient person. I mean I can be, but it takes a great deal of energy and focus on my part. The only time it is natural is when I am working with kids, teaching something or being a caregiver to someone. Otherwise, I am a redhead, Irish and just don’t like to sit around and wait. I like efficiency. I am the person who gets things done and I am used to being the exception, in the ‘I make my own life happen’ kind of way.

I know that publishing is a process. Boy, do I know. What I didn’t realize, however, is that when I should begin that long drawn out process would be put into question by every piece of literature, bit of research and advice that I receive from others who know the game. I am getting ready to contact agents, researching them and what they want and reading and otherwise immersing myself in the art of query writing. Dear Lord…

The book I read about the publishing industry and how to approach agents, what to ask, agent and writer etiquette and much more was 340+ pages. The book on query writing that I have almost finished is 240+ pages. A guide about agents, their profiles, how to contact them and agency research is 1000+ pages and is only one of two! This doesn’t include my own research covering building platforms, target marketing and demographics, book proposals, query letters, agency research (including what they want now and what they have done), and trying to pinpoint my competition (key to the marketing section of said book proposal) when I honestly have never read or even know about a book that is somewhat related to mine. I am writing a memoir about my death and coming back from that. (Yes, I friggin’ died and came back, literally.) If anyone who reads this knows of any such nonfiction/memoir titles please leave it in the comments, I am begging you!

Many agents I am interested in prefer email queries, which is great (I am seriously rejoicing on that) but here is the catch, it means they get back to you within two weeks. So, if I have a kick-ass query and I am ready to go, I better wait until my book proposal is just as strong? And oh wait; most book proposals should include sample chapters or the first fifty pages of the POLISHED manuscript. Enter the doubt and some figurative hair pulling.

All right, my manuscript will be polished… I don’t even know when. I wrote it and have been working tirelessly at it (though a little less with all of the query this and agent that and publishing what not) but to be the ideal ‘marketable’ length I need to cut roughly 200,000 words from my ‘everything’ draft. I call my first draft the ‘everything’ draft, because I include everything. In my experience, the things I do not think matter or do not want to include are the things that resonate with others and are key pieces whereas I just think they are unnecessary extras. I let readers distinguish what’s what. I am only halfway through my second painful and long round of cuts, and I have only successfully eliminated 91,000 words.

I have never written a query letter before, never done a book proposal and have never been published either. So, I have no automatic connections, strings or an impressive resume to whip out and say, “My books are bestsellers, see for yourself!” I know my book has the potential to be a bestseller, not just because of the book itself, but because of my drive to see it through.

This is the story of my manuscript so far. December 2012, it began. After three years of not being ready to share a story I knew I eventually needed to share, I decided I would never be ready and to just dive in. It was painful. When you write a memoir, you have to go back and be able to relive everything. You can’t be the disconnected observer. Writing my memoir meant having to relive painful medical procedures, life altering diagnoses and the treatments that were necessary in order for me to be here today. I had to relive that conversation (more than once) of my doctors saying “This is it; there is nothing more we can do.” It was hell and reliving it meant a lot of getting up, pacing, fighting back tears and shaking it off. Except to write it, I couldn’t actually shake it off. I had to power through, just like I did in 2009 and 2010.

By late February 2013, I wrote 116,000 words. I was happy, and sure I would finish by May 2013. Then the unthinkable happened. The first week of March 2013, I lost my jump drive during travel (never to be found again). I didn’t panic completely because I had backed up everything to my computer at home (not the one I traveled with) before I left, and hadn’t done any work the week that I was gone. When I returned home, I started up my computer and nothing. My hard disk failed. I sent it out, desperate for anything to be salvageable, but it was not. My manuscript was gone.

To say I handled it well would be crap. I grieved it, not sure how I could go through it all again, get it onto the page, capture the same magic and endure the painful memories I had to not just go through, but live out again in order to do my job. For three weeks I was a shell. I would have crying spells (and I am not a crier), sleep all day, not get dressed and be lucky to shower twice a week. I was a mess. My husband was my rock and encouraged me that I could write it again, but part of me thought I would never write that story again. I couldn’t. My friend Telaina, reminded me of something, however, and I latched onto her statement to propel me forward, “You’ll get through this and you will write your book. You’re too stubborn not to.”

May 2013, I was ready (but not really) to begin again. I finished my manuscript in September 2013. It was my first, ‘everything’ draft, but it was out of me, onto the page. (You know I backed it up relentlessly on two computers, a jump drive, e-mail draft folders addressed to no one and on a cloud drive this time. I learned my lesson the hard way.) Then it was time for the editing (and cutting) to begin. My husband read it first. Next, I had a good friend who is a librarian, and fellow writer and book lover, go through it and make thorough line edits. (Her feedback was invaluable.)

I am working through her edits now. After going through my manuscript to make drastic cuts for the second time, I still need to cut over 100,000 words. I have no idea how I will be able to do that. Now it is February 2014 and I wanted this year to be all about the publishing process, not about still trying to cut my manuscript down to a more marketable length. (This was before my ‘lost manuscript’ incident, but I still like to keep my deadlines firm. As a writer, and just who I am as a person, I live and die by deadlines.)

Now, I am here, at this place, and what do I do? First on my list is to figure out how to write an amazing query letter. I have a friend who has already offered to give me feedback on my query letter, once I get it out onto the page. (My book’s acknowledgments will be as lengthy as my first draft at this rate!) Then I need to figure out the book proposal sans sample chapters. It doesn’t mean I won’t include them, but the book proposal is essential a 30-50 page in-depth pitch with a hardcore marketing plan including my competition, target demographics and actual numbers, not just what I commit to doing to publicize my book. (That would be too simple of course, my response: whatever it takes!)

The book proposal takes research without even worrying if my sample chapters are up to par. I also need to narrow down the list of agents I want to reach out to first and query them in waves. That requires going through hundreds of agent profiles to figure out who I think is the best match for my book. Notice I didn’t say agency, because I will not be working with an agency, but an agent who is an actual person within an agency. On top of my publishing pursuits, I have a husband, a home to manage and take care of, and a job where I need to make enough money to make sure bills are paid. No problem at all, right?

So, when do I send my queries out? Do I really wait until my book proposal is 100% or can it just be started? Do I really need my chapters to be at 110%? I was hoping the agent would offer insight on what to cut, because I can only go through so much before I am doing circles, and I think they have an insight on what sells and what readers and publishers prefer, beyond my general scope.

I knew I would never be ready to write my manuscript, so I just took the plunge and did it. I have no intention of just plunging ungracefully forward when it comes to contacting agents, but at the same time do I really need to wait until I have the best sample chapters possible or the most promising book proposal completed, at the time I begin to query? I certainly will not query until I think the query is up to par, but waiting on the book proposal and sample chapters to be ready immediately is discouraging at best.

I am prepared to be patient with the publishing process, but being patient to get the ball rolling and start said process is maddening to me. I don’t feel ready, but like everything else with this book, I am not sure if that is nerves because I never truly will be ready, or a bitter pill I need to swallow now. Thou shalt not contact an agent until thou can deliver. But what do I need to be able to deliver before I take the next step?

-DMW

I am very interested to hear what other people think regarding this blog and the questions I have asked. They are not rhetorical. If you have an opinion, and are up for it, please leave a comment. (I would love to get a dialogue going.) All opinions are welcome, no experience necessary!

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