I went to an extremely informative panel discussion last week that let several agents discuss what they look for, what they don’t look for, and what a writer’s process should be in acquiring an agent. Some of the important ideas discussed were what should go into a cover letter (more on this in another post) and how to rub an agent the wrong way (hint: don’t brag about how you’re writing the next Da Vinci Code). The agents disagreed on some points, but one thing they all completely agreed with was that they only wanted to see finished work. The work they accepted would probably go through another round of edits, but whatever a writer sent in should be polished and complete to the best of that writer’s ability.
That connects to something I see all the time when talking with writing students or just wandering around the web. Many writers out there know that they need to have a strong platform and make a career out of their passion. They focus on those elements of career-building that they’ve heard about: starting a blog, posting on Twitter, designing book covers, commenting on others’ blogs, pitching literary magazines and agents. In all that flurry of career-building, they often neglect the one thing that’s the most important: the writing.
Writing is that one aspect of the writing life that can’t really be rushed. To complete a novel, a story, or a collection of stories, you’re going to have to put in hours, days, weeks, and months. You’re going to have to put it aside for a week and not think about it. You’re going to go through months of hating everything about it. You’re going to have to write, re-write, re-write again, and then tear everything up and start over. But if you get impatient and start sending out half-finished work, you won’t find the success you won’t. No matter how long it takes (within reason), no one wants to see your work before it’s done. They only want the best of what you can produce, and finding that best will take time.
So the next time you attend a “get published” panel, you might get excited about sending your manuscript out. But ask yourself if that manuscript is really ready to go live. If it’s not ready, then save the postage and get back to work.