Almost Done with the Novel? Read this


I'm fairly sure you get emails like this all the time, but I'm not really sure how to find my answer and thought I would ask you, if you don't mind. I'm almost finished writing my first book. I've got about 80% of the rough draft done and have the outline to finish the rest. I've been writing for the last five years and am now not sure of the next step(s) to take.

While I live in New York and have some friends who are writers, no one I know is a published writer or an agent. I know I shouldn't solicit people I don't know, but I don't know anyone! I don't have clips of articles or stories to send to someone; I don't have a blog (ugh-how much am I lamenting the fact that I didn't start writing a blog instead of a book?) and I really don't know how to begin approaching people or if I should until I have something to send them--is a synopsis and a few chapters enough?

Any advice you could offer or websites you could point me to would be much appreciated.

First, finish the book. Nothing else until then, ok? Don't even think about query letters, synopses or who you know till then. If you violate this instruction (since you live in NY) I'll track you down and let Killer Yapp demonstrate what expensive orthodontia looks and feels like.

Second, write the next book.

Third, using what you learned from writing the second book, reread the first book. Fix all those things you didn't see the first time.

When all that is done you may think about query letters. When you get to that point email me, and I'll give you the next three steps.

And stay off the writer's discussion boards. You don't need to do anything but write, read some good books and as much good poetry as you can find.

This process will take two years. Just accept that and do it. Yes I know you feel like five years is enough but it's not. Better to invest your time wisely NOW and have a better product to send me than jump the gun and shoot yourself in the foot. KY doesn't like the taste of a lead foot, so slow down.


Anonymous said...

Best advice ever.

Anonymous said...

Interesting advice about staying off writers' boards. I've recently banned myself from visiting them [and cut back on Internet time] for two reasons:

1) I spend too much time reading and posting, time that could be spent writing, reading, or, more often, sleeping.

2) They confuse me. Too many bickering opinions generating too many conflicting voices in my head. The ones I was born with are fighting for screen time and don't need company.

This blog, on the other hand, is focused on the post-writing, business end of things and therefore doesn't f**k with my head. And it's too funny to miss, of course. Skip Miss Snark? Heavens, no!

Anonymous said...

Agree with all...
At the recommendation of other comments in this blog, I sauntered over to Critique Circle to look at signing up and getting some objective help with some of my developing stuff. What I quickly found is that there is no free lunch there: to get, you've got to give, and to give of value, it looks like quite a time committment.
So now I'm hesitating: is committing the time to fair contribution on CC going to cut in to the finite time I should be spending on writing, so that I've got something worthy of critique; or is it an investment in developing the tools of my aspired-to trade?

Anonymous said...

See, now I'm wondering just how rare it is to sell the first novel you write. I spent four years on the actual writing (through what felt like a thousand drafts); then it took a little over a year to find an agent (she's small and new, but much like a rabid literary pitbull), and almost exactly a year to secure a publisher. 6 years total. Before my first one came out in 2005, the publisher bought my second off a four chapter submission and my third off an email exchange (I'll be starting it sometime this month). Having no other frame of reference I thought this was status quo. But is it?

Anonymous said...


It's an investment. By looking at other people's work and learning to analyse it, you will improve your own writing.

none said...

In my experience, it's true that more can be learnt by doing critiques than by receiving them. For a fast learning curve, however, I recommend a slush pile.

Paula said...

Anon #3 said "I'm wondering just how rare it is to sell the first novel you write."

I've been told it's hard. I don't know about rare.

I did it.

April this year will mark the 3rd year since I wrote the novel. It will go to print April of '07.

I have no idea if my experience is an anomaly or if, just happens to be my unique journey.

I'm thinking the latter.

Many times I've heard the numbers 5-7 years brought up as the average time it takes to get your first novel published.

Those who fall within that range seem to have hit gold on their latter projects vs. their very first.

There are an awful lot of factors that go into the how long or how many before you hit questions:

- whether or not the person was a spanking new writer or one who had to call on writing skills throughout their academic and professional careers

- how much time the person had to write. Don't most of us squeeze it in b/w our real lives?

- how seriously the person took the craft once the book was written. i.e. rushed into trying to get published, got rejected, gave up. Maybe only to return years later when they "get it."

Doubt there's any real average on this since the craft is subjective from beginning to end. Just a whole lot of great success stories.

The Beautiful Schoolmarm said...

The one writers' community I belong to was very helpful--I had no idea how to turn a critical eye on my own writing, but after receiving critiques and giving them, and reading others' critiques, my writing improved. I stopped unintentional PoV switches, recognized when dialogue and description were effective or not, and started a collection of suggested books on writing. I wouldn't call it a waste, but I do have to limit my time there.

Anonymous said...

What if the first novel was written, shopped around, rejected with lovely form letters until finally it, and I, went to a workshop at a masters program (insert pompous Ivy League school name here) where it, not I, was ripped to shreds by the students? After my first chapter was thrown away (ah, but was it?) and the real focus of the novel ripped dripping from the wretched form of my first draft, I found renewed interest in my poor rejected manuscript. Currently, I am completing what feels like a millionth revision. Does that count?

Anonymous said...

Having DSL has ruined my writing life! Back in the days when I had to dial up and tie up my phone line every time I wanted to check my e-mail or look up a website, it seemed like I got a lot more accomplished when I sat down to write. I would do all the goof off stuff first, then disconnect, and write for two or three hours.

Now, alas, I find the temptation to just "pop over" to something else while I'm in the middle of something hard to resist.

Thank goodness for laptops and libraries and coffee shops - except (oh no!) most of them around here are now installing wireless connections! Is there no where that I can escape the madness?

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark,

Thank you for this timely advice! I am also nearing the end of my novel and wasn't sure what to do because a friend (with only 4 chapters written) has interested several agents in her novel. I felt that I should write my novel completely and then make it the best I possibly can (read: edit!) before submitting it to anyone. I started worrying that I was wasting time until I read your post. Then I knew I was on the right track. Thank you for saving me from nitwitedness.

Another loyal snarkling,


David Niall Wilson said...


I sold the first novel but only after it had sold, the company had folded, and I'd sold the next four. The advice is all good, and obviously many of us come here to the Internet and waste time anyway...

I would just say that once you've done all the writing you are likely to complete for a day, THEN go play around...but yes, finish that book, REVISE that book at least once, and be working on the next book at the very least before you start worrying over contacts and who you know.