Last night, I read an article in On the Premises, an on-line newsletter for writers. The article, One Thing I Would Tell Writers, was the product of best-selling author Jodi Thomas. What she essentially said was "be prepared to fall." Oh, Ms. Thomas wasn't talking about that slip on the ice or tripping over that toy that Junior left in the kitchen floor. No. She was talking about moving on.
What does it mean to move on. According to Thomas, it means burying corpses. I have one corpse already buried, a manuscript that was obliterated from my document files long ago. There were no sad songs, no tears, no mournful cries. I looked up the title, hit delete, answered the question my computer asked regarding my serious intent. I seriously intended to forget the manuscript was ever written. I can't. I remember the title and the premise. That Clark Boy, my deceased first effort as a novelist, is dead. Good riddance.
I have another novel, what I lovingly call my real first effort, that may very well suffer the same fate. I'm not one of those writers who can't move on to another book if the first one fails to get the attention of an agent or publisher. Maybe it's because that 'real first effort' did get some attention that keeps it in the document files and not relegated to a dusty, floppy disc in the attic. It may be, however, that all I got from the months of painstaking work that ultimately resulted in that manuscript is an understanding of how to get a little attention. I learned that eighty percent of attention comes from the query letter.
In my writing group, I'm called "Query Dawg." Odd title, isn't it? Not so odd when you think about the attention I garnered for my first 'real effort.' After several rounds of querying, I received multiple requests for partial and full manuscripts. True, some of the requests came from questionable agents whose business offices were in BFE, Kansas, but some came from the most reputable agencies in New York and California. I did okay for a beginner.
I'm a firm believer that all things happen for a reason, that our associations and efforts are somehow guided from above, and that all we're asked to do in our lives is interpret the signs. Our job, our true input to our own successes and failures, comes solely from our ability to recognize true opportunity when it finally knocks. It always knocks, but we sometimes fail to answer the door. My ailing manuscript came to fruition for two reasons: 1)It taught me that I could write a novel and wasn't just a wishful thinker when it came to becoming an author. 2)I learned the query is the thing to catch the eye of the agent who, in turn, will catch the eye of the publisher. In that regard, I also learned how to write a query that might tantalize a prospective agent into taking at least a quick look at what an author has to offer. Ergo: I am "Query Dawg," and am frequently asked to take a quick look at queries from other would-be authors.
Jodi Thomas's advice is worthy of following. "Be prepared to fall," she says. I agree. If the goal is to become published, then you have to accept the idea that everything you write isn't worthy of that goal. Sometimes, no matter how long and how hard you've worked on a manuscript, you have to bury it on that floppy disc in the attic. I'm not saying that there won't be tears for words lost. What I am saying is that you must wipe your eyes, throw the tissue in the trash, and go back and try again. Find the right combination of story and words, of plot and action, and start the process all over again.