Welcome, Mary Kole
As a literary agent and now a freelance editor, I’m heavily involved in a writer’s “What’s next?” question. This is a question I get over and over from writers. Whether they’ve just typed “The End” on a manuscript for the first time, or they worry that they’ve reached the end of querying a project. Whether they’re deciding how to submit, or wondering if it’s time to put it in the desk drawer.
The two most important crossroads that writers face are, “Is my project ready to submit?” And, “This project hasn’t succeeded as hoped. Is it time to give up?” Let’s attempt to unpack both of them here.
To me, there are three considerations that determine your next steps in either scenario. The first is your own opinion of the project. Try to step back and consider it with clear eyes. Is it solid work? Are you proud of it? Do you have any deep-down-secret worries about it? Are you scared, basically, or are you stoked? Your own opinion of the project can never be objective, of course, but your gut as a writer is still something to consider. Very often, writers discount their own assessments because they feel insecure. (Shout out to all of you Insecure Writers!)
But too often, I work with clients who have been steered away from their own instincts by well-meaning critique partners or professionals. Outside feedback is very important—see the next point—but your own understanding of your project is crucial, too. Ask yourself point blank: Do you like it? Do you see any potential flaws?
If you have not submitted yet and are wary because you see opportunity for growth, the project is not yet ready to submit. You want to put your best foot forward. Address any glaring or niggling issues before you move forward. The same thing if you’ve already submitted, but without success. If you know what the issue is, then deal with it sooner rather than later. Make sure you satisfy yourself first. Many mistakes can be prevented with this simple advice.
The second consideration is outside feedback. Before you decide to submit, or decide to give up on a project, make sure you get at least one outside perspective on your manuscript, whether it’s a critique partner or freelance editor. Many writers shy away from this because they don’t know where to find a good critique partner, or they don’t want to pay for an editor. The former concern is exactly why I’m launching Crit Collective this month, it’s a free forum dedicated to critique partner matchmaking. Check it out!
Because writers can never be truly objective about their own work, having outside perspective is crucial. Make sure you check this box before you decide to submit, or decide to give up. Even if your project has already been through several rewrites, new eyes on it will potentially inspire one last revision—one that might make all the difference. Make sure that you get someone you can trust, and who has experience either editing or reading widely in your category. They will provide you with data that you can’t possibly give yourself, so don’t skimp on this step.
The third consideration when you’re deciding what to do with your WIP is completely external: the market. I often tell writers not to fixate on trends or the market when they’re writing. Trends come and go. But when it’s time to either submit or quit (at least on a particular manuscript, for the moment), the market becomes important. What’s going on in the industry? Are people sick of your particular category? Are there larger forces at work that make your project either more or less marketable right now?
This is the time to pay attention. If you’re considering submitting for the first time, some market research will help you position your pitch intelligently. (You can take a ten-hour self-guided course from me on the topic of the research and submission process, the Manuscript Submission Blueprint.) If you’re deciding whether or not to give up on a project, check the market again. Something may have shifted. For example, a few years ago, the female scientists market was a bit of a bit of a backwater. Now it’s a red hot segment!
Maybe some new opportunities have opened up since you last researched your place in the current publishing world. If you’ve been on submission with a project a few times, you have probably spent at least months waiting. Maybe the market is now worse for your idea. But it could also be better.
Putting it all together, I recommend three gut checks. First, how do you feel about the project? Whether you’ve just finished it and have some qualms, or whether you’ve been submitting for five years but you still feel some hope. Next, how do qualified others feel about it? Have you gone back for one more round of feedback? If there are still things you want to do with the project in terms of revision, I’d say you should make the final attempt. You never know. Finally, how’s the market temperature for your ideas? Things change over time, so it doesn’t hurt to check in with the industry.
Sometimes, an idea is past or ahead of its time. This can potentially be fixed by waiting for the market to change. Sometimes, the current execution of your idea isn’t working. This can be fixed by listening to yourself and others. Sometimes, it really is time to let go of a project, at least for now. This can only be fixed one way: Starting the exciting creative process on your next idea!
Former literary agent Mary Kole provides consulting and developmental editing services to writers of all categories and genres, working on children’s book projects from picture book to young adult, and all kinds of trade market literature, including fantasy, sci-fi, romance and memoir.
She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and has worked at Chronicle Books, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Movable Type Management. She has been blogging at Kidlit.com since 2009. Her book, Writing Irresistible Kidlit, a writing reference guide for middle grade and young adult writers, is available from Writer's Digest Books.
Children’s Writing Blog: https://kidlit.com