When Should You Start Looking for a Publisher?
Podcast Episode Link: Click here.
Podcast Episode Transcript: Hi, genuine writers! This is Innovative Editing’s Jeannette DiLouie welcoming you to episode #38 of The Genuine Writer Podcast. We keep things short, sweet and to the point here so that you can learn what you need to learn and get back to writing already.
Today’s episode – which evaluates and answers the question of when you should start looking for a publisher – is sponsored by Writing Your Novel Book 1 – Start Your Story: How to Get Your Novel Manuscript on the Move! And it’s sponsored by Writing Your Novel Book 1 – Start Your Story: How to Get Your Novel Manuscript on the Move! for a very good reason. Which we’ll get to in a minute.
You see, the step of starting your story is invaluable. Without it, you don’t get to do anything else with it. It just sits there in your head, bumping around and knocking things over, forever unfulfilled: a nagging little (or big) thought in the back of your head. Which is kinda sad and annoying when you think about it.
The thing is though that making something of those thoughts isn’t always so easy as sitting down and just starting it. I mean, it is, but it isn’t at the same time. You could sit down and force yourself to start your story… Or you could embrace a series of understandings and observations that will not only help you have fun starting your story, but also keep you working on it until it’s all done – and beyond.
That’s why I highly encourage you to click on the Start Your Story link for this practically free, quick-read e-book on Amazon. I’ll make sure to put it in the description section of this podcast episode.
Like I said at the beginning, there is a very good reason why we have that particular sponsor for this particular episode. But in order to properly explain how that is, we’re going to have to backtrack a bit, starting with a question I recently got from a client who had about 25,000 words down: “When should I start looking for a publisher?”
That’s a common question from writers, and it’s a good one too, which is why I’m addressing it right now. But it has a very, very easy answer: Not when you’re still working on your first draft. You see, a typical novel these days – and that’s what he’s writing – is between 60,000 and 120,000 words depending on the genre. (Personally, I don’t think a novel should be anything under 70,000 words, but I’m a bit old-school in that regard, I know – perhaps a funny thing for a new-school self-published author to be.) Regardless, that makes his manuscript less than halfway done.
I don’t say that disparagingly. 25,000 words is still an accomplishment to be celebrated and encouraged. You can’t get to 70,000 words or higher without writing the first 25,000, after all. And, for the record, 25,000 can take a decent bit of time and effort depending on your schedule and guidance. And, especially for a first-time writer, it’s going to almost assuredly take more than three months to write. It’s probably going to take a decent six months, if not a year. Or longer.
Then you have the editing process, which takes round after round after round of evaluations, where you analyze and appraise and argue with yourself about what needs to be added, what needs to be cut, and what needs to be revised.
Honestly, I like the editing phase. It can be a ton of fun as you challenge yourself to make your manuscript – how does that Kanye West remix go? Harder, better, faster, stronger, right? That’s what editing does, and not only to our manuscripts but our minds as well. We get to critically analyze our creative output, pushing it and ourselves to higher heights of storytelling capabilities.
Even after my literal decades of writing, editing and publishing, I can honestly say that I would never publish something with less than five full editorial rounds devoted to polishing it. Otherwise, you’re going to find yourself with something you’re embarrassed by or downright ashamed of. I’ve written that kind of manuscript before (my very first novel-length project), and let me tell you that even after seven rounds of editing, I am so exceptionally happy that self-publishing was not a thing at the time. Because, today, the thought of anyone else reading it is humiliating. It’s seriously that bad.
But that’s a bunny trail I don’t want to hop down that far for the purpose of this episode. Because the purpose of this episode is to explain that writing a novel takes time. And editing a novel takes time. And since you’re probably not the owner of a crystal ball or some fantastical gift of otherwise seeing into the future, you just don’t know how much time that’s going to be. Which means that reaching out to a very busy literary agent or very busy publisher before you’ve got something to actually hand over to them is a waste of everyone’s time.
You can make as nice and neat a schedule as you like, saying you’ll be done with the first chapter in two weeks, with chapter two done two weeks after that and so on. Incidentally, that might be a great schedule for you, and you should do everything you can to keep it. But that doesn’t mean you will. Or that you can. Stuff happens. Life happens. And we’re only in so much control of it.
A few years back, I remember talking to someone who had an absolutely awesome story idea. Awesome enough that she even had two publishing companies or literary agents interested in it already. So she had every motivation and intention of getting them a fully written manuscript as quickly as possible. I know she did.
Yet when I spoke with her again months later, she had only added two chapters to the three she had already written by then. And a full year and a half later, she still wasn’t halfway done. Why? Because life got in the way. And, unfortunately, my guess is that those literary agents or publishing companies didn’t wait around for her. They may have forgotten about her altogether and, if she reminded them, they might be concerned about taking a new author on with such a full schedule.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again: When you start out writing a story, you should focus on writing that story. You shouldn’t be worrying about editing. You shouldn’t be worried about publishing and you shouldn’t be worried about marketing. Just write and write and write some more until you’ve got a full first draft put together. Then you can tackle the next phases of the authorial journey, each in its own time.
Here’s the other reason why that’s good advice. Even if life doesn’t get in the way and mess up your perfect plans, worrying about editing and publishing and marketing will. All of that takes up time – time that you could be working on writing the next line… the next paragraph… the next page… or the next chapter. See what I mean? It’s like the Dufflepuds in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. They were overall well-meaning creatures who thought they were being proactive when they took potatoes, boiled them and mashed them up before planting them in the ground to grow, thinking they’d have a mashed potato harvest as a result.
Obviously though, it doesn’t work like that. You have to take each step in order. And the same thing applies to successfully publishing a book. You can’t swap steps around and expect that you’ll reach the right conclusion.
Alrighty. That’s it for this week. Thanks as always for tuning into The Genuine Writer Podcast. I hope this one sinks in so that you’re not frustrated in the future. Catch you again next time!