We’re excited that Erick Mertz is a member of the faculty at the upcoming Willamette Writers Conference.
Erick is a Portland-based ghostwriter and fiction/memoir manuscript consultant. Over the last five years as a full-time freelancer he has written manuscripts for a variety of clients. In a blog he posted this past December, he shares advice on what to do after you submit your work to an agent:
HOW TO WIN THE SUBMISSION WAITING GAME
As a memoir and fiction editor, I find most of my clients share a common characteristic: they pour heart and soul into their books. That’s not to mention the commitment of time. Writing a marketable book requires a considerable amount of time.
You have probably read a lot of advice on “how to submit your manuscript to publishers”. If somehow you have not, you can find countless how-to articles on an array of writer’s sites and blogs. Although I don’t have any hard statistics on hand, I would hazard a guess that something resembling that phrase ranks near the top on Google for writers. A quick search gets you to a number of great resources on how to get that manuscript off your desk and out the door, from agent tips to nuts and bolts formatting.
You can plainly see there is plenty of advice on how to get your completed manuscript out the door, but very little on what to do once it’s gone.
How Does A Wise Writer Play The Waiting Game?
By now the phrase, “content is king” must be familiar to you. The catchy truism gets a lot of traction in the SEO world, but it applies to your writing career as well.
Certainly I’m not the only memoir or fiction editor who is asked by clients what they should do next. I always answer that question the same way: write the next thing.
I often get some blowback for offering that advice. People don’t want to hear that they need to write more from their fiction editor. But as hard as that advice may be to hear, it actually makes a heck of a lot of sense.
Listen to a panel of agents the next time you’re at a writer’s conference. Look at submission guidelines. Writers are commonly asked to wait six weeks for a response. More often it’s eight or ten.
That’s if you get a response at all.
The submission cycle can end up more of a grind than writing the manuscript ever was. That’s why I say, it is better to spend that uncertain time building something new than worrying about the old.
Where Do You Find That New Story?
Most writers are forced to abandon a great story (or two) idea in the interest of finishing their project. The drive to finish a book can leave the cutting room floor littered with misfit scenes, dialogs and chapters.
I have a colleague who elegantly refers to these discards as his “mulch pile”. When I’m done with a project and still have the itch to write something new, I circle back to old notes and cuts, which leads to a wealth of great material.
I refer to my stack of old stories as the “bone yard”. You probably have a pile like this lurking around your desk too. Can you find something of value in there?
If there isn’t a story piece worth resurrecting, I suggest you look into your characters. Well developed characters are constructed from an array of backstory and experience that can be ripe for another story.
How did your private investigator become such a stick in the mud? Was your death-defying heroine a demure housewife at one point? Successful authors craft characters they can bring back over and over again. Look no further than Tom Clancy’s iconic Jack Ryan character if you need inspiration.
This kind of broad based thinking leads to series worthy fiction. If you are working on a memoir project, or perhaps a non-fiction piece, maybe there is an article in there that can work as proof of concept.
Submitting your manuscript also frees up time to write an entirely fresh story too. Maybe you’ve been playing in a quirky western world filled with vampires (if you’re not, maybe you should be) and you’ve had dreams of interstellar travel. Is it time to write that hard science-fiction?
The point is this, in a long term writing career, content is and always will be king. You cannot wait for an acquiring fiction editor, literary agent or publisher to give you permission because that permission takes time.
What Does It All Mean?
Going into the submission process can try even a saintly writer’s patience. After multiple painstaking drafts and back and forth work with your fiction editor, the story is finally done and polished. The query letter is written. Then the manuscript goes out. You wait. And wait. Stories come back with a “no thanks” or a “maybe later” or even, “hey, we stopped publishing last week”.
A lot of time can go by. What’s the best use of that time? Start up the next story.
This advice is not simply a feel good measure either. You absolutely need that next story in case the reply to your query comes back, “this one isn’t for us, but we love your voice. What else do you have?”
Writers are no different than everyone else. We fall in love. We get tunnel vision. We desperately want that story we just toiled over to be the one. And it may yet be the one.
Starting on the new story does not discredit the work you love. It’s a way of supporting its on-going journey.
For more ideas from Erick, check out his blog at http://erickmertzwriting.com/. Erick will be teaching the session, Money and Rewards, at the upcoming Willamette Writers conference this August 3rd through the 5th. Join us!