It’s harvest time in my backyard garden (except for the pumpkin, which still has about 6 weeks left), and in honor of the little haul of veggies I’ve been grabbing, I decided on….drumroll…an ANALOGY—-hooray!
If you’ve ever decided to plant a garden (i.e. “submit a novel”), you know the thrill of having the idea, picturing the finished product in your head as you go to Wal-Mart for green bean packets, soil bags, and perhaps a garden gnome or two. At the end of the planting stage of your garden project, you’ll lean back on the hoe, wipe away the sweat, and admire what you’ve done. You’ll pour a tall glass of lemonade and take delicate sips while imagining the rich harvest to come and the celebration dinner party you’ll throw with green beans almandine, Szechuan beans, and green bean casserole…ooooo, it’ll be FABULOUS.
And then you wait. You patiently water each day, wondering why it takes 56 gosh darn days for a stinking seed (i.e. “query letter”) to make its way out of the ground so you can see the result. Frustration and worry kick in…did you water your query enough? Or overwater it? Maybe a neighborhood squirrel snuck in and dug the thing up (i.e. it got lost in cyberspace).
You pull your hair out, thinking you’re either paranoid or a bad farmer, hoping for the former, secretly placing yourself in the latter category when you see Mrs. O’Leary across the street harvesting tomatoes galore from her potted plants on the front porch. What the heck is she doing—using special fertilizer? How come nobody told you about the special fertilizer? Son of a gun, what are those seeds doing down there in the dirt?
Little by little, you learn to manage your garden (query responses), making notes along the way, hoping and praying that someday you’ll get enough beans for the dinner party of your dreams. Grudgingly at first, then with enthusiasm, you ask Mrs. O’Leary what her secret is. You find out that she’s been doing this a heck of a long time and has had many a dead crop along the way. She’s talked to a lot of farmers, listened to their advice, and has gradually gotten better at gardening.
Her advice: learn as you go, make necessary changes, try a few new things, and plant year-round. Don’t sit around staring at the ground, waiting for your beans to show up. That’s a waste of time. Spread out your growing season, and you’ll get vegetables all year long—or at least the anticipation of them.
And let’s face it; anticipating a query response is almost as good as getting one. That sick-to-your-stomach feeling of possibility isn’t always unpleasant. It’s a unique addiction to that nauseating feeling that makes you a writer and keeps you planting—you can’t resist. You've got the gardening bug, and you've got it bad...and part of you really wants to see if you’ll actually get to have your dinner party one day.
From the time you write a novel to the moment you begin to harvest responses to your queries is a long chunk of your life.
After you’ve perfected and sent out that query in batches of 5-10, making tweaks along the way to your letter or first pages based on the response, START WRITING AGAIN.
That’s right…GULP! It might be time to write another novel. Because, guess what? If you do get published, people will probably expect another book from you.
While you’re waiting, start planting new seeds—enter first-page contests, join a critique group, go to a conference (I’m going to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference in 2 weeks—more details to come). If you send those queries out in batches, just think—most agents have a 4-8 week response time. That means with five batches of queries spread two weeks apart, one novel can be easily be submitted for four months! If you’ve done your due diligence in polishing the manuscript before sending it out, then any changes should be minimal work. Four months is plenty of time to get started on your new Work-In-Progress.
Point being—don’t get lazy by sitting around and waiting for your garden to sprout a bunch of people in party dresses and a pan of green bean casserole. It doesn’t work that way. Listen to Mrs. O’Leary and plant year-round. That way, you’ll never know when the next green bud will show up in your inbox. The constant possibility of harvest should keep you excited to garden, despite a few poor crops along the way.
**There are plenty of people who query a single novel for a year or so—of course there’s nothing wrong with that. This post is coming purely from someone who gets ansy and wants to work on new ideas…come to think about it, maybe I would have more success if I took more time to rethink manuscripts that haven’t worked out.
***PS--Point of clarification--I am not suggesting that I am Mrs. O'Leary in this scenario--I'm suggesting that you find your own Mrs. O'Leary and pick her/his brain. Try a casual approach with someone you've met in the writing world, "Hi, I see you've got some experience--care to be my Mrs. O'Leary?" I'm sure they won't think you're a bit odd :)