I’ve taken my draft as far as I can, but I know it’s not ready for publication yet.
Sounds like it’s time to start letting other sets of eyes read your work. Could joining a virtual critique group be one of your goals for the year? What about finding a set number of beta readers or sensitivity readers? Or do you think your work might benefit from hiring a manuscript consultant, writing coach, or professional editor? Rope off some dedicated time each month to find the people or group that’s right for you. It can be scary to put your work out in the world, but your writing will be all the stronger for it. It might help to also give yourself an external deadline, like saying you’ll submit at least three pieces for publication by the end of the year or join a fall or winter #PitMad on Twitter, where you tweet short-and-sweet pitches describing your finished manuscript to industry professionals. Now it’s up to you to find the help you need to meet that external goal.
I’m ready to start seeking publication for my work.
Congratulations! Your words are ready to find their audience. Every writer experiences a wealth of “no’s” before we find the right “yes” for our work, but there are things we can do to soften the sting of rejections. Here are some goals to try this year:
Collect rejections, not acceptances. First of all, only writers who are brave enough to submit their work get rejections. Secondly, you have no control over any part of the process besides the submission itself. Your work may be the best-written prose an editor has seen all year, but she still may need to reject it due to lack of space, money, time, or fitting subject material. You are privy to none of these factors, so unless you’re doggedly pursuing publication in outlets that aren’t a good fit (querying fiction to a nonfiction-specializing agent, for example, or submitting a 6,000-word cozy mystery story to a journal that specializes in experimental flash fiction), there’s no point in reading too much into editorial rejections. What you can do is keep submitting, finding new markets, polishing your work, taking in feedback, and submitting again. Every rejection you receive is proof that you put yourself out there, and that’s a worthy thing to pursue indeed.
Start gathering leads. Querying writers love a good spreadsheet. Here’s how to build your own: Every time you read a piece of writing you liked, put the publication into a submission spreadsheet. Note the name of publication, issue or date of publication, and the piece you liked, at a bare minimum; eventually, you’ll want to go in and add submission details and guidelines later if you don’t do this right this second. Now, not only do you have a new potential outlet to pitch, but you’ll also have a genuine example of a work that resonated with you when it’s time to seek publication for similar work. The same works with querying agents: Every time you finish that last chapter of a book in your genre, immediately flip to the acknowledgments page and log the name of the agent as well as the book’s title. (And the more an agent’s name appears on your spreadsheet for books like yours, the more you can feel confident they’re a right fit for you.) Reading work you enjoy while doing market research at the same time: What’s not to love?
Give yourself a querying quota. Working on a manuscript is a long, hard road, but at least we have some sense of our progress as we slog through from beginning to end. It’s harder to say the same for firing off query emails into the void. Would it help to give yourself a targeted number of agents to query each month? The minute you hit that quota, you can take a well-deserved break, knowing you did your due diligence for that month; the process can start again when the calendar flips, but for now, you can focus on beginning new projects or revising old ones. It may feel more productive (and less exhausting) than querying and querying and querying with no end goal in sight.