First Things First

or… Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse

If you’re a writer, here’s what I want to ask you today: Are you getting ahead of yourself?

There are seasons in a writer’s life: Seasons for focusing on the art and craft of writing, and seasons for focusing on the business of writing. And seasons where it’s appropriate to spend time on both.

If you’re a fairly new writer, unpublished, you should probably be focusing on art and craft. Sure, it’s fun to spend your leisure time cruising the Internet and learning about agents, publishers, and how the industry works. But the bulk of your time should be spent on writing. Learning to write is first and foremost. Are you a freshman writer? If you’re spending more time learning about publishing than working on your writing… do you think you might be getting ahead of yourself? None of the business aspects will be relevant to you, if your writing isn’t strong enough.

After you’ve worked on your writing for awhile (usually a year to several years), you’ll be ready to start thinking about getting published. Then you definitely need to be thinking about queries, proposals, platform, marketing, and other business aspects of writing. You need to kick your business-focus into high gear. There may even be periods of time when your writing takes a back seat as you learn the ins and outs of publishing.

Once you’re published, you’re going to have to pay attention to both business and art. You’ll go back and forth more easily.

But if you’re at the beginning of this journey, it’s tempting and fun to think about all the bells and whistles of “being published,” but your most important job is to work hard on your writing. Don’t be too eager to query. Even if you’ve finished a book, don’t type “The End” and then immediately begin whipping out those query letters. Let it sit. Go back and edit, revise, polish. Do everything you can to get it right.

Now, if you’re writing non-fiction and it’s a platform-driven topic, then along with your writing, you’ll need to be platform building. You might get speaking engagements, build your blog readership, make a name for yourself in your field. That’s going to be just as important as the writing. Novelists and memoirists, not so much. The writing is most important.

So where are you in this process? Focusing mostly on the craft of writing? Or mostly on business—queries, proposals, marketing plans, etc. Are you doing the right thing for where you are on the journey? Or do you need to re-evaluate?
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Sharon A. Lavy on May 20, 2009 at 8:39 AM

    >After finishing my second 90,000 + manuscript I find the classes at Blue Ridge this week so very helpful. Things are clicking.

    God is good.

  2. Icy Roses on May 19, 2009 at 11:59 PM

    >On the craft still. But when I am procrastinating, I like looking at the business side for fun. Agents blogs are fun to read. 🙂

  3. writer jim on May 19, 2009 at 2:51 PM

    >Camille Cannon Eide:
    To me a fun bet involves no money.
    I’ll make the same bet to you as I did Rachelle…I know you’ll like a thrilling nonfiction story about what God has done. If I had your email address I would prove it to you. And I’ll BET you would even credit me with being right. After all, I BET you really love God, too. writer Jim

  4. JStantonChandler on May 19, 2009 at 11:21 AM

    >Thank you, Rachelle, for this very enlightening post. I have been writing for most of my life, but only in the past ten years have I considered myself a “serious” writer. I have four books under my belt (so to speak), and I’ve felt a bit guilty or somewhat behind because I spend the majority of my time writing and not researching the market and/or the industry itself. Thank you for opening my eyes to the fact that, while it is important to focus on both aspects of the writing life, one has to make the decision based on where one is in their own writing walk. I am working on integrating more research into my daily writing diet, but I also see that there is no shame in editing and revising (especially when it is much needed).

  5. Camille Cannon Eide on May 19, 2009 at 1:09 AM

    >writer jim: how much are we betting?

  6. Genny on May 19, 2009 at 12:18 AM

    >Hi Rachelle,

    I’ve been following your blog for a while now and love it. I learn something with every post and I really appreciate the information.

    I recently heard an editor speak at a conference, and what she said (similar to what you mention here regarding fiction and memoirs) has been playing in my mind for days…”It’s all about the writing.”

    I definitely put the cart before the horse when I first started writing. I’m embarrassed to admit that the first time I sent out a manuscript, I was sure I’d hear back within a few weeks. AND get a contract. I’d spent a lot of time researching the market, researching publishers, etc., but what I didn’t realize was that I hadn’t spent enough time on craft. I look back at those first few manuscripts now and cringe.

    But the good news is, you live and you learn. After a few rejections that came with some great feedback, I snapped to and switched gears. I read more. I wrote more. I revised more. And doing so opened new doors. Thanks for this great reminder that each phase of the writing journey has its purpose.

  7. Anonymous on May 18, 2009 at 11:14 PM

    >A fun bet for Rachelle:
    I’ve been writing my nonfiction book for over 17 years; and I think it’s right up your ally. I’ll bet if you read one anecdote from chapter one: You’ll ask me for all of chapter one…and then for my proposal. 17 years COULD mean it’s worth a few minutes to read one anecdote. writer jim

  8. Anonymous on May 18, 2009 at 10:58 PM


  9. Karin on May 18, 2009 at 9:02 PM

    >I recently made the decision not to pitch anything at conferences this year (maybe even next year). I want to take my time to improve my writing and get to know some people in the biz first.

    The fact that you blogged about this today is a nice confirmation that I made the right decision.

  10. Anonymous on May 18, 2009 at 4:40 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle–you are hands down the best blogging agent ever!
    Wish I wrote for your market but guess my books are for sinners…LOL

    I’ve already sent letters to two agents and got a snarky response from one–not once, but twice! Guess he’s mad he had to read the partial…Wish me luck!!

  11. Michael Gray on May 18, 2009 at 4:02 PM

    >For my own part, trying to put the cart before the horse comes from the uncertainty over whether my hours of pounding away at the laptop keyboard will result in a published piece of work. I always imagine how nice it would be to have an agent say, “I love your topic and writing style. I know you are only part of the way through your manuscript, but if you can produce a whole book in six to nine months, I can definitely get you published.”What I have come to realize is that it doesn’t matter how many times I envision that conversation in my head because this is not how the publishing world works.

    I’m learning that, instead of trying to beat the system (and frustrating hundreds of agents in the process), the thousands budding writers like me have a chance at succeeding only if we choose to hop off the cart, untie the horse from the back, and put her back up front where she belongs.

    Thank you for reminding us about putting first things first.

  12. Horserider on May 18, 2009 at 3:08 PM

    >I’ve been writing seriously for almost 8 months now. I wrote a long time before that, but didn’t finish anything until December of last year. I started querying a month and a half ago and regret it. After 15 form rejections, I pulled my novel out of submission and am currently running it through a thorough edit myself and with my critique group.

    Will I query again soon? Probably. I’m hoping to query in September.

    I have another project that’s in editing that I hope to query over the summer. But not until it finishes a run-through with my betas and at least one last edit with myself.

    I regret jumping the gun and querying early. My query has been praised so I assume it is either my sample pages or just not a good match. But no matter what he reason, I can’t go back in time and query those wonderful agents again.

    I already multi-task working on two editing projects and two writing projects at the same time. Looking for that one amazing novel.

  13. Rose McCauley on May 18, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    >Thanks for the post, Rachelle, and for all the comments from the rest of y’all. They were a lesson in themselves.

    I definitely started submitting too early. I had been a reader and lover of books for over 40 years, so about 8 years ago decided to write a book in the historical genre which I had mostly read up to that time. When I finished it the next year I registered for a conference and offered it (the whole thing–printed out! LOL) to the first agent I met. She kindly accepted it. Then I attended classes and realized I had used cliches, didn’t understand POV, (In my defense, I had read two older how-to writing books, but neither of them adressed this topic) and several other issues. So, I asked for my MS back. That lady did become my agent several years later, but has since dropped out of agenting.

    I do think reading is the best form of instruction and also writing, even if it is not for publication. I have four novels completed which may never be pubbed (and several other half-finished ones that may never get finished), but they were all great learning experiences. I’m now doing the final rewrites on my latest completed MS and hope to shop it at the WTP conference next month and submit it to some agents and editors.

    I’ve never been much interested in the business part of publishing, but after reading these posts, realize I’m at a point where I need to be studying up on it.

    One of the reasons I love writing is that you have to be a lifelong learner, and I love to learn!

  14. David A. Todd on May 18, 2009 at 1:10 PM

    >Where am I in the writing process? Scattered, confused, and somewhat dejected.

    I have a novel finished and polished, and unpublishable, because I wrote it before I knew about publishable genres and expected lenths; it’s way too long. I have another novel started, but pulled off of it when I realized just how difficult it is for a new fiction writer to be published.

    I have another 20 novels queued up in the gray cells, in various stages of plotting and outlining, waiting their chance to burst on to pages or pixels. I’ve backed off them for the same reasons as for my second novel.

    I have started on five different Bible studies, which I prepare myself and teach to our adult Sunday School class. I thought of this as an avenue for publishing, till I saw how crowded this market is.

    I prepared concepts four non-fiction Christian books and a couple of secular non-fiction books, knowing non-fiction outsells fiction 8:1. then learned that no one sells non-fiction without a platform. Scratch that notion.

    I’ve prepared a dynamic concept for a syndicated newspaper column, and have had four published as guest editorials, yet I’ve not yet pulled the trigger on wider marketing because I’m afraid this would consume all the creative writing time I would have in a week.

    And I’ve written a thematic poetry book titled “Father Daughter Day”, but poetry is a non-starter, so I’ve backed off trying to market that.

    I recently decided maybe I should give up books and become a freelancer. My first query garnered me an assignment, which I turned in last Friday, two weeks ahead of schedule.

    I’ve been writing creatively for eight years, in business for 35 years. I think I’ve got the basic beginner and maybe intermediate craft issues licked.

    Help. I’m a basket case. I need a coach, but have no money to hire one.

  15. Matilda McCloud on May 18, 2009 at 12:36 PM

    >Wow…this post hit home. When I began querying agents, I put the cart before the horse and queried agents for novel #1 when it wasn’t ready (although I mastered the query letter part and got lots of bites).

    Then I took a year break from reading blogs etc and focused on the writing, getting feedback, reading books on writing etc and am now sending queries out for a fully revised novel #2.

    Just this morning I said to myself that I needed to go cold turkey on agents’ blogs again, but I thought I’d take one more peek. The problem is that the blogs are like a writer’s support group and it’s tough to disengage.

    But it’s necessary to do this if you really want to concentrate on your writing! (or at least you shouldn’t spend as much time as I do reading the blogs…)

  16. Rachelle on May 18, 2009 at 12:14 PM

    >FYI, I’m keeping a running list of questions asked in the comments to hopefully answer in future blog posts.

    But here is one answer:

    Anonymous: “If you have a potential offer from an agent, how do you inform the other agents with the full, esp if you’re still in the talking stages (need to ask the questions on your list!)?”

    Easy. After an agent actually offers representation, and you’ve asked your questions, tell them you’d like a little time to make your decision because your full is out with other agents. Then just email the agents with the fulls and say, “I have an offer of representation from another agent; could you please respond regarding my full MS by one week from now?” Be polite, and if you don’t hear from them in a week, email again thanking them for their interest and letting them know you’ve decided to accept representation from another agent.

  17. Catherine West on May 18, 2009 at 12:11 PM

    >You left out the season of thinking you can do it all and finally realizing, after pulling all your hair out, that you can’t. If there is leisure to time to be had in this particular season, I suggest spending it on the beach with something tall and cool in one’s hand. Of course one could always work on one’s edits…

  18. Steena Holmes on May 18, 2009 at 12:07 PM

    >Great post Rachelle. I’m working on that balance – I write at night while at work and no phones are ringing and when kids and hubby are in bed. During the day – it’s just a waste, I always end up deleting what I’ve written since there are too many distractions for me. Which makes day time the best time for me to browse the sites, blogs and twitter 🙂

  19. Anonymous on May 18, 2009 at 11:52 AM

    >Rachelle, here’s an OT Q: If you have a potential offer from an agent, how do you inform the other agents with the full, esp if you’re still in the talking stages (need to ask the questions on your list!)? Should I even give them a chance to read and respond?

    I don’t want to burn my bridges, but I think this is the right agent for me and my novel–of course, you never know till you take the plunge! Any advice?

  20. Alison on May 18, 2009 at 11:36 AM

    >great reminder, Rachelle!

  21. Beth on May 18, 2009 at 10:52 AM

    >This is the kick in the butt I needed today. I woke up early with plans to write and edit since I’m already at 92,000 words on my debut chick lit novel. In April, I even scrawled “The End” just for the satisfaction. Since then, I have poured over agents’ sites and blogs instead of actually typing the ending. Ugh. You are so right about not putting the cart before the horse. Thanks for kicking me.

  22. PW on May 18, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    >Thanks for this post. Though, I’m not an official writer, as seeking publishing, etc; I do find this post helpful. As a writer of two blogs, I find this background info provided here insightful. For my blog, ‘Reading in My Garden’ where I focus on my hobbies of books and gardens, this helps me better understand authors and their journeys. As I write future reviews, this post helps me appreciate all the time, energy, sweat, blood :), prayer, etc that went into the finished product that I’m reviewing.

    p.s. I also enjoyed the fun post last week about writing about ourselves in 100 words or less.

  23. Camille Cannon Eide on May 18, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    >Richard, never fear, it wasn’t your history she used but mine …..

    Balance sounds like the key here. I know writers who only write and stick their heads in the sand about the biz. That sets for up a meltdown when reality hits.

    I think of the balance you use when driving a manual transmission and taking off on a hill. You finesse the amount of gas and clutch as you move forward. In the beginning, more clutch, less gas, then as you make progress, more gas, less clutch. Though I’m not sure in the writing world you have the same fear of smacking into the writer behind you if you stall. Wouldn’t that prevent a lot of writer’s block?

    Measuring your craft for me comes from getting and giving critique, getting feedback from non-biased readers. And not just ‘getting’ critique, but LISTENING with an open, honest ear. Which also requires some finesse to avoid ‘stalling’ your engine.

    (Sorry, I’ve been in motor-head mode for the last month.)

  24. Terri on May 18, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    >Oh, I should also mention a good way to learn more about the business end of publishing (aside from reading agent/editor blogs =)) is to join a writing organization.such as RWA (of which I’m a member) or MWA (for mystery writers) SFWA, stc. These organizations are run by writers who have been there done that and pass their knowledge onto writers at all levels. I belong to an online forum called Backspace []
    Our motto is Writers Helping Writers. They have a conference this month and I don’t think it’s too late to register if you’re in NY.

  25. Terri on May 18, 2009 at 10:19 AM

    >Great Post Rachelle (I followed it from Twitter).

    I’ve been writing (in an effort to get published) for about five years but before I felt ready to sit and write my first full length novel I studied the craft. I spent about five years learning what I could from books. I took a correspondence course (that I didn’t quite complete) and found a free online course for fiction writing that helped me to fully understand how to write a selling novel. However even after learning how to show not tell and how to build believable characters and write natural dialogue, I found I still had a lot to learn. A year after completing two novels I signed with an agent. Although I’m currently between agents at the moment (which is a long story in itself) I haven’t given up on the books because I believe that much in them. Even now I’m honing my skills to complete a mainstream mystery (which is much harder than I imagined it would be!)
    The one (and only) advice I give to new writers is never stop learning. But also, don’t be afraid to sit in front of that computer and practice what you’ve learned.

  26. Kristen Torres-Toro on May 18, 2009 at 10:18 AM

    >I do the same thing as Jason. I just spent my weekend re-reading books by one of my favorite authors. In my defense, he and I write in the same genre so it was “studying”–and a lot of fun at the same time!

    Hmm… I’m not as far along as I’d like to be in my journey. I made the mistake of querying too early. Honestly, though I don’t ever want to do that again, I wouldn’t have known which direction to go if I hadn’t done that. Now that I do know, I have a plan that I’m working as far as the manuscript goes. As I’m tweaking/honing that, I’m studying my genre and doing all of that business stuff so that–hopefully–I’ll get it right the next time I query and my manuscript will make an agent somewhere do a happy dance.

  27. Kristen Torres-Toro on May 18, 2009 at 10:18 AM

    >I do the same thing as Jason. I just spent my weekend re-reading books by one of my favorite authors. In my defense, he and I write in the same genre so it was “studying”–and a lot of fun at the same time!

    Hmm… I’m not as far along as I’d like to be in my journey. I made the mistake of querying too early. Honestly, though I don’t ever want to do that again, I wouldn’t have known which direction to go if I hadn’t done that. Now that I do know, I have a plan that I’m working as far as the manuscript goes. As I’m tweaking/honing that, I’m studying my genre and doing all of that business stuff so that–hopefully–I’ll get it right the next time I query and my manuscript will make an agent somewhere do a happy dance.

  28. Ginger Merante on May 18, 2009 at 10:16 AM

    >Everyone keeps asking why I haven’t sent out my queries yet. Well, because I’m not done yet. Yes, it’s finished, meaning it has a beginning and an ending, but I still have more to add. So I’m still in the polishing stage.

    I did have a some luck with a very rough and unedited version of my first chapter that ended up in the hands of a publisher (It was meant for a friend who is published, they passed it on). They want to talk in Nov when thier are getting ready to plan thier budget for next year. I took it with a grain of salt. I’m encouraged because it was the first time out and it wasn’t a NO!

    In the mean time, I’m perfecting it. I’m taking a class with a published author (Dolph LeMoult) where it is critiqued chapter by chapter. Once I know in my heart that its ready to go, then I will send it out.

    Thanks for this post. It’s good to know I’m on the right track.

  29. Anonymous on May 18, 2009 at 10:16 AM

    >Great post! Though I’m a published writer (non-fiction), I wanted to test myself before I wrote a novel so I wrote a few short stories and sent them to nat’l magazines. I got very nice replies but I didn’t even attempt writing a novel until I’d published a few stories in a top woman’s magazine.

    I think a lot of wannabes think writing is fun and glamorous, but change their minds when they find out how difficult it is to actually try to write novels! LOL

  30. Shelley on May 18, 2009 at 10:07 AM

    >An excellent post! I am a new writer, but I need to spend more time on my writing. I haven’t started with queries or anything on that end yet. To tell the truth, that part kind of scares me; however, I know it must be done at some point. For now, I’m just going to focus on my writing…

  31. Dara on May 18, 2009 at 10:07 AM

    >Well I should be focusing on the art and craft aspect, which I am for the most part, however I am also a horrible procrastinator and so I haven’t spent as much time practicing as I should.

    I think I’m also learning about the business, though it’s mainly through perusing your blog and others like it. I’ve found it’s helped me re-evaluate my original and naive focus from earlier–before I knew anything about the business.

    So, I probably spend some time learning about the business, though I’m not researching it “hardcore” yet. 🙂

  32. Katharine Grubb on May 18, 2009 at 10:05 AM

    >I agree with this post! However, I’m going link back to this blog this week, and write on my blog about how one can research agents, publishing etc, for 10 minutes a day! (

    This advice is golden!

  33. Megs on May 18, 2009 at 10:01 AM

    >When I handwrote my 70 page first novel, put it into an envelope and considered mailing it out to an agent (except I couldn’t find any agents in the yellow pages) – that was definitely putting the cart before the horse.

    I was also only 9 years old, and probably not old enough to be writing a ‘novel’ about people 10-20 years older than me and their blossoming love life. 😛


    Ten years later, I had another finished product – this time a series. I don’t know how many pages that novel was, but posted of 150K words. I bought a market book and was ready to send this one out to the needy agents. Only I got a really shocking ‘back to the real world’ shred-crit at my critting group, and realized the novel was cwap.

    That was the point I seriously began researching the industry, and making an effort to understand what agents want, and what does or doesn’t work outside of my personal writing domain. That was the point I actually began learning my craft.

    Nine years later, I have two completed novels which are getting polished one more time with help of beta readers at critting group. I’m also writing two other novels without making a lot of the mistakes I used to make on first drafts.

    My thought is that it really is important for writers to be grounded in reality while they write that first draft. It will make things a lot easier later on. It will save them a lot of the heartache that others feel when they discover that the novel they spent ten years writing and dreaming about is of a genre or content type that does not have a market.

    Something I do sort of agree with, but it’s complicated – joining critting groups can be detrimental to your writing sometimes. I know a lot of people who spent more time critiquing their partners than focusing on their own writing. Or they lost track of the writing while they confabbed with other writers on writing forums.

    I was one of those people last year – and it cost me several months that I could have been writing.

    As you can tell from my long post -I’m still working on my focus. :]

  34. Timothy Fish on May 18, 2009 at 9:48 AM

    >I think all of us, from the new writer who has just written the first word of a manuscript to the bestselling author of many books, are all in the “learning to be a writer” stage. Presumably, we are all improving and at some point we reach the point where our writing is good enough. Maybe it isn’t excellent or even great yet, but it’s good enough. That takes us back to Anne L.B.’s question, “So how does an author objectively know the quality of one’s craft?”

    No one has a great answer to that question, and yet that is what some expect authors to be able to do. While the opinions of others may be helpful, it is the author alone who must decide if his work is worth submitting or whether it should be revised, one more time. The questions the author asks are quite subjective. Am I emotionally moved by this story? Does it make me laugh? Cry? Angry? Even after having read this story so many times, do I want to just sit down and read the story? Even though I wrote the story, do I find myself turning through the pages faster and faster to find out what happens next? When a author answers all off those questions in the affirmative, it is difficult for an author to believe himself to be “not ready,” no matter what others may tell him.

    So, while in principle I believe it is possible to put the cart before the horse, I’m not sure that an author can be aware that she is doing this until she has already done it.

  35. Eric on May 18, 2009 at 9:47 AM

    >Great post and so very true. As a new writer, I often have to remember to buckle down and write. I get caught up in daydreaming about WHEN I will get published instead of concentrating on improving my craft. Thanks though for this. It’s a good reminder to keep writing first and worry about publication later.

  36. Anonymous on May 18, 2009 at 9:45 AM


    Great post, and very timely. I was just reading something this morning, in Norman Vincent Peale’s book, YOU CAN IF YOU THINK YOU CAN, that resonated and reminds me of this.

    He told an anecdote of a baseball player who was frustrated that he was stuck in the minor leagues, and was anxious and pressing for the Yankees to call him up. He went to church and was advised to ‘Unhurry yourself. Be calm. Take it easy. Don’t be so impatient.”

    He took the advice, changed his pace, relaxed and had fun, and his playing blossomed and he was called up to the Yankees and excelled.

    I also saw a video where Claire Cook, a bestselling author, advised trying to write 2 pages a day, every day. That seems doable, so today, I just relaxed and the fun came back…and I ended up with 4 pages.

    🙂 Pam

  37. Kirk K on May 18, 2009 at 9:02 AM

    >Awesome post, Rachelle. Others have stated a lot of what was on my mind. I just attended the SCBWI Regional Conference in Redmond, WA this weekend and actually gleaned some great information regarding “career planning” for a writer. Another agent gave the talk and it really made me think, much like your post. I am a research junky and can spend endless hours reading up on agents, the publishing industry and the various publishing houses. But naturally, I am not spending any time writing while I am doing this! Focus, focus, focus is my new mantra. That, and honing my craft, creating quality writing that will allow me to pursue my writing goals. Getting all of this in the correct order of importance is vital. Thanks again for another timely post!

  38. lynnrush on May 18, 2009 at 8:51 AM

    >Cart before the horse–Oh yeah, been there, done that. I backed off to get things in the correct order by studying craft, entering contests, joining crit groups. Boy, has that helped.

    Great post here. Challenging yet realistic. Thanks!

  39. Janna Qualman on May 18, 2009 at 8:28 AM

    >I thought I was ready for the shift in focus before, but I’ve learned so much about myself, my craft and written voice in the last year, it’s just now happening with merit.

    Thanks for this post.

  40. Krista Phillips on May 18, 2009 at 8:24 AM

    >Ohhhh, I LOVE this topic! I wish I would have read it a few years ago when I started on this crazy journey, it would have saved me a few embarressing incidents. LOL

    Sometimes it’s hard to judge “where” you are… It helps to have a critique group who can advise, and to submit to contests as well which can help to not only pinpoint areas where we need improvement but also to know if it’s time to start transitioning over to working a little more on the business.

    Where am I at? I think in between. I’ve worked diligently on craft for the last two years, and I know I still have more to work on, but given contest feedback and my critique group feedback, I’m ready to start dedicating more time to the “business” aspect, maybe instead of 75/25 now it will be more like 60/40.

  41. Jeanette Levellie on May 18, 2009 at 8:18 AM

    I’d love to say I am half-way along the path, and ready to be published, but I’d only be fooling me.

    My first work is in the hands of a professional editor as I write this, and I’m 15% into my wip. Still, the more I grow the more I see bare spots and weeds.

    You said it: balance is the key.
    Thanks for the wisdom!

  42. John UpChurch on May 18, 2009 at 8:00 AM

    >I always enjoy the accountability of your blog, since it is quite easy to get wrapped up in the “fun” before doing the work.

    Right now, I’m still in the crafting stages. I spent years studying writing and reading fiction (apprenticed by authors who do not know my name), and that has led to my current obsession with perfecting my current novel (after more false starts than I care to think of). Once it is finished, I plan to work on another novel so that the first can cool (and because I want to have multiple works that I’m querying with). However, I may query during that time as well. I’m not sure, since my WIP is by no means a first draft.

    After that, I have dozens of other novel ideas, and I plan to keep writing until something sticks.

  43. Jason Crawford on May 18, 2009 at 7:49 AM

    >Rachelle, you’re awesome. Thanks for responding to us. You are easily the humblest (is that a word???) agent I’ve come across.

    OK, I’ve really got to get some work done…for now, writing about software pays the bills. 🙂

  44. Rachelle on May 18, 2009 at 7:42 AM

    >However, reading novels is also the best way to prepare for a career as a novelist. I guess it’s all about balance.

  45. Jason Crawford on May 18, 2009 at 7:40 AM

    >Yep…I think the 75%/25% craft/business model is a good guide.

    But I’ll tell you what cuts into my writing time (aside from having a life–fam, job, rec, etc…


    I love reading MG books, which is why I’m writing a MG book I suppose. I think some reading is obviously good, but when you’re reading 95% of your free time, that can distract from writing. I’ve actually talked with a few other writers about it before, and I think reading novels is the main destroyer of writing time for many of us.

  46. Rachel on May 18, 2009 at 7:32 AM

    >I’m trying to stay focused on craft and think “long term” about the quality of my work vs. the speed at which I accomplish it. But I do like reading about the business process, for a “reality check” now and then, community, and motivation.

  47. Rachelle on May 18, 2009 at 7:21 AM

    >Just to clarify — I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that any of you shouldn’t be reading my blog, lol!

    I may have overstated it. Believe me, I understand that writing is solitary and lonely and it’s so helpful to be part of the “writing community.” In fact, I recommend it to people all the time, suggesting they read blogs, go to conferences, etc.

    But when you do read blogs and forums and attend conferences, if you’re still in the “learning to be a writer” stage, it’s easy to get distracted by all the other stuff. I really want you to make sure you spend plenty of time focusing on writing craft rather than business. Maybe 75% craft, 25% business. Something like that.

    However, I also believe that becoming knowledgeable about the business lends a dose of reality, helping you to know whether you want to work so hard to be a writer in the first place.

    I enjoy hearing your perspectives on this. I’m not necessarily right. 🙂

  48. Alexis Grant on May 18, 2009 at 7:14 AM

    >Thanks for this — It was just what I needed to hear this morning.

    I realized recently that I had been putting this exact cart before the horse. But now that I’m back into heavy writing, I see how much all that research into publishing helped me. I know what I’m doing now, where I’m going. Now just got to get there.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  49. Richard Mabry on May 18, 2009 at 7:12 AM

    >No fair! You looked into my own personal backstory and used my mistakes as the basis for a blog post.

    Oh, you say that others have made the same mistakes? Well, I have to say that you’ve hit the figurative nail on the head with this one.

    Want to see the tattoos on the backs of my hands, put there so I see them when I’m typing, the ones that say “Don’t be in such a hurry to get your work out there?”

  50. Jason Crawford on May 18, 2009 at 7:09 AM

    >I queried one agent, who asked to see a partial, then passed. I realized my voice showed up about midway through the first draft, and since then I’ve been working on developing it. So I guess that makes me stage one.

    Speaking on which Rachelle, voice seems to be huge in terms of what agents are looking for, yet I’ve never seen a precise explanation about it–i.e., what it is, how to get it, how to recognize if it’s there, etc… Do you think you (or a guest blogger) could write about voice…not just that it’s important. I have seen that. But a real explanation about it.

    Also, while I do agree that a person should not peruse agent blogs INSTEAD of writing, it certainly helps me to remember why I’m spending so much time writing. Reading posts from agents and other writers helps me to feel like I’m really a writer. I have honestly never been so consistently productive as a writer as I’ve been in the past few months since I started reading agent blogs.

  51. Joy on May 18, 2009 at 6:46 AM

    >Challenging thought. Thanks!

  52. Amy Sue Nathan on May 18, 2009 at 6:34 AM

    >You make an excellent point – be where you are! So many novice writers talk about writing books, jot down a chapter and work on getting published. I find that through my several year process to write my WIP, I’ve used the lows of writing to learn other thing about the business – so that even if words are no hitting the page, I’m still in that world. Over time I’ve accumulated knowledge and made many lists. And when I’m ready to query I’ll have a lot of material waiting in the wings.

  53. Chatty Kelly on May 18, 2009 at 6:19 AM

    >This is a tough post that requires lots of self-reflection. I never considered becoming published until folks started saying "wow – that was great, you should publish it." So then I tried magazine & devotional publishing & got published. So I keep taking it to the next level.

    I've joined a writers group (local ACW), and am attending conferences when I can. How would you recommend learning more about the craft of writing? What programs are out there?

    As always, great post!

  54. Jessica on May 18, 2009 at 5:56 AM

    >Interesting question.
    For my first manuscript I definitely put the cart first. LOL I loved sitting there and reading all about publishing. But I was also reading author articles on the craft of writing. So I think my time was well-spent. I queried too soon. Sooo eager. LOL
    Now I’m kind of between. I’m writing new stuff and querying other stuff.
    To me, it’s a fun and adventurous process.

  55. Katie on May 18, 2009 at 5:30 AM

    >HA! Yes! When I finished my first MS (two years ago), my cart was WAY ahead of the horse! Now I’m learning a lot more about patience. I’m probably a sophomore who has some definite areas I need to improve/hone before I query.

    I loved this post – because sometimes there seems to be such a push for marketing and platform – it’s nice to know that if you’re relatively new to this,and you write fiction, these things must come second to the craft.

  56. hippokrene on May 18, 2009 at 4:44 AM

    >I mostly agree with you, but with one caveat: Writing is lonely business.

    Writing means spending hours every day with your computer or notebook for months and years as you try to dredge the contents of your mind and make the unholy dreck you do manage to spew up into something that doesn’t make you want to set your hair on fire when you read it. It can be very frustrating. I suspect the reason most ‘wanna be’ writers never become ‘writers’ is because that trip is too much for them.

    By hoping online, reading books about publishing, and going to conferences, a writer plugs themselves into the writing community. When I go through my list of agent, editor, and writer blogs, I read and interact with dozens of people who *think writing is important.* 80% of what I read on these blogs have little to nothing to do with me as I slog through my mss, but it does remind me that what I do has value and that publishing is concrete reality as opposed to a hazy, abstract dream.

  57. Meg on May 18, 2009 at 2:31 AM

    >Still at the beginning. First novel written, working on edits. Next novel shaping up nicely.

    As far as learning too much about the publishing side…I tend to stick to information more on the query/landing an agent part. Any deeper than that and I just give myself a headache.

  58. H. L. Dyer on May 18, 2009 at 2:08 AM

    >I was just blogging about this topic last week. And its relationship to my old prom picture, natch. *snort*As for where I am in the process, I have several subs out to agents for a manuscript I finished editing in February and I’m a few chapters into writing another.

  59. Anne L.B. on May 18, 2009 at 2:02 AM

    >Great post–another one I wish I’d seen early on.

    So how does an author objectively know the quality of one’s craft? If the answer is critique partners, then how are good ones found? I’ve heard good and bad about critique partners, and it seems the bad ones can really set an author back. But friends may lack either the skill or backbone to be helpful. Is there another answer?

    And if anyone’s paying attention to your blog, they already know 1) Publishing agents aren’t required to provide critique before they’re allowed to reject a query; 2) The worst “agents” will offer to do so for a price; 3) Good agents can’t be expected to do so (although they may) because they give priority to their clients.

  60. Yamile on May 18, 2009 at 1:48 AM

    >I’m still on the very first phase of writing. My novel is finished, but it needs a lot of editing. I visit your blog and others like it to keep me inspired, to have an incentive to keep going. Also, I love the advise, and since I’m new at everything in this industry, every time I click on your blog I learn a lot, and I feel connected to others who are in the same situation as mine.

  61. Jo Saxton on May 18, 2009 at 1:35 AM

    >I love this post! I’ve been thinking a lot about focus recently. You’ve articulated the way ahead perfectly. Thanks.