At a recent writer’s conference, as I sat in a room listening to one of the breakout session presenters, I was struck by a simple but profound thought.
We were in the post-presentation Q&A segment. This session happened to be on the process, from completed manuscript to agent queries to acceptance by a publishing house and getting your book into readers’ hands.
Granted, many of the attendees were novice writers and I very well might have asked some of the same questions years ago. I remember wanting to soak up every piece of information so I would be sure to do everything right (does anyone ever do everything right?)
But as we went along, it became clear that there were few right-or-wrong answers and still fewer issues that were black and white. And yet the students in this class were furiously writing down, crossing out, writing again, in a desperate attempt to get it “right.”
Just one example: Someone asked if there were good or bad periods in the calendar year to submit their manuscript to an agent or a publishing house. There were a variety of opinions on this. Depending on the panelist, the times to avoid sending your query letter out were:
JANUARY: “Agents are busy working on current project and wrapping up end-of-year commitments.”
JUNE/JULY/OCTOBER: “Major book fairs, many of them out-of-country.”
AUGUST: “Many people are out of the office due to summer vacations.”
SEPTEMBER: “Back-to-school is a busy time.”
THANKSGIVING THROUGH NEW YEAR’S: “Holiday crunch time.”
As I watched the mad scramble, the lesson reinforced for me was that as a writer I need to have enough confidence in my work to send it in when it is ready, regardless of what the date on the calendar says.
This philosophy—believe deeply in your work and follow your heart— also applies to everything from what experience to highlight in your query letter and third person vs. third person narration to including a prologue (or not) and how to sequence a novel that takes place in two distinct time periods.
As I look at all I have learned on this journey, this, I think was my biggest takeaway from the conference:
Consider all the advice and know the rules, but don’t be afraid to break them—if it makes sense.
Because there is no one way.