While I play the waiting game on my WIP, I've been floundering a little on what to do with my writing time. Most of the floundering is because I'm feeling the pull to dig an oldie out of my proverbial dead manuscript trunk.
It's not the first book I ever wrote. It's not even the first one I ever queried. But is the first one I ever felt to my core, the first time I ever fell in love with the idea of telling a story.
The incomparable Beth Revis calls this phenomenon the 'Book of My Heart' (and others, but she's who I heard it from first). For me, it's the book that made me call myself 'a writer' in public for the first time. It's the first book where I didn't type 'The End' when I finished writing it because I knew it was just the beginning.
It got three full requests. And a shit ton of rejections.
I don't remember the day I decided to move on. I'm pretty sure it involved crying, gelatto and screw-top wine. Otherwise, I've fully suppressed the memory. But I do remember the steps I took to get to the place where I knew putting that manuscript away was the right thing to do. Still it's a hard decision to make, and one that--at least for me--was impossible to make on my own.
So how do you know when it's time to call it quits on a manuscript? And what does that even mean in today's writing environment? Here are some things to consider:
Start writing something--anything--new. Read a good book. Do some critiquing for others in the online writing community. Attend a conference. Take some time away from the project you've bled over for the last few months or years. Nothing in publishing happens quickly, so there's absolutely no reason to make this decision in a rush.
We all know how important it is to have CPs and Betas you can trust. Hopefully, by the time you're pursuing publication with a manuscript you really love, you have others in your writing circle who love it, too. If you don't, that's something to consider, especially if your CPs know their ish. Consult the people you trust who know your book before deciding it's time to move on from it. Maybe it really needs a fearless revision. Maybe it's just not marketable at the moment. One thing's for sure, you're too close to your words to make this call without an objective second opinion. Especially if we're talking about a Book of the Heart.
If agents are taking the time to give you personal feedback, it means they're paying attention. It may mean that while your manuscript isn't strong enough, it has the potential to be published if you're willing to bust your butt and tear it apart. If you are only getting form rejections, it may be that your idea isn't strong enough, and the harsh reality is that form feedback is feedback.
There are a lot of good freelance editors out there whose insight is invaluable if you can afford it. Check out writer auctions for charity or ask around for a good referral. Even if they end up advising you that the manuscript may not be salvageable, you will learn things about your writing skills that you can take with you for your next project.
Just because this manuscript isn't going to be the bestseller you hoped it would doesn't mean you should give up writing. Every manuscript you write, revise, submit, or toil over makes you a better writer. Don't let the book of your heart, or any book, be the only thing you ever write.
Generally speaking I have a strong personal bias against self-publishing. I think it works great for a very small group of writers with strengths outside of writing itself. But I think a lot of people go the self-pub route for the wrong reasons. They're impatient or have the wrong attitude about the slushpile or just want to be able to call themselves an author without the industry validation to back it up. For other writers, however, self-publishing is a great opportunity. Especially if you've got a killer story with a niche market in mind. Or if you've already put a book through the agent wringer and believe you can sell it, even if the industry doesn't.
Nobody can make you delete your work.
It's been five years since I wrote the first draft of the Book of My Heart. I've learned a lot about writing, and about myself as a writer since then. But I still love those characters and I think they have a story to tell. It just might be a very different one now from the one I wrote originally.
As I was writing this post, I decided to go back and read the first chapter of the Book of My Heart. Two manuscripts later, the harsh reality is that while I love it and it means the world to me, the writing is just not that good. The story's not strong enough for today's competitive YA market. But the cool thing about that is? It's mine. Completely. And without it I wouldn't be an agented author preparing to go on submission with another manuscript that never would have existed without it. I bailed on my book, but I'm a better writer for it.
What were the signs for you that you needed to put a manuscript into the trunk? What did you learn about yourself as a writer through that process?
Dannie Morin is an author, blogger, and freelance editor. She's currently contemplating seeking help for her social media addiction. In the meantime, you can find her on Blogger Facebook Goodreads & Twitter. If you've got suggestions for a future All the Feels post, contact Dannie by email here. Dannie is repped by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.