Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Time Is Money

I have just signed with a well known commercial agency. The trouble is, the manuscript isn't finished yet. I met the agent at a writing convention, and pitched them the book. They asked me to send them the first three chapters as soon as possible. They offered me representation straight away and I signed the contract after sending them about 15,000 words (all I have so far). They were completely aware from the start that it is unfinished, but are really excited to see the rest.

My question is, do I spend as long as it takes to get the manuscript word-perfect or should I just finish it as quickly as possible and worry about any imperfections later?

I've read your blogs on 'timing' and am worried that if I take too long, the marketplace will have changed. I am generally a slow writer, and like to edit as I go along. The book is a supernatural fantasy/horror for 9-12 year olds by the way.

Congratulations are definitely in order. You must have a fantastic and unique idea and must have written 15,000 words that blew your agent away. As always when I receive a question from an agented author, I urge you to open discussions with your agent and talk with her not only about your concerns, but about her expectations. Every agent is different, and of course without knowing what your idea is it’s difficult for me to know how timely it really is. I also wonder if your agent expects you to finish the entire book or is hoping to sell on proposal. My guess is that most editors will want or need to see the finished product, but this is something only your agent will know.

All that being said, I will of course answer your question. First of all, slow writers drive me nuts, not because I have anything against them but because I’m impatient, and when I get excited about something I want it yesterday. You should see how much batter I eat when I’m craving chocolate cheesecake. That being said, waiting the hour for the cheesecake to cook and the eight hours for it to chill properly is like a little slice of heaven. The batter might have been good, but the finished product is so, so worth the wait. So is a great book. While I might get impatient with a slow writer, it’s so much better to give her the time she needs to create the perfect book than it is to rush her through and be disappointed in the end. Half-baked cheesecake misses the mark; so does a hastily written book, and I’ve definitely learned the art of patience.

Moving away from my craving for chocolate cheesecake, let me give it to you straight. Take the time to write the best book possible. Yes, there’s always the possibility that the market will change, but a poorly written book isn’t going to sell well (to publishers or readers) just because the market is looking for that. A really great book can actually create its own market.



Kristen said...

Thanks so much for this reminder of patience regarding market trends. I was debating trying to catch the rumored next big genre with a novel I wrote this summer but have done little editing on so far.

I want to be the kind of author who can create genres and movements though, not the follower. I got excited realizing my novel would fit in, but I really should wait. I'm glad you reminded me of that!

Anonymous said...

What is your definition of a slow writer, e.g., how long do you expect an author to take to finish a novel? I've heard a year is the usual time.

Mira said...

Cool - I really like your answer, Jessica. Take the time you need to make it the best book possible. :)

Congrats to the writer! Good luck with your book - sounds great.

Stephanie Damore said...

Fast is good, but good is better.

GhostFolk.com said...

P.S. Any answer that involves a chocolate cheesecake anaology has got to be correct.

Anonymous said...

I always hate it when the first two books of a series are wonderful and then the third one is of a totally different caliber.
I suspect the time wasn't put into the third. I think the more popular aan author gets, the more impatient everyone gets waiting.

Kimber Li said...

Amen, GhostFolk.

The published authors I know develop their own ways of getting the goods out in a timely manner. Some are more efficient than others, but the ones I know realize they've got to be on top of things in his extremely competitive market.

I have my own opinions on what constitutes 'slow,' based on reviewing books. Anything less than a year for genre fiction is slow. Twice a year is ideal. If you take longer than a year it seems like you have to rebuild your readership all over.

Has anyone mentioned how it's not a good idea for an unpublished author to query before he or she has a finished novel which is polished within an inch of its life?

Kate Douglas said...

I want your cheesecake recipe.

Marsha Sigman said...

Hmmmm...chocolate cheesecake.

I find it really hard to believe someone was actually signed with a big agency on only 15,000 words and a good idea.

I agree on taking time to make it as perfect as possible but without procrastinating!

Anonymous said...

I doubt a book for 9-12-year-olds is going to run 80K words,in which case, I'd think the timeline for completion would be shortened.

Rebecca Knight said...

"A really great book can actually create its own market." I love this :).

I'd also be interested to know what constitutes a slow writer? Are we talking a year, or are we talking George R. R. Martin (worth the wait, but crazy slow)?

Thank you for all the great posts and info! :)

Kristin Laughtin said...

Love "A really great book can actually create its own market."

Also, congrats to this author--I can't even imagine hooking an agent with 15,000 words of an incomplete MS. It's quite an accomplishment.

I've thought about hurrying one of my books because it could be skewed to fit in with a current trend, but decided to wait because I didn't want to rush the book. If I miss the trend, I miss the trend. If the book's really good or unique enough, it'll restart the trend or start another one. Better to go in absolutely prepared and with your work as good as possible than to go in unprepared in any fashion. Your post reassures me that was the right choice.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, I don't agree. I think she can ask for a deadline and do the best job possible in that time frame. As a journalist, I work better under pressure and don't second guess myself when I have too much time.

Personally, I'd opt for the middle ground--set a reasonable deadline, not yesterday, but maybe 3 months from now. Obviously that market is hot and waiting too long could lose the momentum, and the trend may fade out.

Anonymous said...

"My question is, do I spend as long as it takes to get the manuscript word-perfect or should I just finish it as quickly as possible and worry about any imperfections later?"


Hey, the stuff's meant for kids, right? So who cares!

On a positive note, it does go to show that the ideas ARE important (it's not all about slaving away over "craft" as many of the agent blog wannabe newbs would have one believe). Also, this is another reason not to post your query ideas online--the ideas alone ARE worth $.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 2:40 -- yeah, ideas are important, but how many times have you bought a book for the "idea" and then found you hated it because the writing was sloppy, the character-development non-existent, and the dialogue/plot points unpolished.

I find myself often thinking, wow, this *would've* been a great book, if only someone wouldn've cared a little more. And that's too bad, I think.

Sure I bought THAT book by author X, but I will never buy another book from them.

Anonymous said...

"yeah, ideas are important, but how many times have you bought a book for the "idea" and then found you hated it because the writing was sloppy, the character-development non-existent, and the dialogue/plot points unpolished."

I admit that it has happened, sure. But for that author, they got their sale (both to the publisher and to me, the consumer), purely from the idea.

Of course ideally, you have both, an original, sparkling idea executed flawlessly with striking, eminently readable prose.

Anonymous said...


"Eminently readable!"

Such a reviewer phrase!

Jeff King said...

I love reading your post I always find an answer I didn't know I needed.

Thx for your efforts.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome.

Kimber Li said...

In the case of Middle Grade, I'd say three months for a book less than 40,000 words. My guess, but it seems the series books come out at that rate.

Anonymous said...

You Ms-ed this turkey's point. The real question is, how much are they charging him to print the thing and call that "publication"? As long as they get his money they don't care if the book is ever finished.

A legit agent does not operate the way this post describes.