Saturday, May 25, 2019

How long do I have?

Dear Shark-leader,

I am one of the many who follow your blog - often silently, lurking in the shallows but always close by.

I recently had a short story published (spec-fic) in a pretty respectable magazine. It was my biggest sale to date and a real boost to my confidence.

A week later, I received an email from a credible literary agent (who represents a handful of the most well known writers in Australia) asking if I was working on anything long-form, as they would be interested in seeing my work.
I currently have half of a novel and explained this.

Essentially, they have said they would like to read it when complete and consider me for representation.
My mind is officially blown!

Now, of course, the terror begins.
I have another 30 000 words of this thing to write and a whole lotta editing/streamlining/cleaning up to do before it is ready to read.
I also have two young kids, 2 jobs, various volunteer roles, and am currently in the process of building one house and selling another.

I am swamped. I'm desperately trying to carve out more time from life for my writing but there's not a lot to work with. Less sleep is the only option.

My question is, how long might they be expecting it to take me to complete this draft?
I don't want to shoot myself in the foot by sending it off half-baked but I also don't want to squander this amazing opportunity! I'm thinking 3-6 months is likely the best I can possibly hope for in terms of delivery. Are they likely to still care by then?
Yours in terror,              

First, let's remember the most important thing here is not to make yourself crazy. You have a full life and a lot of responsibilities, and getting enough sleep isn't an option, it's a requirement.

The agent reached out to you asking if you had work ready. You said sortof/maybe/kinda.  They did NOT say "oh never mind." They said they'll read it when it's ready.
No agent in their right mind expects you to finish and polish a novel in three months if you're writing on spec.

If you have a contract and some signing money that's a different story.

Do not send it half baked.
You'll squander a lovely opportunity.

The truth is you don't know how long it will take. Life has a habit of smacking you in the expectations just for fun.

Plus you may write the thing in three months, but take it from me, your revisions will take another three months if you do it right.

And now for the question: They will still be interested. I keep open files on writers I've reached out to in the past. I don't close them unless they sign elsewhere or die.

Take the time you need. Don't rush and don't dawdle. Make sure you don't rush your revisions.
More than anything other than bad writing, failure to revise enough is the biggest problem I see.


Kitty said...

The best of luck to you, OP! I'm amazed at your life. Just reading it took my breath away.

CynthiaMc said...

Yay! Casablanca was written quickly. Gone With the Wind was not.

Write when you can, the best you can, and when you would be proud to have your name on it, send it out.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

A famous writer said (I can't remember her name but she had 5 kids and a slew of books), "write around the edges of your life."
Good luck OP.
As one who balances on long ago generous offerings delayed by life, from the bottom of my writer's heart, all the best to you.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

All the best to you, OP... Excellent advice from Ms. Janet. "Don't rush and don't dawdle." Love that.


Lisa Bodenheim said...

Savor that feeling! Good advice for you here, OP. Best of luck.

Brenda said...

Best wishes OP.

Pericula Ludus said...

Clearly showing my naïvety here, but I wasn't aware that proper, non-shady agents actually contact writers. Definitely learned something today.
OP, best of luck for all areas of your life, and of course fingers crossed for the writing!

Beth Carpenter said...

Exciting! Go for it, OP! I know of a couple of writers with young children who write in 10=minute chuncks. Take the time you need to make it your best work. As long as you're making steady progress, you're doing okay. Good luck!

Lennon Faris said...

OP, if you can handle what you currently are, you can do this. The agent clearly likes the way you write. That doesn't go out of style.

Pericula, I didn't know that, either. I learn new things all the time.

miriam said...

I got my first my agent because I had posted a query on the SCBWI boards for critique, and she requested the manuscript. She was a newer agent at the time, just building her list, but she owns her own agency now. So you never know when and where luck might shine on you!

Aphra Pell said...

Congrats OP - that's a lovely thing to happen.

I may have "don't dash and don't dawdle" put on a sampler.

John Davis Frain said...

No need to take advice from me, OP, but I know a thing or twelve about revising.

Write the 30K words as fast as you can. Then warn yourself that editing might take longer than the writing. (Way longer for some of us, cough cough.) The story is in the writing. The sparkle comes out in the editing.

And I think everyone will agree on this: the publishing industry moves at a glacial speed. If a year goes by before you submit, it'll feel like a week to that agent, who will likely have an open file on someone who submitted a year earlier.

Keep writing!

Janet Reid said...

Pericula Ludus said:
Clearly showing my naïvety here, but I wasn't aware that proper, non-shady agents actually contact writers. Definitely learned something today.

One of my great publishing triumphs involved stepping on Charlaine Harris' arm as I hurtled across the table to fling myself in front of Stephanie Jaye Evans at Malice Domestic some years back.

She, a genteel Southern lady, with a healthy interest in murder, had just won the William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Unpublished Manuscript award. I was determined to get her in to my clutches.

Yes indeed agents reach out to writers.
Make sure they're legit (they have sales etc.), and it's not common, but it does happen.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


I wrote a short poem for you:)

Write your novel and make it lovely
You won't notice time and date
The agent won't notice either
A lovely novel is never late

Kae Ridwyn said...

"Write around the edges of your life." I REALLY LIKE that one. And that's truly wonderful news, OP - congratulations! (Also, best of luck with selling your house, too...)

Claire Bobrow said...

OP: lots of great advice, encouragement, and poetry has been flung your way. Go for it, and keep us posted. Good luck!

Sam Mills said...

I had this happen (an agent reach out after a good short story) and a few months later I sent off my MS...and got NORMAN'd. Womp womppp. It reminded me to take every opportunity seriously, but not treat any particular one like the One and Only.

J.A. Haigh said...

Wow, thank you Janet, for taking the time to talk me down! Faced with the exciting but terrifying prospect ahead, you are the exact person I needed wise words from.
I am going to stick this post to my wall to remind me to maintain pace but not rush, and to try to offer up my best work.
And to all the lovely reefers, thank you also for your encouragement, advice and poetry- I still can't quite believe any of this is real!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

That is an amazing opportunity, J.A.. The others have given you all the wisdom you need to take that step. What a cool circumstance. Well, back to revision.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Congrats, OP, this is a DREAM!

(and more than one of you have had this happen?? Wow, I feel neglected! ;p)

I have no more reasonable advice to add than what everybody else has said. Finish the novel, and the best of luck to you! As for carving out more writing time, I used to write on my breaks at work (until we got the puppy, and now I come home for lunch) and I sometimes write and/or take notes when I'm in the checkout line at the grocery store.

Though, I was recently editing a story accepted for an anthology and found some VERY OBVIOUS (to me) "I wrote this on my phone" style typos. It was accepted anyway, so I'm very pleased by that and don't know how I'm going to live until its September release date (the anthology is GRIMM, GRIT, AND GASOLINE), but also embarrassed that I found zero of those remaining typos until final proof stage.