QueryTracker Blog

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Learning to Let Go

Courtesy of littlekata
It begins with the words The End, and it's something that all writers have to learn.

Publishing--whether commercial or self--is a roller coaster ride with plenty of ups and downs--with the end goal of releasing your book out into the world.

Just as writers must learn how to craft words into sentences, and those sentences into characters and plots and stories, they must also learn the craft of letting go.

Letting go begins by finishing a piece and sending it to a new set of eyes. It means stepping back so that someone who has never walked in your world before can poke and prod, pointing out holes and tangles and things that don't work.

After you let your story go to beta readers and/or editors, and after you've fixed and mended and made the story shine, you're ready for the next step of letting go: querying--condensing your novel into a hundred or so words and sending it out to agents and editors. This is a hard step, because whether or not an agent steps forward to offer representation or an editor makes an offer--both of these things are 100% out of your control. The only thing you can control is telling the story the very best way you know how and making sure it gleams. The fate of your novel (if you pursue trade publishing) will depend on other people, and this will mean letting go a little more.

Then, once you've found an agent and have landed a publishing deal, you might have to let go a some more when it comes to edits and your cover. Small things, comparatively, but sometimes they can feel so big. Other times, they can feel just right.

And then comes the biggest step in letting go: when your book is in the hands of your readers.

So much of what can make or break an author (popularity, sales, etc.) is out of our hands. All we can really do is write a good story, edit hard, and let people know it exists. Sometimes it can be tempting to try to help things along, but in my opinion, it's vital that authors learn how to let go when their book is in the domain of readers.

What are some of the things we need to learn to let go of?

  • The need to please everyone. No book is capable of pleasing everyone, everywhere, all the time. Your book is going to be for some people, but not for everyone. Many 1 or 2 star reviews come when your book falls into the hands of someone who is outside your target audience. And while this might be a hard thing if you read your reviews (I definitely do not!), it's a good thing in that your book is traveling to readers rather than languishing, invisible and unread.
  • The need for 4 and 5 star reviews. This ties in closely with the previous point. Most authors seem to consider anything lower than a 4 star review a failure, but readers often see things differently. As a reader, I've found that 2 and 3 star reviews are the most helpful in determining whether or not I'll read something. The very thing that bothered another reader may be something I love, and vice versa.
  • The need to help your book along. Sooner or later, your story is going to have to stand on its own feet. It can be tempting to call for backup when things aren't going exactly as you planned. Please resist the urge to rally your readers/friends/colleagues to down vote critical reviews and up vote positive reviews, ask them to post positive reviews, or any number of other tricks there are to inflate how your books ratings appear. None of those things are ethical, and while they may benefit you in the short term, chances are good they'll come back to bite you later. This has already been an eventful year for authors that are both trade and self-published. Learn from their mistakes. It's a lot less painful that way.
In all of this letting go, it's important for an author to hang on to a few things:

  • Be daring and willing to learn. This will involve making mistakes, some of them spectacular, but your mistakes can teach you a lot if you're listening. Publishing is changing and evolving as we speak. It's important to be willing to learn how to do new things, see the world in a different way, and be courageous enough to do things that might seem frightening. (Querying is definitely not for the faint at heart. :))
  • Stand tall. Be proud of the work and effort you put into your stories--even if you're the only one. Writing and editing and polishing is hard work. Work that can consume you even as it feeds you. And it's not something everyone can stick with.
  • Be strong. Know where you stand ethically and don't be afraid not to budge. It can be hard when you're first starting out, or even if you have a number of books under your belt. Few, if any, careers run smoothly. It's easy to do the right thing when things are going well, but it can be hard when you hit what seems like bump after bump. During those times, keep your integrity close and remind yourself that now is not forever.
  • Choose to laugh. Sometimes, at the end of a long, hard day, you can either laugh or cry. Crying is okay, but when you learn how to unearth small delights along the difficult road that is publishing--especially if you have someone to share those delights with--you will find a joy in the journey that no bump or setback can completely erase.
One of the very best things about letting go--besides maintaining your sanity--is that letting go of your novel allows you to make room for another. And another. And another. :)

Danyelle Leafty| @danyelleleafty writes YA and MG fantasy. She is the author of The Fairy Godmother Dilemma series (CatspellFirespellApplespell, and Frogspell),  Slippers of Pearl, and Bitten: A Novel of Faerie, and can be found on her blog. She can also be found on Wattpad.


Dahlia Adler said...

"As a reader, I've found that 2 and 3 star reviews are the most helpful in determining whether or not I'll read something. The very thing that bothered another reader may be something I love, and vice versa." I LOVE this comment. I've come to realize this as well, even about 1-stars, which are often "I can't believe there was drinking a book for teens!" Just remembering how subjective everything is can be so wonderful for a writer's sanity. (And finding some great books doesn't hurt either!)

Great post!

Mart Ramirez said...

AWESOME advice!

Mara Rae said...

"Now is not forever." I need to print that out and put it on my wall. Great post :)

Stina said...

I love your point, Danyelle, about NOT reading your reviews. There's no point driving yourself nuts with them. And Yes!!! about not having your friends give only positive reviews. I'm always suspect of books with only 4 or 5 star reviews. That doesn't make me want to read it.