The road to publication is lined with stoplights. Long stoplights. Stoplights that are so long you start to wonder whether they might be forever stuck on red.
It often takes years between the time a writer finishes a novel and the time it appears on the shelves. In between, there is a lot of waiting and wondering. Will the agent you queried agree to represent you? Will the publishing house your agent approached offer to buy your manuscript? What types of revisions will the editor suggest? What will the cover art look like? When will the publication date be? What type of promotion will the publisher launch to attract readers?
Tom Petty says, “The waiting is the hardest part.” He’s half right. In publishing, the waiting and the wondering are both excruciating. Once that manuscript leaves your hands, there is nothing you can do but hope others out there will appreciate it.
What’s a control freak to do?
For sanity’s sake, I have to try to accept the fact that I can’t change the stoplights, and instead concentrate on those parts of the journey I can control.
Here are some things we as writers can control:
Our writing. There is no guarantee that any of our books will be published. But the best chance we have to reach that goal is to write the best books we possibly can. If we send out manuscripts that aren’t quite ready, we relinquish one of the few areas in which we have control. We place our books' fate into other people’s hands before we have done all we can to help them succeed.
Our understanding of the craft and of the market. With all the writing and publishing classes, books, magazines, messages boards, list serves, blogs and Web sites out there, it is easier than ever to educate ourselves on craft and the market.
Our professionalism. Publishing is a business, and agents and editors are businesspeople. We can demonstrate our commitment to our writing careers by communicating with them in a professional way.
Our connections. Attending conferences and workshops, participating in online chats and message boards, commenting on fellow writers’ blogs, attending book signings and readings … these are all terrific ways of networking within the writing and publishing communities, and one never knows where one of these connections might lead. And while it is great to attend a conference or a workshop, it's even better to volunteer to help out. Connections formed behind the scenes can be invaluable.
British writer Rodney Collin said: "One has to wait without impatience for what should come, and yet at the same time do everything within one's power as though one were impatient and as though one were solely responsible."
Bottom line: The more I attend to the things I can control, the better I feel about the things I can’t.
Update: For some terrific additions to these points, check out Gail Maki Wilson's blog entry responding to this post. Appreciate your take on this, Gail!