I was thinking about something on the way to work yesterday. It has to do with querying. (You can tell what's been on my mind lately, though I am not querying right now, nor am I particularly close to being ready to query. I do have a 2012 goal to query a certain novel before the first half of next year is gone.)
I kept circling around all the different things people say about when you know your book is ready to go out to agents. Many people say they really weren't ready, and they got lucky. Others mention several rewrites or heavy revisions or throwing the book in a trunk for two years before revisiting it. People getting ready to jump into querying for the first time ask how you know if you're REALLY ready, if your craft is good enough, if your story is solid. It's seriously anxiety-causing.
But I'm not exactly talking about that. This is what I was thinking about: let's say you do query, and you get an agent. You have to work on the book you queried for however many months it takes you to do revisions with your new agent. And let's say the awesome happens and your book sells. You have to spend more months revising, and then you have to do all kinds of copy edits and other stuff to prepare for it to come out. Then it has to come out. You have to do book signings and readings and promote it. You have to ignore the bad reviews.
Basically, you have to spend a lot of time with that manuscript. And I had never thought about this when I'd queried before, but (at least in my case) I think you have to actively WANT to debut with the novel you're submitting. I know this probably sounds ridiculous, very duh-like. I promise, I'm not trying to state the obvious. Because for a long time this was not obvious to me.
The interesting thing is, I've never really thought "oh wow, I WANT to debut with this novel I wrote, this book is totally ME as a writer!" (at least, not until recently.) I finished whatever novel, then queried because it was the next step and a good way of actively pursuing my goal of being published. And I obviously liked what I had written or I would not have queried it--I don't mean to make it sound like I was ever blasé about querying. Blasé is the last thing I ever was. But I didn't deeply consider what any of my old novels would say about me or my ability as a writer or even what kind of stuff people could continue to expect from me if I debuted with one of those stories. Intellectually I knew it, of course. But I didn't feel it.
I didn't FEEL it until I wrote a manuscript during Camp NaNo in August and a lot of realizations fell into my lap.
So all my unpublished, unagented friends: we are in an advantageous spot. I know it doesn't always feel like it (oh, do I know) but we are still all potential, and that is a great place to be. We haven't yet defined ourselves by a manuscript. We still get to think of exactly what we want to say about ourselves as writers. And we have time to do it. We have time to write new stories and revise them, and query or not query, and go back and revise again. We can learn about ourselves in the quiet of not having a deadline or professional revisions to work on. This is a place that, once we leave it, we can't return to. We are lucky to be here.
I don't know what will happen with this manuscript I want to query before 2012 is halfway over. (I WILL do it. I will!) But I do know this: at the time of querying, in terms of everything from the plot to each individual word choice, it will be the novel I absolutely want to debut with. (Even if it ends up not being.) Because that's how I'll really know I'm ready.