One of the lines I like to use with my friends is that “Writing a book is like writing three books.” If they need an explanation, the shorthand is this: “It’s just so much more work than you think it’s going to be.”
But in fact, the three book analogy is a little more apt than that. It really is, I’m not kidding, like writing three books. The first book is the first infodump, those 75,000 or so words that sort of contain a plot. Out of that you pull the second book, the book that makes sense, the book where the gun your character acquired on page 50 doesn’t mysteriously disappear on page 200 just because you need her to be in danger. And finally you preen and polish your way to the third book, the book that has a theme, the book where relationships build the way they’re supposed to, and everything feels resonant and real.
For me, it was when I crossed that boundary from second book to third book that I began being able to actually hold the whole thing in my head. Suddenly gone from my mental canvas were all the little half-formed subplots and alternate courses I’d rejected along the way. I could remember where this bit was, where that bit ended up. And when I made a change to one scene, I had an instant mental map to the four other places I’d need to touch to make it work.
After a lot of that touching, and fiddling, and fussing, I’m ready to say that the third book is done.
I sent out query letters last night, but not before spending a long time worrying about it. I had two voices in my head. One said, “The book is strong. You know the book is strong. The query letter is strong. You have had your group look at it two times (which was perhaps excessive). The synopsis is strong. The first five pages are strong. For God’s sake, send it out and get it working for you.”
And then the other voice would say, “It’s mid-December. Everybody’s busy this time of year. Agents have parties to go to, presents to shop for, relatives to avoid discussing uncomfortable topics with. In short, they have lives. For all you know, they’re already checked out for the month. Do you really want your query to be one of the twelve hundred they come back to on January 2nd? Besides, if you wait and send it mid-January, you can spend another month worrying about whether the third sentence in paragraph 17 might have too many syllables.”
In the end, that last argument was the one that did it. The fact that I simply didn’t know what else I’d do to the book, besides fret over it, convinced me to send it out.
These days most people prefer e-queries, so that’s what I sent. And I already got one response, albeit a “I got your query letter and will review it” response. Which began with the words “This is not a form rejection.” Nearly stopped my heart. “Oh, my God, it’s a non-form rejection!” I thought. “I hate those too!”