Ready to Fly?

The sparrows who live in the bird house outside our kitchen window have birthed two sets of babies already this summer.

We were surprised at how quickly the babies grew and flew from the nest. After a week or two of constant tweeting and fluttering outside our window, suddenly one day, we awoke to silence and stillness. The birds were gone, already almost full size, ready to survive on their own.

How do we know when our books are ready to fly? We've prepared for their birth, nurtured and cared for them with loving dedication, but how do we know when we should push them from the nest into the wide world of agents and editors?

As I've traveled the blog, facebook, and twitter realms I've heard many laments about writers sending their books out too soon. Agents often remark that one of the top reasons for sending a rejection is because the writing ability is not strong enough.

Here's a quote from Rachelle Gardner: In the fiction queries I receive, the execution is the biggest reason for rejection. Some people have terrific ideas for stories that sound like they’re going to knock my socks off. But when I start to read, I realize this is probably the first draft of the first book they’ve ever tried to write, and they haven’t actually taken the time to develop their craft prior to submission. (Truthfully, it bums me out, because often the ideas are really good.)

Recently, I cleaned out a closet and came across the first five novels I wrote. As I browsed through them, I couldn't even remember writing one of them, probably my first one. All it took was one glance at the first page to see large paragraphs of background dump and setting description to know that baby had never been ready to fly. Thankfully, I never pushed it out.

But how many of the others did I send out too soon? Probably most of them. With each book I continued to study the craft of writing. And with each book, I continued to practice all of the things I was learning. But none of them ever reached a truly mature stage. They were all just part of the necessary process of growing.

Sometimes we can do everything possible to nurture our writing (everyone left great ideas in the comments of the last post about how to do that!). But ultimately, even with all of the food we shove at our writing, growth is slow and happens over time.

Maturation in our writing is not something we can rush. It's easy to get excited about the next stage--seeing our babies fly. But it hurts when we push them out only to see them fall flat, get stepped on and rejected. Sending a manuscript to a crit group or professional editor might be a way to make a practice attempt to see how close we're getting.

So how do we know when our writing is ready to fly? Here's my thought: if we've crafted the story well, if we've nurtured our writing skills, and we've allowed time and practice to mature us, then perhaps we're just about ready to stretch our wings and give it a try.

What do you think? Have you ever sent your work out too soon? How do you know when your work is ready to fly? I'd love to hear your opinions.

Have a Happy Fourth of July!


  1. Oh, yes, a long time ago in my huge ignorance and naivety I queried a few agents with my initial mess of a novel (by initial, I mean after it went through one critique revision). That same story has gone through about another 50 to 100 revisions by me while writing four other stories. I need breaks between rounds to get a fresh perspective.

    I vowed to never send out again until I knew how to write...well!

    I'm just now wondering if I'm near that point and preparing to pitch my newest story in the fall. Who knows if I'm ready. I sure don't, but I do know that I'm much better off than I was six years ago when I first began writing.

  2. Yep! I'm definitey guilty of thinking my work was ready before it actually was. And I'm so thankful that nothing came of the ten or so querries I sent out. I loved writing that first novel, but it wasn't THE novel that was destined for the book shelves.

  3. I definitely did. :-) And boy was I excited. LOL

  4. I'm not guilty.....YET! lol Actually, when I first started I had grand ideas and daydreams about how my books would get snatched up. Well, after getting into the blogging world, I quickly realized how unrealistic those dreams were. The more I learn, the more I realize how unprepared I am. But that's okay. I will keep writing and working at it and someday I will be ready.

  5. This is such a great post that I think many people will resonate with. When I wrote my first story...two years ago, or was it three? Wow, it was three. I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, other than I finished a NOVEL! And when can I get it published? So I sent it out to Steeple Hill. They requested the full. I thought I was on my way! Then I got it back in the mail a week later. Thanks. But no thanks. Since then, I sort of stopped writing for a year or so. Picked it back up again, this time seriously, last summer, before Brogan was born. And whoa, have I learned LOADS! As High as the Heavens was FILLED with head hopping, telling, back story...and I didn't even know any of that was wrong. With each story I write, I feel like I'm that much closer to publication. I think it's good to keep in mind that not all our stories, especially those first ones, were ever meant to fly.

    I haven't submitted or queried anything in a really, really long time. I've learned my lesson in immediate gratification. I think I'm going to wait until the conference.

  6. Hi Jody -

    Ah yes. This brings back not-to-pleasant memories. A workshop teacher telling me I had a nice first draft. An editor commenting, "craft issues." I thought it was pretty good at the time.

    Hopefully, I've made progress. We'll see at the next conference.


  7. This is a thinker for me. I've written for years, earned a degree in creative writing, had multiple people read/review my novel and even an editor provide insight and I still grapple with whether I sent queries out too early.

    I'm not sure I'll know, but I'm willing to keep working at it and I plan to keep on writing, so the hope is I'll keep improving and learning more, while not losing hope.
    Have a great celebration tomorrow!
    ~ Wendy

  8. I think one of the secrets is to ALWAYS give a manuscript some breathing room. When you're ready to start querying, first set it aside for a few weeks, a month, and don't look at it all. Then return to it with fresh eyes, do the edits that will be apparent, then consider submitting. That space between finishing the writing and querying is a big help.

  9. i'm laughing...since i moved back to MS, my mom found this old partial story i wrote in JUNIOR HIGH. Oh. My. Gosh. hysterical read, no doubt. i wished i had finished it, b/c i have no idea where i was trying to go with this high school romance. but needless to say, reading it was like reading someone else. oh...bits and pieces of my voice came through...but the amount of craft i've learned since then is really amazing. and to think...there's so much more to learn out there!

    great post...who knew baby birds were ready to be on their own so fast?

  10. No matter how hard we try or how well we think we are prepared I think there are a few butterflies when we send out something that means something to us - whether it's a book, an article or just presenting a speech. I think it is the care for the piece that causes the concern. With that said I guess that we are never completely comfortable with our baby birds flying on the their own.

  11. I did some querying on my novel way too soon. I thought I had it ready after only one round of very slight edits...boy was I naive. I'm hoping that after one more round of edits and one more round of beta readers it will maybe be up to snuff. Luckily, I was only stupid enough to query 4 agents before the reality of how awful my ms was hit me.

  12. Yes, I did send some stories out too soon. In the case of my first novel, I believe it was ready to fly. I got nice letters back, but no acceptance. Many years later, just to get it read, I placed it in the hands of its audience, children. The ones who read it loved it. I know that isn't all you need, but when I get ready to send out, that book will be one of the two I choose to push.

  13. YES! I pushed mine out WAY too early. But... instead of shelving the project and writing afresh with the newfound knowledge I have, I determined to *fix* my current project and make it flyable. I guess I'm a huge "non-quiter". Failure is not an option and in some wierd way, if I put a book aside and don't improve on it till it's flyable, especially if I think the story is really good, then the book gets marked with a big fat F for failure and I feel discouarged. I guess I did put aside my FIRST FIRST book, but that was different. It wasn't finished and I worked on it for eight years. LOL.

    Anyway, Your point is WELL taken. I think most everyone submits SOMETHING the first time that is less than stellar. Part of the learning process.

  14. It's amazing to me that so many of us put our work out there too soon! One of my rejections letters even stated that specifically!

  15. I am definitely guilty of this and I've done it more than once. It's so hard to tell when your story is ready, though. Five years ago I definitely thought one of my stories was ready but looking back on it I really had no idea what I was doing. I'd definitely recommend trying to get one or more critiques from another writer and someone you trust. I believe, early on in my writing life, this would have helped immensely. But not really knowing better, I did a brief edit myself and then sent my story on its way. I've learned a lot since then and it's a journey I don't regret, though some of it is hard to look back on without cringing :D

  16. My honest opinion is that my books won't be ready until they have about 5 books written after them, and I've worked on perfecting my craft. I knew a long time ago that I probably won't get published until I'm 45, and even then it might be a long shot. I know what I need to become, but as you say, it takes time. I think a lot of new writers don't realize HOW much time. Many young writers are lucky enough to secure agents, sell a book, and do well. But most of them are not. Some people are more talented than others, and perfect their skills fast. I'm not one of those!

    This won't stop me from trying before I'm 45, though. I'll do the best I can, and keep working on what I love. Thanks for these two great posts. They're very inspiring. :)

  17. Another great post, Jody. Happy Fourth!

  18. Yes, Jody, I've sent four books out too soon and don't regret it at all.

    I needed to feel in the game, needed to believe in the possibilities. And with each rejection, I learned something new to apply to my writing. It's all helped me grow, and if I wouldn't have received those rejections, I wouldn't have grown as much or as fast.

    Have a terrific 4th of July!

  19. I am preparing any day now to push one of my little birdies out of the nest so this post is very current for me. How do I know that it is ready? I've revised, edited, and received feedback from beta readers, but really I just feel that it is time. Hopefully, I'm right and it is ready to leave the nest.

  20. This is a timely post for me, because I've been debating about what to do with a shelved sort-of-first novel. It was thoroughly revised and sent out just four times several years ago. All four rejections were kind and personal but by then I had moved on to new mss. With each new one I've learned so much--enough to recognize how feeble my first effort was. I believe the underlying story has merit but can't decide if I should begin from scratch and totally rewrite it, or just leave it on the shelf and continue with my current work. Instinct says to abandon it, but it's hard to leave the characters behind.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.


  21. Jody,
    This post and the past couple were so rich and informative. Great food for thought. What an appropriate analogy with the baby birds. (And a great sight to behold, I'm sure. We had a family of little wrens in a birdhouse outside my office window and I'd watch and listen to them during the day.)

    I also enjoyed reading about your time on Facebook and Twitter. Despite my skepticism and reluctance to do either, I can see they can be great professional tools to build a following and stay connected.

    Have a happy 4th.

  22. Perhaps the easiest way to know if your work is ready to fly is to ask someone objective. Not your mom, not your newbie writer buddy, but someone who has been there and done that for awhile. For some people it's an author who is farther along on the journey, for some it is an agent, for some it's finally an editor who sees something to love in your work.

    When I look back on what I sent out in the beginning, nope, it wasn't ready yet. But, how did I know unless I let someone else look at it? Like Jill, I don't regret sending out my work when I thought it was ready, because I learned so much when those rejections came back.

  23. Guilty as charged. It isn't until I've had others really critique my book that I feel better about this one and wish I could totally rewrite my others.
    We learn as we go and always will look back at some of our work and say, "UGH" what was I thinking?

  24. Blessings.....
    I agree with your second to last paragraph. Some things you don't know till you know.

    Have a great day and a blessed week.

  25. Jody: How come you're so wise? You can't be over thirty-five. I know, I know, you got married at seven, right?

    I have sent articles and books out too soon, then cried when they broke their little legs on the pavement, or never flew again. Hopefully we learn from our stupidity, or others'.

    BTW, I'd like to know how long it took you from the first ms. in the closet to now? Care to share?

    Great post! Jen

  26. Jeanette,
    You are so sweet! I wish I could claim to be 35, but I don't have too much longer before I exit the 30's! And, from my first ms to now? Hmmm...maybe 14 years? But I had a God-given rest during that time too (about 8-9 years of no writing). It's been a long journey but I've learned a ton along the way!

  27. Yes, I have definitely sent a work out too soon! How do we know when it is ready? I think when an editor finally says, "Yes." Or when people whose judgments we trust say, "Send it in." I really like what you wrote here about the maturation process. I read some of my stuff from 20 years ago and am inclined to just throw it all away.

    I quoted you in my most recent post. Please read it if you get a chance and let me know if it is ok with you to have it there. Thanks. wb


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