“How do I know when it’s time to move on from a story I’ve been working on for so long?”
Great question! I worked on my first book for two years. I tell you, it discouraged me because I wondered how I could ever make any kind of living if writing took so long!
But it was my learning book and at least half of those two years were spent with me editing the book from a complicated, multi-plot story to a straight up romance.
I sent it out and received rejections. It was in the late ‘90s and there weren’t many options, but the doors I knocked on replied, “No thank you.”
By then, I was tired of the book. I didn’t know what else to do with it. It was time to move on.
Another idea came to me while sitting at a high school football game and I got to work on that right away. It was fresh, fun, alive in my heart.
I also changed my strategy. I decided to write a Heartsong Presents. With the first book, I tried for a Bethany House WWII saga. Rightfully, they turned me down.
So for my skill level, maybe a smaller, more focused story – romance – was the answer.
That story became my first published novel! In e-format. Yep, I sold it to an e-publisher.
By now, the Lord had connected me with a published Heartsong author and we collaborated together to create the Lambert series.
So, I was on my way.
The first book slept peacefully in my closet. Later, when I needed parts of a novel for Love Starts With Elle hero, Heath McCord, I pulled from that book.
So, where are you with your novel? Is it your first? Your fifth? Tenth? Are you struggling to keep going? Do you have vision or a passion for the story?
Is it time to move on?
Here’s some guidelines for sticking with a story:
- Good feedback from editors, agents or other knowledgeable writers?
- Your vision and passion remains high for the story.
- You can see clearly how to improve the manuscript.
- You’ve not rewritten it so many times – based on feedback – you can see the original heart of the story.
- You final in contests or get manuscript requests from editors or agents.
Here’s when you need to move on from a story:
- You’ve changed it so many times – based on feedback – you don’t recognize the original vision.
- You’re heart and passion for the story couldn’t fill a thimble.
- You have no idea how to improve the manuscript. If you have an idea, you’re not sure you want to do it.
- It’s been rejected by everyone you’ve submitted to and your mentors are suggesting a new, fresh idea.
- Your contest scores indicate you have a long way to go.
- You’ve learned much more about the business and know your book will not readily fit into the current market. That’s cool! Move on.
There are stories all over the map about the publication journey. Author Tamera Alexander worked on her first book for four years before it got published. On the other hand, author Jill Eileen Smith had ten or more closet manuscripts gathered up over twenty years.
Charles Martin had 120+ rejections before he sold The Dead Don’t Dance. Susan Warren wrote four or five novels before she sold a novella to Tyndale. When they asked her, “What else do you have?” She pulled out and polished those closet manuscripts.
There’s no end to possibilities. To closed and opened doors.
What is God saying about the book that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere? It’s okay to put it away and start over.
Here’s what I find on a rewrite – when I try to edit what I’ve already written, I tend to stick with that story and accept the weaknesses. But when I start over from scratch, I craft the story with stronger elements. I work through the weaknesses. The story isn’t as fun or flowing as the first draft because I’m actually thinking through and working out the problems.
So often, when trying to rewrite or improve a first novel, or a well-rejected novel, we can’t see what really needs to be changed to make the manuscript sellable.
If that’s where you are, start over. Sometimes we don’t want to start over because we don’t want to wait for publication. But it could be on the first or rewritten-rejected manuscript, we could find ourselves waiting forever.
Only you can determine if it’s time to set a manuscript aside, but if you do, do so with confidence and give your whole heart to your next work!