Here are the steps for writing a novel, in order of difficulty:
- Submitting the manuscript and waiting for a decision.
- Writing the synopsis.
- Writing the book.
- Writing the query/blurb.
Sure, writing the actual book is a challenge, but it’s not the hardest part of the process. Although the synopsis doesn’t take as long to write as the book, I think it’s more difficult to put together from a creative standpoint. Like most (all?) writers, I dread writing synopses. I always feel like one of the ugly stepsisters from Cinderella, trying to stuff my plot into an itty bitty shoe. And the shoe is made of glass, so that sucker could break open and become a giant mess at any moment.
What’s a synopsis, you ask? Think of it like a book report. Most agents, editors, and publishers want to see one, because it gives them an idea of your overall plot. They want to know all the twists and turns in advance, and they want to know how your novel ends.
A synopsis shouldn’t be salesy, but it should be interesting. It’s kind of a weird thing to write, because you’re forced to reveal all your book’s secrets. This is the opposite of what you do when you write the book. If your book is an onion, with delicate layers of plot and revelation, your synopsis is one of those compact mirrors that come with powder foundation — a squished reflection of the most important parts of your book. Page length varies by publisher/agent, but most fall between three and seven pages. Mine usually end up being around four pages, and it takes me about one week to write one. By comparison, I can throw down about three book chapters in one week.
But the synopsis isn’t the hardest thing about writing a book.
No, it’s the waiting that gets to you — and mostly because you know it’s possible there’s a no at the end of it. And I don’t mean “possible” in the way you might say, “Oh, it’s possible I’ll bump into Mike Rowe on the street and he’ll ask me to marry him.” I’m talking possible as in, “It’s possible I will eat every single one of these cheese fries.” It’s happened before, and it’ll take something extraordinary to stop it from happening again.
By the way, how sexy is Mike Rowe? That voice, those muscles, the twinkle in his eye when he’s subtly flirting with a worker at the waste treatment facility? Reow meow!
What’s that? You brought me a decapitated fish head? I’m honestly okay with it.
So when you’re done writing the book, and you’ve finished your synopsis and query, it’s time to submit your work. If, like me, you don’t have a literary agent, you submit to editors at publishing houses. The process for submitting to an agent versus a publisher is pretty much the same. You carefully read through their submission requirements, and you compose a respectful and personalized email, and you send your materials to them for their review.
Then you wait.
I’m an impatient person. And an anxious one. And by “anxious” I mean “neurotic.” I think a lot of writers are this way, which is unfortunate, because nothing in publishing moves quickly. Writing is one of the most solitary endeavors you can take on. You live for weeks and months with these voices in your head, and when you’re finally finished bringing these characters to life, you’re eager to share your work.
Most of all, you want to see if other people think your work is worth sharing with the world.
How I feel 82% of the time after I’ve submitted a manuscript. (I spend the other 18% eating my feelings.)
And there is really nothing you can do to hurry the wait along, or to influence the people you’ve asked to represent you or publish you. You just wait.
And try not to get caught up in a guessing game of what-ifs. What if I’m not that good? What if my ideas are crap? What if I get another email that starts with “unfortunately…”?
For about a week after I submit a manuscript, I go through this intense, gut-churning anxiety where I read and re-read the manuscript, trying to judge it objectively. I pace. I pester my husband with questions like, “It’s been a week. That’s probably a good sign, right?”
Him: “Sure, honey.”
Me: “What do you mean?”
“You said ‘sure.'”
“Wait, what are we talking about, again?”
And this is why The Wait is the hardest thing about writing a book. Because few people will understand the helplessness you feel. Because you have to continue on with your life while you wait to hear back. Because you don’t know when the yes or no is coming. It’s just…out there. You have to wait for it.
Rejection is possible. It’s part of this process, but I didn’t put it in the steps for writing a novel. Because you can’t keep moving forward if you build rejection into your work.
The Wait isn’t about waiting for a no.
The Wait is about being determined to keep going until you get a yes. And another one. And another and another. It’s about conquering the fear of failure.
And that’s why the best thing you can do during The Wait is to write another book. I wrote Ivar’s Prize during The Wait on the first manuscript I ever finished. That first book wasn’t published, and it probably won’t be, but Ivar was.
I am determined to keep going. To write another. And another and another.
(But I’m still going to eat all the cheese fries.)