March 21, 2011 | By: Tracy

How Do You Know When It's Time To Give Up?

We all know rejection is par for the course in publishing. If you're a newbie you've at least heard about it. If you're a veteran you've probably lived through your fair share of it.

We've also all heard the mantra "it only takes one YES" . . . but sooner or later there might come a point when it's time to give up.


I don't mean writing, in general, because if it's an activity you truly love you'll probably never really be able to walk away from it anyway. I'm talking about how to know when it's time to give up on a particular manuscript.

I've seen some writers abandon a story after one revision and a short round of querying. They deem it time to move on from that particular project and begin working on the next. On the flip side, I've seen those who dig in their heels through multiple revisions and refuse to give up even though they've garnered rejections numbering into the triple digits.

So which should you do??

Sometimes, manuscripts -- through no fault of their own -- just don't get picked up. There might not be anything fundamentally wrong with the premise, the writing or the voice . . . but there's some undefined reason it isn't catching the right people no matter how hard you try.

So how do you know if it's really time to put a manuscript aside for a little while and focus on bringing the next in line up to the query forefront? How do you determine whether you're giving up on a project too soon or wasting time that could be put to better use?

Sadly, I don't have a definitive answer for this because, like everything else in this business, it's a subjective decision. That being said, I've scoured the web for some links that tackle this issue.

Peggy Blair -- How many agents should you query before giving up?

Writer Beware -- When persistence becomes a vice

Book-A-Week -- Calling it quits on a manuscript

I guess the bottom line is, you have to go with your gut. Being rejected SUCKS, whether it's a query, partial or full . . . or coming from an agent, editor or publishing house. But if you really feel that you aren't ready to give up on your story, don't! Whereas if you've gotten to the point you're seriously starting to hate your own manuscript, then it might be time to put it away for a while.

I'm curious as to what you all think. Have you had to give up on a manuscript at some point, or are you still plodding away on your first baby? If you have called it quits with a particular MS, what was it that prompted you to make that decision?

25 witty remarks:

salarsenッ said...

I completely agree with you! Follow your gut. I'm at this point, right now, with my ms. I had 3 'almosts' with agents but then stopped querying after 11. I decided that something was missing. Basically, I think it's my inexperience and the editing we'll need to do. So I've stepped back, am reading and studying and writing other projects, while I'm rewriting the ms in a different tense. (My gut tells me so. LOL)

Christine Danek said...

This is so true. I have not quiered yet, but have put my first one aside to start another. I was at a point where I wasn't ready to revise a particular section. Burned out I guess. I started another and that one is starting out a little crazy, but I'm plugging through.

Sarah McCabe said...

I am very monogamous when it comes to my story. I don't think I could ever abandon it. This is just one reason I've decided to go with e-book self publishing. I won't have to wait for acceptance or rejection from agents and then editors. I can just let the readers decide for themselves whether its worth reading while I work on my next project.

Rogue Mutt said...

If I went with my gut I'd quit after 1 rejection. I think 30 is a good sample size. If you don't get even a partial from that, it's time to quit. If you get a couple partials, then maybe bump it up to 50 or so. On my blog a while back I went through the math of it. I think 100 was the maximum in any case for one manuscript.

Matthew MacNish said...

New layout? I like it.

Kari Marie said...

Hey - check out your fancy new blog design. I have no expereince in this querying thing but I plan on taking up drinking when it's time to start.

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

I haven't made it query yet, and I do dread it to some degree. However, I had to call it quits on a previous WiP because the plot never fully developed and it took me a good year before I saw that I had to just STOP. It's a gut thing, I think and there does come a point in time where I like to think of it as "moving on" I hate the word quit.

Katheryn is SUCH a good villain! You're right, I never know what to expect from that girl, ever.

Elena Solodow said...

As always, it comes down to gut. I worked on Novel #2 for four years before finally realizing that it was an untreatable train wreck. Novel #3 was a success in that it was my first "good" novel, but after months of querying and receiving a lot of great agent feedback but no official bites, I'm close to shelving that as well. As usual, it comes to developing a gut sense of when you've done all that you can for a book *in that particular time*. Depending on your level of experience, sometimes you have to move on in order to learn more and experiment with other things. Working on the same book over and over can be detrimental to your development.

Colene Murphy said...

Oooo New blog! I always wondered about that when I started too. Still do from time to time, but it's mostly premature give-up-itis that is infecting my brain with negativity when that happens. I'm with you, I think it's gut. You know if you can make a story better or not after a while of experience. And if you can't think of a way to improve, then you gotta shelve.
Sucks, but true. And if it's the best story in the world and nothing could ever be improved because it's already flawless, well,'re delusional ;)

Chris Phillips said...

I think 30 is a good sample space to see if you need to tweak the query. I go through the list of agents of query tracker for my genre, if it was worth the time to write it, it's worth the time to query it.

David Powers King said...

Some excellent links, Tracy.

I take rejections to mean, "it's not ready yet." After all, if it can be improved upon, you want the better to be published. For me, I hang it up and move on after three drafts, then look at it again later after another project is done.

J.L. Campbell said...

I haven't called it quits yet on any of mine. I believe in them and therefore I never really retire any. They get shoved aside for a time until I have the energy to work on them anew.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Excellent post, Tracy! I love it that you included the links to some great articles, too.

11 days until OPENING DAY!!!! :-)

Meredith said...

For me, it's just a gut feeling. And even then, I just say I'm putting the manuscript on the backburner, not quitting it completely. Maybe someday I'll get inspiration for it again. Great post!

Melissa said...

I haven't abandoned an MS yet. I was CONSIDERING it with the one I'm working on now...but My CPS were coming back with some pretty stellar overall feelings on it and it's renewed the confidence in my story/idea. I hadn't even started querying it yet...I'm just dealing with a lot of slump and stress from school right now and I took it out on my MS. I think, when it comes down to it, it really is a gut thing and no one can tell you when it's time to shelve it.

PS. I LOVE your new blog layout and all the tabs! Looks good hun!

LTM said...

On Debut Novel, after I'd gotten a good 18 full MS rejections, I realized I needed to pull it. They all came quickly, and truth be told, finally someone said "you have a pacing problem." At that point, I didn't even know what that meant!

I think it's an instinctive thing. DN is on the shelf, but not forgotten! I just fell in love with something else, and once the ball's rolling, I'll get back and revise her~ :o) <3

Arlee Bird said...

As long as you believe in what you're doing you should not give up, but listen and learn from the critigues and advice you may get. Be honest with yourself though and turn your baby inside out and upside down and then if it still makes sense and you still believe then never give up until you've convinced someone else.

Tossing It Out
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E.C. Smith said...

It's a gut thing for me...that instintual voice that say. That's done. Let's move on. Having said that, even after finishing an ms, I always start something new. I may go back and revised the other mss, but I always wants something new to engage me. That way, I have some up and coming to query with new if the ms before doesn't get the response I wanted it to get.

Yah, rejections suck, but there something to be learned from them too. Often, if I read between the lines, I find that little gem...the piece of je ne said quoi that's the missing component in the story.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a pure gut thing.

I put one of my projects aside last year, thinking that's it I'm done I can't carry on working on this anymore.

But my guy kept calling me up and telling me I wasn't done with the project. Last week Friday I finished the rewrite and am just giving it a little time to 'air' before I jump in with my editing process.

I have other projects which I've dropped into my trunk and they stay dead. This one didn't.

E.C. Smith said...

BTW, Tracy. Pop by my blog when you've got a chance. I've a gift waiting for you!

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Thanks for the links.

Rachel Morgan said...

I haven't been rejected yet because I still don't have a finished ms to query with! So for now I'm FAAAR from having to consider this question (thank goodness!!).

Elle Strauss said...

I've pretty much had to walk away from each ms for some period of time, and then come back with fresh eyes and enthusiasm. Sometimes you just need a break to see clearly again.

Great post!

Christopher said...

I generally give up about 50 pages into the writing of the project. So I probably won't be able to really give much of opinion on this one.

Adina West said...

I think after slaving away on a project for at the very least months, and probably years, it's hard not to get attached. But anyone who wants to build a career in this industry has to hope they have more than one book in them! So it's essential to be able to move on and start something new even while querying/submitting a finished project.

Once my first proper MS was submission-ready, I started querying with a batch of 25 agents. I had a further list of 25 more agents ready to go if I struck out there, but fortunately found my lovely agent in that first round of querying.

So...I was prepared to do 50 queries on that manuscript before putting it on the shelf. The thing to remember is that a project can always be resurrected - and if a publishing deal arrives, earlier projects may still be sold later.

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