Guest Column: Seven Things I’ve Learned So Far, In the Middle of My Journey, by Nancy Parish

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Nancy Parish) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

If you follow the blog, you probably know that I’ve just finished my first middle grade novel.  I’m revising it now.  One thing you wouldn’t know is that at least once a week, I wander over to the desk of Nancy Parish, a co-worker who also writes middle grade.  Nancy is querying agents for her first book, and thick into writing her second.  Since she’s been querying agents for a while, I asked her to write up a small column on what she’s learned thus far, being thick in the agent querying process.  She agreed.

In lieu of a headshot, Nancy
sent this picture of her
beloved cat, Lucky.


7 Things I’ve Learned So Far

by Nancy Parish

1. A finished manuscript isn’t necessarily a publishable manuscript. There are manuscripts I’ve written that are simply dreadful and I’m a bit embarrassed to have submitted them back in the day. Each manuscript gets better than the last. I’ve learned a lot just going through the process.

2. Revise, Revise, Revise. Then let the manuscript sit and revise it again.

3. Writing is a solitary endeavor, but trying to get published doesn’t have to be. When there wasn’t an active local chapter of SCBWI in my area, I posted to a SCBWI listserv and started one. That was six years ago and we’re still going strong. Writing groups like this are a great way to network with other writers and get feedback on query letters, manuscripts etc.  Just recently I swapped novels with two other writers in the group for a critique.

4. Don’t treat Guide to Literary Agents and Writer’s Market like they are phone books. The market guides are a great starting point to determine which literary agencies accept submissions in certain genres but the research shouldn’t end there. I learned to use sites like Google to find more information about agents I wanted to submit to. I now look for interviews the agent has done and try to find examples of books they’ve sold to determine if my manuscript is a good fit. Often times, I crossed the agent off my list because of what I learned in my research.

5. Sell the Sizzle and the Steak. Once the manuscript is the best I can make it, then I focus on the query letter. I’ve learned that for my queries to be effective, shorter is better. I try to write the pitch like it’s the jacket copy of a book.

6. Finding an agent, is like dating. Some agents “Just aren’t that into you”. I’ve found that even if an agent asks for a full manuscript, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will provide feedback. Some won’t even respond – move on!        

7. Rejection sucks but keep going.  Randy Pausch in The Last Lecture said it best: “The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”



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2 thoughts on “Guest Column: Seven Things I’ve Learned So Far, In the Middle of My Journey, by Nancy Parish

  1. Diana

    Your advice is right on the mark, Nancy. Writing ain’t for sissies, that’s for sure! You have to stick to it, do your research, put in a lot of time, etc. — all the things you advise. The brick wall quote is fantastic! Dr. Phil (at least I think it’s Dr. Phil) says, "Winners do what losers won’t." I have the feeling you’re going to be one of those winners!

  2. AmyK

    6. Finding an agent, is like dating. Some agents “Just aren’t that into you”. I’ve found that even if an agent asks for a full manuscript, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will provide feedback. Some won’t even respond – move on!

    Ha ha – I give the same advice to everyone I know. Maybe it’s because I got married later in life I’m used to the silent phone. Believe me, if someone wants something from you, you’ll hear from them. If no one’s calling, MOVE ON! Your phone isn’t broken and your email is working! It will save you from going crazy!


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