The Long Road

Dealing with discouragement when there’s still a long road between you and your dream

Agent Chip MacGregor has been answering questions on his blog. Recently, he fielded this one:

Q: At what point — if ever — in the process of grinding out a first novel should one begin to think about securing the services of an agent?



Chip MacGregor: Did you know that most first-time novelists don’t sell their manuscripts? In fact, the industry average is either six or seven, depending on who is doing the telling. That is, most authors can expect to complete six or seven novels before they have something ready to sell. So, um, you may or may not be ready with your first novel. Most are not. –

ID-10058486Six novels, that’s the number I keep hearing. It takes writing about six novels before you are ready to produce commercially viable work.

My first two attempts at novels both wound up about halfway done and abandoned. I’m going to collectively count that as one novel attempted. I have one completed novel that I never let anyone read outside of the first chapter. I didn’t want to ask someone to read a novel that even I didn’t feel was ready. Eventually I put that one aside. I’m going to count that one as novel attempt number two.

The novel I’m currently working on, I’m going to count as novel attempt number three. This means that even when I finish this one, I’ve still got three more to write before I’m ready.

Should the four short stories (one of which got selected for the Adventures in Creation collection) count as another novel attempt?

The One

I can’t tell you how much it kills me that this novel will probably not be ‘the one’ that gets published.

Growing up, I never dated well. What I mean by that is every girl I dated was going to be ‘the one’. I never saw the point in dating a girl if it wasn’t going somewhere. I could never casually date or date just for fun. I dived in with both feet straight to the deep end (and scared at least a couple of girls off in the process).

I’m the same way with my novels. I can’t stand the idea of working on a novel knowing that in all likelihood the endgame is going to be a place on my hard drive abandoned like the previous attempts. I love this story, I love these characters and I’m having so much fun writing it. I think it is an important story with an important message, but due to my lack of experience / skill / etc. it might never see the light of day and that makes me sad.

I feel like it’s finally going to be good enough to share with other actual human beings. But I can still see a gap between my writing and the professional authors whose work I’m reading. I don’t want to leap too soon and put my work out there before I’m ready.

Still it can be discouraging to know I’ve got at least three more to go. It’s not that I lack ideas. I’ve got plenty, but part of me, the impatient part, wants to be at that professional level now.

Maybe I can be above average and make it less than six.

The bottom line is my writing is ready when my writing is ready. The plan remains the same. Write words, read good writing, study craft.

The only thing that gets me through is simple math. If book #6 is publishable material, the only way that gets written is if I first write book #5, which of course requires that I have written book #4, #3, etc.

My Mom talks about taking the “next right step”. I’m like a mountain climber ascending Mount Publishing. Perhaps what I need to do is take my eyes off the summit and concentrate on the next handhold and foothold.


Have you struggled with this? What gets you through the discouragement of knowing there is still a long road between you and your dream?


image: “Long Road In Countryside” by Stuart Miles. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /


I think your mum already summed it up nicely. And I wouldn't hold on to the image of climbing a mountain because when you are on top of a mountain the only direction from there on is downwards ... 

Working at something that takes a looong time to achieve is probably part of amost every adults life. When the road is so long that you can't see the end clearly you have to make the best of the travel because that is your actual life.

Here it's 6:30 am on a Sunday morning and normally it's not so easy to distract me from my morning coffee and make me answer to a post in my not so good English so maybe I am one of you future readers ;) 

Have a good day!