Cross the Finish Line

You may not know it, but you’re a racehorse. If you look at writers from a publisher’s point of view, that’s exactly what you are. You’re someone who writes glorious novels, and if you want to make a name for yourself, you’ll do it frequently—once a year or more.

If you want to have publishers bet money on you—pay you large advances and put money into advertising you—then you need to learn to write to a deadline. That means that you need to put out manuscripts on time and at a very high quality.

In fact, publishers often use this analogy when they talk about writers as being in their “stable.”

But how good of a racehorse are you? I have a good friend that has a horse with bad eyes. When this horse gets up to a stream, it will simply stop and stare at it, unsure whether to step in. While trying to race a friend up in the hills, his horse outran the others—until it got to a stream, where it just plain stopped.

I’ve seen writers like that. They’ll go out and write a novel and get it almost done—but then they can’t cross the finish line. They stop. They ponder. They second guess. Then maybe they will go back and write another novel.

Of course, all writers can be compared to racehorses. My sister had a horse that would only let her ride it. If I tried to get on, he’d bite me, or try to run toward the nearest fence, then stop abruptly and try to throw me into it. If he were a writer, I’d say that he didn’t like editorial review.

Most writers never even make it to the starting gate. I have dozens of young writers that I know who have tremendous talent, but they never manage to finish a single manuscript.

But what is it that a publisher wants? A publisher is looking for a writer who is self-starting, who gets books put together in fine order quickly. That’s all that it takes. You don’t have to be the all-time best. Few of the bestsellers in our business really are the best. They simply put out book after book, developing a wide readership over several years, until their publishers realize that, “Hey, I think that I ought to bet on this one!” Then their careers take off.

Unfortunately, most writers wouldn’t make good racehorses. Some of them won’t get up on the morning of the race. They prefer to wander around the meadow getting fat on clover. Or maybe they are so busy training, they never run a race at all. Or perhaps they do cross the finish line, but never on time.

So think about it. What kind of racehorse are you? What is it you’re doing right? What could you do better? What do you need to do to make a publisher bet on you?


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