by Deren Hansen
When does tenacity cease to be a virtue?
How do you know when to set one project aside and invest your energy in something fresh?
During the 2011 WriteOnCon, agents on one panel mentioned projects they'd shopped for years (as in four or five) before finally making a sale.
surprised me. My impression from comments by writers and agents is that
they generally shop a project for a year or so and then, in the
interest of maximizing return on effort (or because they've exhausted
their list of potential editors), move on to something else. But even
with a labor of love, the author needs to move on to other projects to
give the agent new material to submit while continuing to shop the the
Then again, I've heard a number of
people characterize publishing as basically a game of persistence: if
you keep showing up, you'll eventually get a turn. But no one ever
specifies the kind of persistence that pays off. Do you refine and
polish your master work--there are a fair number of classics that were
decades in the making--or do you persist in producing new projects until
you find that one that resonates?
The common answer is that it depends on you and your situation.
The common answer is neither comforting nor helpful.
you were a rational economic actor, you would watch for the point at
which the opportunity costs of not doing something else approach the
sunk costs already invested in the project. Or, in colloquial terms,
you'd stop when you realize you're throwing good money (or effort) after
I once read about a couple who had adopted a rule
of three for major expenditures. If one or both of them thought they
should buy something they'd postpone the decision to see if they still
thought it was a good idea. They would do this at least twice on the
theory that if the idea came up three times then it probably
was something they should buy.
My advice, if you're
wondering whether to hold or fold a project, is similar (and not unlike
the advice to let a draft cool before undertaking revisions): set the
project aside for a season. If it's easy to forget, then it's time to be
done. If it won't let you go, then you shouldn't let it go either.
Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.