Fiction Reboot Author Interview: Lucienne Diver

Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot’ Author Interview!

Today I am pleased to host Lucienne Diver, writer of YA and fantasy literature (including the Latter Day Olympian series and Vamped) and agent for the Knight Agency. She is also the author of a blog, Lucienne Diver’s Drivel, which has been instrumental and inspiration to me as I created the Fiction Reboot. Lucienne has an amazing perspective on the publishing and writing world, and I am happy to include below her well-informed thoughts on the writing life!

Welcome, Lucienne!

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AUTHOR BIO

Lucienne Diver is the author of the popular Vamped series of young adult novels (think Clueless meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer). School Library Journal calls the first book, “a lighthearted, action-packed, vampire romance story following in the vein of Julie Kenner’s “Good Ghouls” (Berkley), Marlene Perez’s “Dead” (Harcourt), and Rachel Caine’s “The Morganville Vampires” (Signet) series.” VOYA has suggested that the books “will attract even reluctant readers.”

Her short stories have been included in the Strip-Mauled and Fangs for the Mammaries anthologies edited by Esther Friesner (Baen Books), and her essay on abuse is included in the upcoming anthology Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories(HarperTeen). 2011 saw the launch of Bad Blood, the first novel in her Latter-Day Olympians series of contemporary fantasy, set in LA and featuring a heroine who can, quite literally, stop men in their tracks. Long and Short Reviews gave it her favorite pull-quote of all times, “Bad Blood is a delightful urban fantasy, a clever mix of Janet Evanovich and Rick Riordan, and a true Lucienne Diver original.” She can now die happy, (she says) though maybe not just yet.

AGENT BIO

Lucienne Diver joined The Knight Agency in 2008, after spending fifteen years at New York City’s prestigious Spectrum Literary Agency. With her sharp eye and gift for spotting original new voices, Lucienne is one of the most well-respected agents in the industry. Over the course of her dynamic career she has sold over seven hundred titles to every major publisher, and has built a client list of more than forty authors spanning the commercial fiction genres, primarily in the areas of fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery, suspense and erotica. Her authors have been honored with the RITA, National Readers’ Choice Award, the Golden Heart, and the Romantic Times Reader’s Choice, and have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. A publishing veteran, Lucienne has superb industry knowledge. She represents authors like D.B. Jackson and Rob Thurman.

CRAZY IN THE BLOOD (book 2 in the Latter Day Olympians)

CRAZY IN THE BLOOD. Latter-Day Olympians, Book 2 promises to be as exciting as the first–I have been watching the steady boil of enthusiasm on twitter and note that you can now pre-order the book on Amazon. A short snippet of good things to come: Tori Karacis’s family line may trace back to a drunken liaison between the god Pan and one of the immortal gorgons. Or…maybe it’s just coincidence that her glance can, literally, stop men in their tracks. But just a few weeks after Tori prevented some rogue gods from blowing L.A. into the ocean, more dead bodies are turning up near the leftover crater. Bodies that have been shredded by something too big to be…shall we say, of this world? Worse, Uncle Christos has disappeared after stumbling onto a deadly cult masquerading as the Back to Earth movement. Read more at http://www.luciennediver.com/latter.html.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

1. I have always identified with the Asimov quote: “I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I’d die.” Does this describe you? Could you say a bit about your early writing experiences? Your favorite work?

Absolutely! I’ve discovered recently how much my mood is tied in to whether or not I’ve written that day. Every day that I don’t write feels wasted. I literally have to write to be happy.

One of my favorite writing quotes comes from THE CAT WHO WALKED THROUGH WALLS by Robert A. Heinlein, where the author hero explains about writing to the heroine. She asks him, “If it hurts so much, why do you do it?” To which he responds, “Because it hurts more not to.”

My early writing experiences? I started in the fifth grade with a wonderful teacher who started us off every day (or at least, that’s how I remember it) with a free-writing assignment. He’d put a theme or the start of a sentence on the board and we’d have to take it from there. For ten or fifteen minutes, our pens were not allowed to stop moving, and if we couldn’t think of anything to say, we’d write “nothing at all, nothing at all” until something occurred to us. It was a wonderful exercise. It not only got the creative juices flowing, but taught me something about writing through block, an important lesson when I only have an hour a day to write. (I spend the rest of it agenting.)

2. Not unlike many an author, I come from an academic background where writing fiction is a somewhat closeted affair. Can you talk about when you decided to “write for real”? How and when did you make the decision to write for publication and give your work the time and energy it so deserves?

I’d written a few trunk manuscripts before my son was born, but they were very undisciplined affairs, where I’d write when I had the time. They were also very self-conscious and, therefore, atrocious. I’d have rejected me in a second, and I knew it. Thus, I barely bothered to submit them. After he was born—well, after the first two years that I spent every spare second staring at the miracle I held in my arms—I was sparked to return to writing by an overheard conversation that created an entire storyline in my head. I had to write it down. Because I had a young son and a more-than-day job, I had to get really disciplined about my writing time. Back then, I woke up around 5:30 every morning so that I’d have time to write before he woke and I had to start the whirlwind of my day. Now I write after I drop him off to school. That early exercise from fifth grade and that one-hour time constraint really motivates me to stay focused and avoid distractions.

3. You two very successful series, Vamped and Bad Blood. Can you say a bit about series fiction? What does it take to retain interest and stamina?

Thanks so much! I love the Vamped and Latter-Day Olympians series, of which Bad Blood is the first. The second, Crazy in the Blood, comes out this month in digital, next year in print. I’d say that the trick to a successful series is two-fold. Up the stakes each time and build on what you’ve already developed, something I learned particularly from reading Rachel Caine, who constantly amazes me in the way that she keeps the Morganville Vampires series fresh and innovative, for example. With the Vamped series, I tend to throw a game changer in there somewhere so that I get to play with some new challenge and, hopefully, my readers will wonder where on Earth things will go next and come along for the ride.

4. As the author of a humorous “medical” vampire novel (Jacob Maresbeth), I am interested in your work on Vamped. In the present fervor of the fangtastic, what are some strategies for, pardon the pun, sticking out?

My heroine Gina, fashionista of the fanged, would say that the best way to stand out is to just be yourself. She’s not a new kind of vampire. She doesn’t sparkle in the sunlight (but does burn to a very unflattering crisp). She drinks blood unapologetically. I think where she does shine is in her voice. I love that the reviewers are picking up on this as well. Some of my fav quotes:

“This is a witty vampire romance/adventure with plenty of heart and action… that will attract even reluctant readers.—VOYA, reviewed by Ava Ehde
“Gina, the 17-year-old fashionista of the undead, is back and as sassy as ever…listening in on Gina’s thoughts and quick-witted dialogue is what makes this such a treat.” —Kirkus Reviews

ReVamped by Lucienne Diver was witty, sweet, and just dark enough to ignite my morbid taste buds.” —Bitten by Books

ReVamped is full of smart, spot-on dialogue, engaging, authentic characters and a plot that’s so much fun it’s impossible not get swept up.” —Examiner.com

“This quick read is filled with teen slang and fashion consciousness; it’s a lighthearted, action-packed, vampire romance story following in the vein of Julie Kenner’s “Good Ghouls” (Berkley), Marlene Perez’s “Dead” (Harcourt), and Rachel Caine’s “The Morganville Vampires” (Signet) series.” —School Library Journal

One of my absolute favorite things is hearing from readers, particularly those reluctant readers mentioned by VOYA. One that really touched my heart was a girl who said that she never liked reading until she picked up Vamped, and then her friends wondered what was wrong with her because all she wanted to do was read it. Made my whole day, month, even year!

5. I have been incredibly inspired by your blog and website. What is the value of these platforms for an author? What about social networks like Twitter?

Oh, thank you so much! There’s so much negative out there that I try to be inspiring, and, really, my experiences have been so positive that it’s not difficult at all. To me, blogging is about giving back more than it is a platform for promotion, although I think that group blogs and contests are wonderful for helping spread the word about a series, and guest-blogging for others can expand your reach and potential audience. I’ve heard people say that Twitter and other social networks don’t sell books, but I know when I hear from three or four different sources that a particular book really blew them away, I buy it. So, I think Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites are particularly useful not in self-promotion, so much, but in enabling readers to tell each other about great finds. Word-of-mouth has been the biggest seller of books for as long as I’ve been in the business. Still, I know I can’t help sharing great reviews and news of upcoming releases!

6. Every writer has a different writing strategy—or so I tell my novel-writing students. How do you approach the writing process? Revision? Writers’ block?

My mantra is “Get it down, then get it right.” Things tend to gel for me as I write…voices, situations. It means a lot of revision down the line, but you can’t revise what isn’t there to begin with. This is so important to me that I recently blogged about it over on Magical Words.

7. As the mentor for a university writing club, I often preach to my students about the value of workshopping. Could you say a bit about your own responsive readers and mentors? Your approach to criticism? Beta readers?

Critical feedback is invaluable! Authors are too close to their own work to be completely objective. I don’t know many authors, including those who are multi-published, who don’t use critique partners or beta readers to help them make their manuscripts the best they can be. Then those authors get additional feedback from their agents and editors. Manuscripts go through many rounds of revision before they’re ready for the readers and reviewers. That doesn’t mean that every piece of advice will ring true for you or that you have to incorporate everything. However, even if you don’t take a particular suggestion, it’s a good idea to look at why it was suggested and see if you can clarify or solve the problem some other way. It’s a pretty good bet that if one reader calls you on something, another will as well. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you can sure try.

8. We are all looking for agents, and you actually are one! Do you have advice for new writers on “breaking in” to the YA publishing world? How do you find (and get!) a great YA agent?

Well, you already know that the most important thing is to write an incredible novel that an agent can’t help but offer representation on. This rarely happens, but I’ve taken on two debut novelists in the past couple of weeks because even with my workload, I just couldn’t resist. They’re amazing, and I knew that if I didn’t snap them up, I’d regret the decision. You can enhance your chances by doing your research and targeting the right people. It’s great, though not necessary, to let the agent in on the research by saying something like, “I’m approaching you because of my admiration for your work with author X, Y or Z.” A little praise never hurt anyone. If you’ve got a platform, whether it be contest wins, some form of celebrity or a well-trafficked blog or social media feed, it’s good to mention these things as well.

9. Who do you consider your inspiration? (Literary or otherwise?)

My authors are my inspiration. Early on when I wasn’t submitting, it was partly because all of my authors are so amazingly talented, I knew I didn’t stack up. But they gave me something to shoot for, and reading and critiquing their work taught me a lot about writing, pacing, plotting, and characterization. Like many in the publishing business, it’s nearly impossible for me to turn off my brain when reading, so it all becomes study. Fun study, of course!

10. Finally, are there any forums, books, blogs or other sites and services you would recommend to new writers?

I think the Magical Words blog is wonderful, particularly for science fiction, fantasy and horror writers. Writerspace, Romance Divas and other sites like them post great forums, articles, etc. Writer’s Digest puts on weekly webinars, one of which I’ve taught, that can be valuable for writers and often come with a critique component. For more established authors or those looking for tips on promotion and social media, I think the Author Marketing Experts newsletter is a must.

Thank you, Lucienne, for speaking with us today! You can follow Lucienne on Twitter at @LucienneDiver.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Friday Fiction Feature–and look for more interviews coming soon!

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Fiction Reboot Author Interview: Nina Post

Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot Author Interview!

Today we will be featuring a new author from Curiosity Quills Press, the publisher mentioned in last Tuesday’s guest blog. As always, the Fiction Reboot is committed to hosting and featuring many different kinds of writers at different stages of their career. We have great authors coming up, including Lucienne Diver (author and agent for Knight Agency) and Stephanie Smith (novelist and academic), as well as another new CQP author, Michael Shean, whose work began as serialized online fiction. Stay tuned for unique perspectives on the writing life! Presenting: Nina Post

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AUTHOR BIO

Nina Post PictureNina Post is a fiction writer who lives in downtown Chicago. Her early cultural influences include Steve Martin’s comedy albums, Chuck Jones, The Muppet Show, and MAD magazine. Parlor tricks include speaking in ‘trailer guy’ voice, reciting the periodic table in less than a minute, and Enneagram typing. She likes spending time with her husband, reading, running, and information gathering.

Nina’s writing falls under the categories of urban fantasy and contemporary fantasy, combining supernatural elements with realistic characters and a comedic tone. Her debut novel, The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse, was published by Curiosity Quills Press in the Winter of 2012, followed by One Ghost Per Serving in the Summer of 2012.

ONE GHOST PER SERVING

One Ghost Per Serving, by Nina Post - Cover

ONE GHOST PER SERVING by Nina Post

Possessed by Rex, a mischievous spirit, Eric Snackerge’s life has careened out of control. Losing his scholarship and getting blacklisted from the legal profession are just the start – now his best-friend-turned-enemy is in danger of stealing away his family, too.

An unusual contest may be his last chance to make his daughter’s dreams come true. But he’ll have to overcome his own self-doubt — not to mention the seemingly impossible odds — in order to achieve that goal.

As Eric and his ghostly companion soon learn, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill sweepstakes. When the sponsors begin dispatching spy cameras, attack helicopters, and the kitchen sink – all to make sure that Eric doesn’t get any further – it becomes clear that the contest is only the first phase of a much larger, sinister plan to spread a supernatural pathogen throughout the food supply.

Do Eric and Rex have what it takes to foil the villains’ plan and protect the Snackerge family from becoming the next victims?

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

1. I have always identified with the Asimov quote: “I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I’d die.” Does this describe you? Could you say a bit about your early writing experiences?

If I don’t write for a few days, I get testy and restless, just like if I don’t go running. Writing fiction has been an impulse since I was very young, and arguably I’m addicted to the process. I have pushed it aside before, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. With that said, breathing is probably more important to continued survival.

I’ve always been a voracious reader, bringing the maximum number of books home from the library, getting shipments of books in the mail through reading clubs, and ravaging the book fairs at school. I wrote my first story at age seven, wrote more little stories, then tried my hand at a novel when I was thirteen. The only thing I remember about it was showing up to a home office every day in the summer and getting it done.

2. Not unlike many an author, I come from an academic background where writing fiction is a somewhat closeted affair. Can you talk about when you decided to “write for real”—that decision to write for publication and give this work the time and energy it so deserves? In your opinion, what does it mean to be a ‘professional writer?’

Despite some minor success in college, I only really started to focus on writing in 2010, when I wrote The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse. I wasn’t sure if I would do anything with it, though I intended to write another book. But my husband encouraged me to submit to publishers. Several were very interested, and I’ve been focused on writing ever since.

Being a ‘professional writer’ means being disciplined, and setting standards and goals for yourself. It means behaving well: being nice, being prompt, being reliable. It means understanding that not everyone is going to like what you write, not taking it personally, and appreciating what you have while striving to accomplish more and challenging yourself. It means committing to a word count or other goal, and it means taking a day off each week to recharge.

3. One of my recent YA novels is primarily comedic (Jacob Maresbeth is a medical vampire, more interested in homecoming than the details of his condition—or the designs of the nefarious hematologist). Your work is very humorous—but also fantastic and supernatural. Could you say a bit about this combination?

What I most want to accomplish with my books is to give the reader a satisfying story with characters they care about and find interesting. Beyond that, I would love for any book of mine to make the reader laugh and take their mind off their problems for a little while. When I was nine or so, I became a huge comedy fan and listened to comedy albums dozens of times. I knew standup routines and funny bits of movies by heart and would perform those over and over. I think that strange hobby really informed my love of humor, but also minor characters, and my care in making them pop.

I grew up reading a lot of fantasy and the supernatural. The fantastic gave me a wide palette of characters, and there’s something about taking a monster and giving them human traits that really appeals to me. It’s a fun way of exploring what it means to be human. However, I’m moving into writing different types of books that will still have elements of humor.

4. I am a researcher as well as a writer (medical history). Your website includes researching as one of the things you enjoy doing—could you say a bit more about this? How do these things inform your work?

Oh, I love research! It’s an integral part of my process, starting from the concept phase. My favorite aspect of research is talking with someone who works in the field that I’m writing about. I’ve used that method with a number of books now. I always make sure to prepare by doing plenty of reading on the subject before I approach them, because I respect their time and want to make sure I’m asking things that I couldn’t easily find in another resource. ProQuest is also a great tool: it’s basically an online research and news service that aggregates historical articles from thousands of publications.

The information I collect is always much more than what goes into the book. My intention is to carefully choose details that add to the story, contribute richness and a verisimilitude, and fit with the characters. Research also gives me a lot of ideas, both for characters and plot, and within the story.

For The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse, I looked into window washing, spy gear, angels, and HVAC systems. One of the building engineers gave me a tour of the HVAC system and the roof of the building, where I had set a few scenes. For the sequel, I did quite a bit of research on what Chicago was like immediately after the Great Fire. For One Ghost Per Serving, I researched the grocery distribution chain, foodborne pathogens, and more. For recent books, it was epidemiology, high-rise fires, and the state park system.

5. Could you give us your opinion about social media? The online world of networking?

Social media can be wonderful, and it can be frustrating. It can make your day and it can make you rant in the kitchen like Malcolm Tucker on ‘In the Loop.’ I keep it simple, like I do with most things — I’m not in it for scale. Twitter gives me an opportunity to support and connect with people who make things I like, whether those are books, podcasts, reviews, blogs, movies, or music.

The negative side is that on the days you’re feeling bummed, it seems as though everyone else on the planet is getting an excessive amount of whatever you think you’re missing. Those are the days when you need to avoid it. As important as it is to not compare yourself to others, there are days when you don’t need to test that.

6. Every writer has a different writing strategy—or so I tell my novel-writing students. How do you approach the writing process? Revision? Writers’ block?

I work on one thing at a time. I like to think about my idea and the characters I have in mind while running or walking. I make some notes, do a little research, tie down the crucial beats, then write my outline and four-act treatment. In Scrivener, I keep a one-page document that contains the title, the logline, the internal and external goals, the theme, the broad character arcs and motivations, the stakes, the core conflicts. This document keeps me on track. There is a misconception that outlining impedes organic growth. I have plenty of organic growth with an outline, even when it’s very comprehensive.

For a first draft, I have a daily minimum word count of 2,000 for every weekday (though I’m more often in the 3-4,000 range), and I put in some writing on Saturday. I do a first draft without polishing, then go right into a second pass. This is when I flesh out settings and descriptions, add more detail, make sure the chronology makes sense and that the setups are paid off. My husband reads and edits my output every day. Then, I give it to the editor and start on the next book. When I get the manuscript back, I do a careful final pass.

As for writer’s block, sometimes you just need to recharge. What works the best for me is exercise, especially when I need to think something through. My other main recharge activity is watching my favorite movies and TV, which sparks ideas. Other things that help are music, doing more research and reading, and going to a museum.

7. As the mentor for a university writing club, I often preach to my students about the value of networking and workshopping. Could you say a bit about your own responsive readers and mentors? Your approach to criticism?

My husband is my primary reader, aside from my editor and publisher. I have experience workshopping stories in fiction writing classes in college. In my Second City writing class, I had the pleasure of watching people in the class perform my sketches, which was amazing and useful. My parents were my first mentors, for their strong work ethic, their confidence, having a house full of classic books, and giving me a grounding in the arts and in business.

When it comes to criticism in reviews, I’m laissez-faire. I tend to read only a few reviews, and I have my own standards for what I’m doing. When it comes to notes, I’m flexible, but I’ll do what feels right to me.

8. Do you have advice for new writers on “breaking in” to the publishing world? Or upon the need/value of agents?

Just keep writing and learning, and work hard. When I began submitting, I focused on independent publishers and contacted them directly. I didn’t consider submitting to agents for a number of reasons.

As a writer, you need to take charge of your career and have at least a basic familiarity with the typical clauses you’ll find in a publishing contract. Whether or not you work with an agent, lawyer or other advisor, make sure that you understand what the contract says. If you don’t like something in the contract, don’t be afraid to speak up about it. Any reputable publisher expects to negotiate their contracts, and if they tell you the terms aren’t negotiable, that’s a big red flag indicating you might want to look elsewhere.

9. Who do you consider your inspiration? (Literary or otherwise?)

My husband, who is the best possible partner a writer could have. My family. Other inspirations (this is a grab bag of people and works) include Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Alexandre Dumas, Jacobean literature, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Parzival, Bradbury, Pratchett, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Nora Roberts, Withnail & I, Bloom County, Pete & Pete, The Middleman, The X-Files, Bruce Lee, Joss Whedon, Jim Henson, Disney and Pixar, Tim Schafer, movies of the 1980s, mythology, the natural world, travel, the landscape of my childhood, etc.

10. Finally, are there any forums, books, blogs or other sites and services you would recommend to new writers?

My recommendations are usually movie-focused, because it’s easier to learn structure from movies than from books. The two novel-writing books I recommend are Stephen King’s On Writing and Annie Lamott’s Bird By Bird.

I recommend Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat series, which really helped me with structure. Other helpful resources are Wordplayer.com, Jennifer Crusie’s site, and Scriptshadow.com.

I also recommend a few podcasts: Popcorn Dialogues (“watching movies to write better novels”), Writing Excuses, and Scriptnotes.

Thank you so much for the opportunity, Brandy. If anyone would like to know more about me or my books, they can go to http://www.ninapost.com, or find me on Twitter at @ninapost.

Thank you, Nina!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Friday Fiction Feature!

Fiction Reboot Tuesday: Writing that Novel

 Q: So, I hear you are writing a novel.
A: Yeah, it’s a loooong story.

As jokes go, it’s not fantastic. However, it does seem to ring true. The novel is a long piece of sustained fiction–very different from the short story or even the play/screen play. In addition, for most authors,the story of their first novel is a long one, fraught with all the usual conundrums of writing but coupled with the attendant scorn of “Sure you are–everybody’s writing a novel.”

Not long ago, one of my students approached me about this very subject. He had written poetry for years, and had recently made a foray into fiction. His question was straightforward enough, but I confess it is one of those I’d rather not have to answer. “How do you write a novel?”

There are answers a-plenty, ranging from esoteric to sophistical, pithy to the book-length. But I can’t say that any of them are particularly good at explaining what amounts to ongoing experiential learning. Its a problem of input-output. You can read all the books in the world on flying a plane, but if you haven’t logged the hours in test flight, you really don’t know what you’re up against. So, unfortunately, my answer to questions like this tend to sound painfully uninteresting and almost unhelpful. How do you write a novel? You write one, that’s how. But in the spirit of helpfulness, perhaps a humorous illustration…

WRITING A NOVEL in 20 EASY STEPS

  1. Write that novel
  2. Have reader explain that minutia and historical realism do not make up for action. Note: Realize that Tolstoy’s War and Peace is not a good beginners model.
  3. Revise novel. Add lots of ACTION and SUSPENSE and EXCLAMATION POINTS.
  4. Have reader explain that action does not make up for plot. Note: Die Hard III also not a good model.
  5. Scrap novel, apologize for hitting reader in nose. Write new novel with plot.
  6. Notice that plot mimics storyline of Lost, Jersey Shore or The Godfather.
  7. Drink too much.
  8. Take Aspirin. Revise novel.
  9. Realize that, as with children and pets, loving your characters a lot will not make them interesting to other people.
  10. Revise novel
  11. Revise novel
  12.  (Celebrate fourteen holidays, get married, get re-married, run for office…)
  13. Revise novel
  14. Complete draft and select new reader. While waiting to hear from reader, re-read book. Decide that it’s awful and think about committimg various crimes (mostly arson).
  15. Hear back from reader that draft does not suck. Realize that not-sucking is not greatness.
  16. Re-think audience and pitch. Revisit what makes opening lines and scenes interesting. Begin to see the way other people see.
  17. Get writer’s block. Get tired. Decide if you look at it one more time you with burn your house down. Start six new writing projects instead of–
  18. Revising novel. All the time. In your head.
  19. Have conversation with not-real characters about where things are going (a sign you are nearly there)
  20. Send to readers, and finally–send out to agents.

—Who will ask you to revise the novel.

And you will. Because they are usually right. So hang in there, novel writers! It’s a journey more than a destination, anyway.