Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Question: When Is My Story Ready to Submit?

Anonymous said:

I was wondering how a writer knows when their piece is ready for submission? How do you decide when your own pieces are ready to be sent out? Is it best to use a writer's group or objective friend? It's sometimes hard to know when I'm done editing.

Dear Anonymous,

For some writers, that is the question of all questions. When is it done? When is it ready?

Unfortunately, the answer is NEVER!!! Bwahahahahaha!!

Just kidding, but only partially. I'll explain later.

I'm going to begin by directing you to a discussion from clear back in 2005 of this very topic at Hatrack River Writer's workshop:

Hatrack Submission Discussion

To add my own perspective as an editor/writer, I'll emphasize the points that--

1. Grammatical and spelling errors are a definite turnoff. ALWAYS use your own eyes to carefully look over your manuscript for errors. Spell- and Grammarcheck do not pick them all up. If your spelling and grammar are lacking, have someone who's good at grammar and spelling read it through specifically for those kinds of errors.

2. Write the story, run it through a critique (writer's) group, edit it once based on the critiques, send it out. After about 5 rejections (heaven forbid you should get that many, but it's not even remotely uncommon--even for the greatest stories) run it through a different critique group, edit it once, send it out again. There are some excellent online critique

3. You want other writers to be critiquing your stories for editing--not readers (objective friends, as you call them). Readers serve a different purpose. Readers give you a bead on how an audience might receive your story. They're good for getting a general feel for it, but not always very honest (because they're usually your friends or family and don't want to hurt your feelings--and admit it, you're an artist, your feelings get singed just the tiniest bit when someone says your baby is ugly), and seldom well-versed in writing mechanics (making them a poor choice for helping you improve that aspect of a story--an aspect that an editor will be paying very close attention to).

How do I know when one of MY stories is ready to submit?

I don't. I never do. I just DO IT!! And I keep writing and studying the craft of writing and critiquing the works of others while I'm waiting for my wandering child to come back home, either with a pink slip or a gold star.

And back to the NEVER!!! bit.

If you're serious about this writing thing, you're going to give it some serious study. And if you're going to give it some serious study, you're going to make that study a lifelong pursuit. And as it becomes a lifelong pursuit, your writing will continue to improve.

Too many authors feel that they don't need to work at it anymore once they've become 'published,' and the quality of their work falls off precipitously after their first novel. New writers publishing short stories seldom suffer from this malady, because they're still working at proving themselves.

But I digress.

In five years you're going to reread the stories you're working on right now, and you're going to see exactly what you need to do to improve them. In ANOTHER five years you'll reread the very same story and see even MORE room for improvement. So, you see, it never ends.

Some stories need more time than others. Some stories are, right now, beyond your ability to tell. Some of your stories will never see the light of day. Some stories you'll submit and submit and submit and submit, then put away to ripen for awhile, waiting for when you're more ready for them.

BUT--and this is a BIG BUT--you can't hold onto a story forever. You have to let it go. You have to let it spread its wings and wend its way through the greater world outside your harddrive. Stories are like children. They need to be set free when they reach some random numerical age, often before they're ready. They'll make mistakes, they'll find disappointment, but each one will teach YOU a valuable lesson.

Last thoughts, don't fear rejection.

From my perspective as an editor, I don't roll my eyes at the stories I receive. Okay, I admit, I've had a very few stories that were incomprehensibly awful, but only a VERY few. Because you were able to compose a string of sensical questions convinces me that your stories are NOT in that category.

Actually, I see myself in the stories I read. I see myself 5 or 10 years ago. I see my own hopes and fears, my own yearning, my own growth and progress. I see my fragile ego being crushed by my first rejection, for a story that I was SO proud of.

But I also see myself where I am today. And now? I'm darn proud of that first rejection. It means I spread my wings and flew!

For an essay on improving your odds of getting published, see "Editorial Roulette" from my old blog:

Editorial Roulette

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