I want to talk about something I hold very near and dear to my heart when it comes to writing. If you know the kind of person I am, then you know how I feel about setting the bar as high as possible and putting my best foot forward. After all, our name is attached to every piece of writing we submit. It may be the first time literary professionals or readers will be exposed to us as authors. That’s why I’ll never submit something I’m not 100% happy with.
You never know who may be reading your material for the first time.
As many of you may know, I’ve been participating in a short story competition called Project REUTSway. Each week the editors supply a set of guidelines and participating writers create a short story based on those guidelines. The first two stories I created were great. I accomplished what I set out to accomplish, even going above and beyond the weekly guidelines. The third week I was swamped with various other projects and put Project REUTSway on the back burner. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to submit a short story. The fourth week arrived with a new set of guidelines and I started brainstorming. I came up with a story idea and mapped it out. I wrote about 1,500 words and was happy with what I had. The next 1,500 words didn’t come as easily. I knew this story was in trouble but was determined to meet the submission deadline. I tore the last half of the story apart and tried again. It still felt off, wrong. I read the entire story again. The first half was still solid. The second half still didn’t live up to the quality of the first. After one more try and the deadline fast approaching, I knew I wouldn’t have a fantastic piece of fiction ready to submit.
I could have submitted my short story knowing the second half was broken. Maybe someone would like it. Or, maybe, someone would see what I did. They would know it wasn’t ready.
In the end I chose not to submit the short story. It simply wasn’t up to my high standards for quality. I didn’t want to take a chance that an editor I may have the privilege of working with sometime in the future would see my less than stellar work. My name is attached to it. We must be confident in our writing skills enough to know when our projects are, or aren’t, ready. Literary professionals won’t go easy on us. Their reputation is on the line as much as any author they choose to work with. They’re attaching their name, along with the author’s, to the project. That’s why it’s so important for writers to always put our best foot forward. No half-assing things.
Since my internship is officially over and I can start talking about some of the secret things I’ve been doing for the past six months, I’d like to share why always submitting quality work is paramount for any writer. I’ve been reading manuscripts for a literary agent. My job was to critically, and honestly, break down every possible aspect of submissions and report on the strengths and/or flaws for each one. Think of it like a more in depth critique than your critique partners probably give you. There’s no sugar coating involved. The quality of the submission is left out there naked and quivering to speak for itself. Every little detail is exposed.
After six months of reading, and breaking down, submissions, I can tell you after a few pages if a project is ready for publication. Naturally, this is a subjective process. HOWEVER, quality writing speaks for itself. There’s no faking it. Our projects are either ready, or they aren’t. I’d say around 85% of the submissions I read weren’t ready to be submitted. I’ll also share that after six months of reading submissions, I only recommended one for further consideration. That works out to something like a 2% approval rating.
As writers seeking publication, we must surround ourselves with quality critique partners, and quality in general. We must set the bar as high as possible. We must be open to every ugly truth about our writing. We must learn to recognize when our projects are ready and when they fall short. We must admit when something isn’t working and either try to fix it, or start again. Literary professionals aren’t going to know how much blood, sweat, and tears we put into our projects. All they see is what’s on the page. Like it or not, our words must be able to stand on their own.
That’s why I would much rather hold a submission back instead of sending something I’m not happy/confident with. I don’t want my name associated with poor quality writing. And as authors, all we have is our name. It’s attached to each submission, whether we’re submitting a poem, short story, or novel. As we send our work out into the world, new literary professionals become exposed to us. They start associating our names with various levels of quality.
The next time your finger hovers over the “send” button, take a moment to be absolutely sure it’s ready. You never know who may be reading it.
Expect a post or two about my intern adventures soon. I’d like to touch on why first impressions really do matter and a few other things. Stay tuned.