DR: When will I be ready to submit?
This is a question I get often from aspiring writers:
Q. I’m a fairly new writer (as yet unpublished) and I’ve been seeing a lot of calls for entry in anthologies and writing contests. Many of these are judged by editors at the publishing houses I’m hoping to target when my novel is finished. I know my writing isn’t quite there yet, but is there any harm in taking advantage of some of these opportunities? Is it a good idea to start getting my name out there, or should I wait until my writing skills are better? If I submit material that’s not quite ready, will my name be flagged for the slush pile in the future?
A. I hate answers that begin with "it depends," but unfortunately, in this case, I think it depends.
If you’ve been told you have a real gift for writing, but you’ve never read a book on the craft of writing, never been to a writers’ conference, never been part of a critique group, and don't read more than half a dozen books a year, then you might be wise NOT to submit anything just yet. Editors do remember names and earlier submissions, and—especially if you have a memorable story idea—they might form an opinion of your work that could hinder your chances with future submissions to them.
However, even if you are fairly inexperienced as a writer, here are some things that may qualify you to start submitting your work. Have you:
• read and studied numerous books and magazines on the craft of writing?
• taken college or community education writing courses?
• attended writers’ conferences or workshops?
• been an avid reader (reading a book per week or more, particularly in the genre in which you hope to be published)?
• belonged to a writers’ group or a critique group where you routinely get honest feedback on your work?
• studied the market to know where your work would fit?
• consistently practiced your craft by writing, writing, writing?
• finished numerous articles, columns, novel chapters, etc., which you’ve self-edited and rewritten multiple time?
If you can answer yes to most of the above, then chances are you are ready to begin submitting your work. Contests are a good place to begin, especially those that offer a written or oral critique on your submission. And anthologies are a nice way to get some publishing credits under your belt.
Hopefully even we multi-published novelists are continually seeking to learn more about the craft of writing, honing our skills to become better with each manuscript we turn in. But we all started somewhere. We all had a first book that, though some editor deemed it good enough to be published, we would love a chance to rewrite it knowing what we know now about the craft of writing and about the CBA market.
If we had waited until our writing was perfect before we submitted that first piece, it's guaranteed we would still be waiting.
Deborah Raney is the author of A Vow to Cherish (newly updated and revised, from Steeple Hill). Coming in January: Remember to Forget for Howard Books/Simon & Schuster. http://www.deborahraney.com