Monday, September 04, 2006

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Q. I’m a fairly new writer (as yet unpublished) and I’ve been seeing a lot of calls for entry in anthologies and writing contests.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.


At 9:21 AM, Blogger Michael Ehret said...

A BOOK A WEEK!!??!! Read a book a week!!??

You gotta be kidding me. I am able to read 45-60 minutes a day over my lunch hour and occasional snatches of time elsewhere in the week.

Depending upon the size of the book, it can take me a month to read a book. At least two weeks. More likely three.

Now I'll never be a writer!!!!!


At 9:46 AM, Blogger Deborah Raney said...

Michael, now that I'm writing full-time, it often takes me two weeks to finish a book, but when I was first starting out, I read at least one novel a week. And I truly think that was more valuable for learning how to write than any writing craft book or workshop I ever took. For learning the BUSINESS of writing, you can't beat a conference, workshop or non-fiction book on the topic. But for the actual craft of writing, you will absorb so much simply by reading the genre you wish to write.

I would never say you can't be a writer if you don't read a book a week, but I do think it's a huge shortcut. Do you watch TV? How about cutting out two hours of TV a week to read instead? How about getting up half an hour earlier every morning to read? Sleep is important, but for a writer, reading is equally so, IMHO.

At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Deb, this is SUCH good advice. I see so many folks focused on writing a novel when they could be doing other things at the same time to sharpen their skills, increase credibility, and even bring in extra income. I never set out to be a novelist, but I wrote magazine articles and what not for five years before I even thought about trying a BOOK. And then I wrote children's books before I tackled something meatier.

Those who want to write . . . can write any type of thing as long as they study the blueprints and commit to being professional about it. It's all part of the writer's education.


At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen to Deb and Angie's advice. Reading well-written novels--and experience--were the best writing instructors I had...and still have.

I also didn't try my hand at a novel until I'd written other "stuff" for over ten years. I've no doubt but what I would have quit without finishing the first manuscript if my first experience with writing professionally had been a novel.


At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Deb, your last sentence got me. I have written for magazines and newspapers, attended conferences, placed highly in a national first-novel contest, and continue to read several books per month in women's fiction/lady lit.

But the fact remains that you must enter to win, and to get published, I must submit!

Maybe it's time.....

Katy McKenna

At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree completely about the reading thing. Anyone who's ever had a teacher in creative writing knows how subjective the whole business is. The teaching of grammar, skills, devices, etc. should be acquired before college classes, but anymore it's hard to say if it does.
When you're able to read, you recognize what you like, what you feel an affinity with/for (neither is correct grammatically, I know), and you inadvertently do absorb the ways to tell a story, create tension, and all that good stuff. Reading beats creative writing classes.

At 8:31 AM, Blogger Michael Ehret said...

OK, now, see...I agree with the reading thing too. Of course. (And no, I don't watch TV much...Indpls Colts games are the only "for sure" thing I watch. Other than that, very sporadic.) Reading is vital. I LOVE to read. It has helped me very much. But there is just no way I can read a book a week. I would have to give up my writing time to do that.

And I already get up at 4:30 a.m. Yikes!

Perhaps I read slow, but I don't think so.


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