Saturday, August 26, 2006

Why aren't you submitting?

I was responding to a comment about why writers don't submit their work to writing websites, specifically Winston-Salem Writers. My first idea is that the site does not pay anything, and they do not, but as I continued to write and think I thought there should be more of an answer. First, I need to ask more of a question. Why don't writers submit their work more?

Considering how many editors write and talk about the thousands of manuscripts that pass through their offices daily, I wonder that anyone doesn't send their work to publishers, magazines, newspapers, web sites, everywhere. I know I did when I started writing again. I wanted to be published more than anything else. I printed out five or ten copies of every article, essay and story, placed them in manila envelopes with another manila envelope for returns I prayed I wouldn't get and the right amount of postage. I kept track of my manuscripts and kept writing, doing everything I thought I should to be successful. In return I got lots of manila envelopes and form rejections back. Then the long personal rejections started coming, telling me how good my writing was and how wrong it was for their publication. Many times the editor and I would begin corresponding as I continued writing and submitting and they kept sending long informative and helpful rejections, but rejections nonetheless. Friendship was easy; getting published was hard.

There were times I wondered why I wasn't being published when the editors obviously liked my writing and said it was good. There were times they told me I was gifted, but not gifted with payment and publication. I kept all the rejections, form and personal, and vowed the editors wouldn't get me down as I read their publications and ranted about the horrible work being published in the quiet safety of my home office. I wasn't going to give up, and yet there were times when I wrote and didn't send the manuscript out. I ran out of steam, or maybe just out of hope.

I continued subscribing to Writers Digest and buying every book on writing I could find, reading everything over and over in hopes of figuring out what I was doing wrong. I signed up for writing courses and plugged away, filling megabytes of computer space with outlines, stories, character backgrounds, everything and anything to work out whatever problems I could find with my writing, and still I filled my filing cabinet with long, friendly rejection letters from my favorite editors.

Then one day I read an article about writing articles for publications in my own backyard: newspapers, magazines, supermarket fliers. I had a couple ideas and was rewarded with publication, national syndication and a relationship with a local newspaper. Magazines found me next and I turned interviews and profiles into multiple articles for local, regional and national publications. I had my success. It wasn't success in fiction but even nonfiction has its place, and yet I wanted fiction publication.

I finally broke through, or so I thought, by winning second place in a fiction contest. It was a one-shot wonder for a very long time. It seemed I was stuck with nonfiction and fiction would continue to elude me. I wrote a couple of books and began cleaning up other writers' and nonwriters' prose and ideas, helping them find a focus and tell their stories. I gave up on fiction until someone broke my heart. I began writing fiction, giving my broken romance a happy ending and finding for the very first time characters do talk back. I sent sample chapters to a writing contest and took third place. Then I found out what had happened to another story I had written for a contest when speaking with a friend.

She had been on the judging panel and remembered the story. She didn't know it was mine but as I described the plot she smiled and told me she knew the story and explained how. I knew the contest panel had kept the story a long time but what I didn't know was that I nearly won. I was nudged out at the end by a majority vote. Two years and a chance conversation and I finally knew what had happened to one of my stories. I envisioned similar situations every time a manuscript didn't come right back and I kept writing, and editing other people's stories, and I learned.

Going back over those first stories I see the promise and the mistakes. I know why the editors sent the stories back. However, I don't write fiction very much any more. I have a job and responsibilities and I'm still writing nonfiction and being published. The fiction bug bit me as a child and I am still infected, but I don't submit what few stories I write any more. I don't have the time to polish them and there is still a bit of fear inside that in the last round my writing will be nudged out by a majority vote. I know my nonfiction sells but I am less certain about the fiction. I still see and review books I consider less good than my own writing. I probably always will. Until I am writing and submitting my writing I don't really have a right to complain. I am no longer competing on a level playing field as long as I refuse to suit up and step onto the field.

Why do those writers not submit their writing to WSW and other websites? Maybe they're afraid of rejection or criticism or maybe they prefer playing on a field that isn't level. It's so much easier than jumping into the game and getting knocked about or sidelined over and over.

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