When is a story ready to be submitted?

The question came up yesterday–how do I know when I’m ready to submit a story?

Okay.  The answer is very scary, difficult to accept, and goes against what lots of people will tell you.

  1. Write the story as close to straight through as possible.
  2. Put the story in standard manuscript format (I used to do this first, but I’m using Storybox to write in, so now I do that afterwards).
  3. Spell-check.
  4. Read through for oopsies (light editing).  I do not change the plot, characters, beginning, ending, etc.
  5. Sometimes, send through critique group and incorporate changes, if I like the suggestions – usually, it’s logical inconsistencies, the equivalent of the shirt being buttoned in one shot and unbuttoned in the next.
  6. Select market and read directions.
  7. Follow directions.
  8. Send story.

You can stop here; the rest is just justification.

Here are the reasons it’s starting to work, after a year and some:

  • I write a story a week and multiple novels every year, on top of my freelance work.  I’m always writing.
  • I take the attitude that a story is a transient thing, something that comes out of whatever you happen to be thinking and feeling at the time–it would have been different, had you chosen to write it six months earlier or later, or even a day earlier or later.  It is not immortal, unless the readers like it.
  • I will rewrite a story, if I see a fatal flaw in it later and it’s been rejected a number of times, or if I’m getting personal rejections coming to the same thing.
  • I will rewrite to editor request–up to a certain point.
  • Working as a slush editor, I know that the job is to make the readers happy–not the writers.  If I get rejected, it’s not about me.  If I get accepted, it’s not about me.  Oh, it feels like it’s about me, but it’s not:  that’s pure vanity.  Did the story do the job the editor needed done?  No?  Then move on.  Yes?  Then move on.

Why this works:

I’m learning how to trust myself and trust the reader (and editor).  If a story doesn’t sell:  I have at least another 24 stories out at any given time.  I resubmit to somewhere else, or I e-publish.  I have been bootstrapping myself up in writing quality by sitting down and writing, and writing, and writing, and reading, and reading, and reading.

No, none of my stories is perfect or even all that good.  Yes, every time I think about them, their imperfections come to mind.  Yes, I’m tempted to fiddle with them over and over, and on a couple of them, I have.  I’m not any happier with the fiddled stories than I am with the ones that I wrote, cleaned up, and sent.  Yes, I viciously attack myself on how terribly I write on a regular basis.

But a writer cannot survive on writing one novel every ten years, or even one novel every two years.  You do not train yourself to spend six weeks editing a short story or two years editing a novel, sell, then suddenly become so good that you can write two novels a year, or fifty short stories.  If you try to do that, you may end up massively dropping the quality of your stories, because you don’t have enough time to edit them to the same standard.  You can go broke being successful that way.

Yesterday I mentioned that imperfections were okay…as long as your story was decent and you sound like yourself, and as long as it was what the editor was looking for.  Because it will sound like you, and only like you:  unique sells.

Let’s say it takes you two years to write and edit the perfect novel.  Then it will take you another two years to go through the submission, editing, and publishing process.  (You might write another novel during that period, but you probably won’t, with the extra work that trying to get published piles on you.  Say you do.)

By the end of those four years, you might have written two perfect novels.  Or you could have written:

  • 8 decent, unique novels at the rate of two a year.
  • 200 decent, unique short stories at the rate of one a week.

…while holding down a full-time job (I write more novels with my extra time).  If you had learned to trust yourself and let yourself write instead of edit.  Life might get in the way…you might only get 150 stories and 5 novels done, and only half of them were decent.  If writing is what makes you a better writer, then there’s no way that fifth novel is going to be as good as the first perfect novel.  It will be better.  Because you showed up for practice, day after day after day.  You did the work.

There is no magic secret to getting published:  there is only the work.

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5 Comments

  1. I love this. Thank you for posting it.

  2. De

    You’re welcome 🙂 Thanks for asking the question.

  3. Liz

    Thank you so much. I purposely stayed away from reading this for a while (I was in one of those “I suck, this story sucks” phases).

    It’s kind of funny; I went from thinking my stories never had to be edited to thinking that they can never be edited enough. It’s a fine line we walk, I tell you.

    And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to write the fifth draft of “Outlaw Love Story,” submit it, and stop letting it haunt me.

  4. De

    I myself have gone through MANY different approaches to “the perfect way to write something.” In the end, it all comes down to, “Get it done.”

  5. Looks nice. Found you on GoogleWill check your website again.

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