Thursday, 1 November 2007

Some work is TOO good. A tale of persistence....

(Open letter to occasional blog commenter 'Mimi' who is a well published writer, but who dislikes the honesty of this blog.)

Dear Mimi

I hope you have finished your breakfast. You are just not going to like this post, and I figured it might put you off your Wheatie-wallops. Every day should start with something good, yes?

Like all 47 days on which a writing friend of mine submitted the same story. And all 47 days she opened the post to find rejection after rejection on her doormat. (Or mailbox. This is in the US.)

Oh dear, you'd have probably said, after two, maybe three rejections. And binned it. Not this lady. This piece of work 'worked' It was original stuff. Well written. So what was going on?

It was TOO GOOD.

I have often been told that some work is just too good for some competitions, some markets. And because the readers are only ever dealing in lower-grade stuff, they just don't SEE the quality. It's over their heads. I'm afraid we are back to Lower Burblingon on Twiddle Very Important Literary Competition here, (finally judged, as ever, by that friend of Mimi's, that unpublished doggerel writer - lovely person though she be -)

I have often been TOLD that work can be too good, by people who are far more experienced than I... but now I have a perfect example to illustrate it.

You see this writing friend really did have a story rejected FORTY SEVEN times. Wow. My record is sixteen.

But she believed in it enough to carry on submitting. In fact, she sent it out scattergun in the end, and didn't keep records. I can imagine her picking up yet another envelope...

"Oh so I sent it there, did I? Another reject...." and out it would go again.

Until the day she got home from work and found that she'd had a phonecall.

And that phonecall was from the The National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship organisers. One of the places the story had been sent, and forgotten about.

Her story had won, and the prize was worth ...wait for it... $20,000. (That's twenty thousand dollars, Mimi, in case your glasses have gone missing.)

The story was later selected for inclusion in American Fiction: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, edited by Joyce Carol Oates.


This all happened a while back. But it illustrates the point. Forty seven editors, readers, judges turned it down because it 'wasn't good enough'.

The point of this post. Believe in yourself, believe in your work. Of course, you have to learn to write well first (!) but sometimes you just KNOW something is good. Stick with it.


norton said...

Too good? Not good enough? Or just sent to the wrong market?

In my experience, the scattergun approach to submitting is a waste of envelopes, stamps and time.

Far better to spend that time researching your market then target your submissions accordingly. Hits-to-subs ratio will undoubtedly increase, and you won't piss off as many editors with endless unsuitable material.

Vanessa G said...

An important point Norton.

It was 'my' word 'scattergun' meaning the piece was sent out over, over, over... to many places, all of which this writer believed might be right.

(She is a professional)

I have an example (only 16 attempts) before acceptance, and all the markets were carefully chosen.

The acceptance came from a magazine I thought was too good to try, initially.

But yep. Your advice is very good, and of course utterly correct. Markets should always be researched.

Single copies of magazines can be purchased (and that helps the small presses too), ezines are now there for the enjoying... so no excuses.

And yes, you are right.. Eds do get cross about totally unsuitable subs. We get many such submissions to Cadenza , almost like spam... no 'Dear Editors' intro... just a piece of work and an email address. So often the work is totally unsuitable. The sender has obviously not even bothered to read the website, where examples of work are there for the reading.

Anonymous said...

Nonetheless, it's a great story for budding writers to read. We all need an injection of enthusiasm rejuvenation sometimes.

Vanessa G said...

Hi Wayne

Thanks for dropping in.

And yep, that's exactly why I posted the story... to show what can happen!

Abby Darker said...

Hi Vanessa
I loved this! Today I have been struggling with and juggling with stories that are 'free' to send to 3 rather good competitions. I've been editing and choosing, fussing and pussing all day. I ended up thinking 'They are all crap!' becasue they have been rejected or 'merely' shortlisted in other comps.
I feel better after reading about the 47 rejections followed by success.
I know my stories have legs. It's up to me to stay believing in them. THat can be hard at times, but your blog has helped me feel better.
Hope Anam Cara is a blast. Never been there though I'm Irish, living in Ireland.
I'll be back to this blog again.

Vanessa G said...

Hi Abby

Thanks for visiting.

I'm glad the post has given you some heart... I wish you lots of good luck with your submissions.

I guess we have to learn to trust what we do, and the validation of a shortlisting from somehwere that means something is a good guide that a work has 'legs'.

Onwards and upwards!

(and yes, Anam cara is as wonderful as ever... )