Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Top 10 Reasons for Not Getting Published

After hanging around cons and workshops for awhile now, and after some soul-searching and self-examination, herewith is my personal list for why some people never get published:

  1. They never finish anything
  2. They never send anything out
  3. They never seek feedback
  4. They allow rejections to rule their outlook
  5. They don't research the markets
  6. They are careless in manuscript preparation
  7. They don't believe "Da Rools" are for them
  8. They don't understand what "professional" means
  9. They have a limited understanding of their own language
  10. They would rather "be" a writer than "become" one
I imagine a lot of people will have different ideas about this list. I think many writers will recognize themselves to a degree in one or more of these failings, at some point in their careers. For sure, I suffered from #4 for a long time. Rejections hurt; repeated rejections induce agonies of self-doubt and intense urges to just quit the whole game and find something less painful to do with one's spare time. Were it not for the sheer, equally intense joy of creating characters and watching what they do, writing would not be worth the abrasion of the soul caused by repeated rejections of one's efforts.

That said, persistence pays, and it only takes one acceptance to restore some of that wounded ego. You don't get acceptances if you don't haul the junk out of the drawer and send it out.

Reason #3 is a major cause of failed-writeritis. Your story may be good. Or not. Aunt Martha's opinion may make you feel better, but is Aunt Martha an editor, a professional writer, an English teacher, or a bibliophile who has read everything from Kafka to Heinlein and knows the difference between good literature and bird-cage liner? Writing in a vacuum leaves you vulnerable to stupid grammar mistakes, tired plots, cardboard characters, cliches, and newbie uncertainty. Ask. For. Help. There are too many great workshops out there, freely accessible and mostly free of charge, to twiddle your thumbs in a self-imposed bubble. Unless, of course, you want to spend the rest of your life getting rejections without knowing why.

An amazing number of people blithely violate #5. Research smeesearch. They neither read the magazines they want to be published in nor even the writers' guidelines put out by same. They send fantasy to SF markets, horror to children's markets, and erotica to Christian markets because they did not bother to check what those magazines want. Nor do they keep up with what is being published to see if their story is using a tired idea or doesn't fit the writing standard the editors are looking for. Besides, what editors say they want and what appears in the magazine often seems to be a disconnect. They're people. Occasionally a story comes over the transom they just can't resist. However, the odds of yours being one of them sink dramatically by simply firing stuff off in hope.

There are many guidelines for manuscript preparation but many people are clueless anyway. This relates directly to #8. Failing to grammar- and spell-check your masterpiece is a sure road to the rejection slip. Badmouthing the editor who rejected your unreadable masterpiece is another. Professionalism means treating your writing with the same level of attention and respect that you would take to your day job. The editor is your boss. Your story is an interview, and it surely will not get you the job if it is not dressed correctly, doesn't have the proper job skills, and doesn't get there within the reading window.

Reason #8 relates to #7. Writing is full of rules, from manuscript prep to grammar. People who fall into the trap in #9 are not likely to overcome #7. Understand the language you are writing in before attempting to violate rules of grammar in the name of style. Prove you can write before you start using run-on sentences or other stylistic tricks. Get rid of the ellipses. Learn what parentheses are for. Understand what paragraphs are designed to do. Best of all, learn proper punctuation, because no editor will sit through abusive punctuation from page 1. Da Rools apply to everybody, because no reader wants to suffer in the name of art. That's your job.

And now we come to my personal favorite, #10. I used to get students all the time who, when asked, said they wanted to be web designers. These students invariably ended up in the middle or bottom of the class. On the other hand, the students who stated without doubt that they wanted to become web designers did very well. They understood the difference between dreams and the hard work required to make them happen. You can scribble words on paper all day long but it won't make you a writer. You must master the good sentence and the good paragraph before tackling the good story. Once you can string grammatically correct and pleasing prose together, you can worry less about the mechanics of the writing and more about the progress of the plot and character development. And people will be a lot more inclined to read it.

Let the quibbling begin. . .


Iris said...

Hi Sue,

Thanks for the whack-upside-the-head... #1 is my problem (well, my MAIN problem) and if I can finally see something finished, then #s 2-10 are more than welcome to whatever's left of my hide.

Seriously, your list is going on the top of my bulletin board to give me much needed perspective. If I'm stuck and can't imagine how to plug the plot-chasm sucking the life out of the current WIP - I can spend an hour getting educated about a market or two.

Swapna Kishore said...

Great one, Sue!

I can think of some more.

*They never start anything.*

(I've been guilty of this one in the early days :-)

*They let feedback distract, confuse, and deter them.*

I think feedback is a very tricky aspect. While some people do not seek feedback, some argue with it and fight with the critiques/ comments. But I've also seen a problem in taking feedback in perspective. I have often been overwhelmed by excessive and even contradictory feedback, and almost given up. It's a trap, that.

Works of S. A. Bolich said...

I agree that feedback can be hugely confusing, and it is a main contributor to why so many of my stories remain in the drawer for so long. I've found that letting them (and associated crits) fade gently into memory for awhile gives me much-need perspective. Also, the crits I can remember after several months usually are the ones that have resonated the most, that my subconscious agrees with. I always start with those, then look at the rest to see if somebody caught other things those didn't.

Anonymous said...

I hope it's not bad form to comment on older posts. But I've suffered from quite a few of the noted problems since I started writing. I think #1 is my ain problem right now, and it leads to #2 and #3 by necessity. I think I've been lucky enough in my little writing route to avoid the rest, especially working as an editor for an e-zine, which has taught me a lot of about rejections and "da rools" and how to handle them.