Sunday, August 05, 2007

From Archon . . . Blunders New Writers Make

When you go to a science fiction convention, it is amazing how many people want to be writers. Most of the attendees are readers, but a large number of them really want to create stories and books that other people will want to read. But out of all the people that want to be writers, only a small percentage will actually get their work published in a magazine or book. A few more will get their work into fanzines (but I don't know how many fanzines are still out there.)

I'm not trying to write science fiction, but I am trying to write Christian books and publish photographs and articles in nature magazines. So I thought this panel would probably have some information I would find useful.

First and foremost . . . Did you follow the submission guidelines? This is going to be true no matter what genre you are involved with. Photography magazines, stock photography agencies, book editors all have their own way of wanting material presented to them. If you have ignored the submission guidelines, that is a strike against you from the word go. For photography, file size, amount of post processing, image quality, subject, etc are going to be listed. And I discovered that I needed to recheck guidelines. The technology is changing fast. One magazine changed its guidelines in between submisions I made. I was lucky, the editor patiently pointed me in the direction of upgrading my software and workflow. Some of the Christian book publishers want to meet you at a Christian Writer's Conference. Science fiction book editors seem to prefer that you have an agent. And, of course, there is a standard manuscript format. Ignore that, and they probably won't even look at your work.

If you are going to get your work out there, it is going to be rejected. Each market will have a different time frame in which they get back to you. If you try to rush this, they'll just send your work back. Read the rejection letters. Some of them are going to be very impersonal and obviously mass produced. But some are going to be written personally to you. Take note o those personal rejections. Many times you can make small changes and resubmit. But if the editor has suggested specific changes - don't change everything else and leave what was recommended unchanged . . . Don't laugh . . . it happened.

While sometimes a change an editor wants may go against your creative muse, the editor has the final say. If you are a new writer, you won't have the clout to get away with not making the change. On the other hand, you also probably don't have the experience either. The editor KNOWS his readership - what they like and what they don't like. It is to your benefit to get your work out there rather than having it sit lonely on your computer or in your file drawer.

Another mistake was one that really struck home for me: Finish your work! One of the panelists said, "Perfect is the enemy of good enough." I certainly made that mistake with my first book. I had it written for 3 years before I put it out where editors could see it. And then I waited another year before actually getting it into editors hands. I have more books to write. It is more important to get them started, written, finished, and SUBMITTED. I'm fighting that with my photography as well. It is more important to get those images submitted than to fret that they are not "good enough" and leave them wasting away on the hard drives.

On the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website there is a lot of information for beginning writers. If you surf this website, there is much information that is available for anyone to read. One of the panelists mentioned The Saga of Myrtle the Manuscript. It takes awhile to read, but it certainly shows what can happen to a manuscript as it goes through the submission process. My own story - one of my first photographic submissions I sent with the DVD and the contact prints in a large brown envelope - no cardboard stiffener. When I got it back, I was appalled, with no reinforcement, the dvd case had bent up the contact prints. Now I got off on this trip without my cardboard inserts, so I did send a submission without as good a protection, but I did find a way to separate that hard DVD case from the prints.

Living with a writer all these years, I know how hard it is to receive rejection letters. But the panel ended by talking about how much people learn from what at first looks like a failure.

While there were other things worth mention- especially for fiction writers - like point of view, showing rather than telling, the importance of the opening sentence, etc, I'm going to end this blog here. Science fiction conventions often have panels like this. New writers are well advised to attend conferences like this to learn from other people's mistakes. Plus, experienced writers leave all psyched up to go out and write some more.

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