A Mistake With Justice
OK, I’ll admit it. Writers are an insecure bunch of folks—and I’m one of the first to stick up my hand and say that I’m one of them. As creative types, we pour ourselves into our work. If it’s a novel, then we get totally wrapped up with our characters and the dialogue and our plot twists and turns. If it’s nonfiction, then we are weaving story with how-to information to combine to drive the reader in a certain direction. If it’s a magazine article, then it has a particular shape and point to it.
When we tuck our manuscript or book proposal into an envelope and send it out. Or write a query letter to an editor, we are putting ourselves out there. It hurts to get rejected and turned down. I know it’s just business and not personal but we still believed we were sending our article or our manuscript to just the perfect place—and the answer was no. I’ve mentioned some of the reasons for rejection in earlier posts here. It’s unfortunate but some writers get so bothered with the responses, they never send in their materials or try to get it published. It’s a shame.
About twenty years ago, I was living in Southern California and involved in a monthly critique group. The experience of meeting with these four people was instrumental in shaping my own experiences as a writer and editor. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about and want to organize one, follow this link). Each month we met for breakfast and critiqued each other’s manuscripts. One member of the group had never published anything. His skill was writing the long form (anything over 60,000 words). My writing life was getting started and I was thrilled if I could complete a short 1,000 word magazine article during the month between sessions. I admired this writer who could produce volumes of material. Unlike some writers, Bill had (and has) a huge talent for dialogue and plot twists. We reviewed part of a novel each month and it was eagerly received and read. It turns out Bill had written seven of these full-length adult novels (80,000 to 100,000 words). One day I turned and asked, “What do you do with these, Bill, after you complete them?”
He looked a little sheepish and said, “I put them in my file drawer and start on the next one.” I was surprised that he never tried to get these stories out into the marketplace. If you go to a writer’s conference or are involved in a writer’s forum, it seems to me like almost every other writer is working on a long novel. There are literally thousands of these manuscripts in circulation at different publishing houses.
From what I’ve seen most of these novels are submitted way too early. The writer hasn’t learned the craft of writing or skill in storytelling. Many of these novels are simply clogging the publishing world. In one sense, you admire the courage of these writers to try and get it out there—but because they receive form letter rejections, they have no idea how to fix their work. The editors can’t give you this feedback. You learn to fix your work and grow in your craft through the critique process. Through the encouragement of our little group, Bill learned about the marketplace and how to submit his materials, gain a hearing and get published. I’m thrilled to report most (possibly all) of those novels are in print.
We’re insecure and make mistakes. Yet as writers, we are tough skinned and continue to get our material out into the marketplace—and work to find a home for it.
Remember my recent business card incident? I told about proofing the wrong zip code. My new cards were ready so I went to pick them up. Because I pre-paid, they simply handed me the cards—in two boxes. I was surprised since I only ordered one box of 500. I had paid for the batch of previous cards with the error (my mistake), then put them into the recycle bin. I showed the customer service employee my receipt for one box of business cards. Then he said, “I thought you ordered 1,000 cards. I guess you lucked out.” To me it was much more than luck. It looked like a mistake with justice.