Hey, mothers, here’s a question: Do people come up to you and tell you how ugly your baby is? No. No, they don’t. Because generally, when you’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating something, the average person isn’t inclined to come up and shit all over your achievement.
So, why are writers so scared to put their work out there? A writer friend and I have been discussing this recently. He finished his book, and wincingly told me he was going to submit it. My response ‘That’s awesome, wahoo!’ Because I say things like that, obviously. It wasn’t until I had to gear myself up for that same process months later that I realise what he was getting at.
So far, if I’ve shown it to people, it’s trusted friends and advisors, people who know what they’re talking about. Or people who are too polite to tell me if it’s rubbish. And if I leave it like that, then I don’t have to deal with the possibility that I might not be any good at this. It’s writer’s denial. It’s stranding yourself on an island and knowing that, yes, you created something, but no-one’s going to come rescue you unless you start putting the flares up and screaming at the top of your lungs. That analogy needs some work.
So, I’ve been doing so gradually, working my way up. I started with the Mslexia Novel competition, in which the book was longlisted. I recall it being some crazy number, from 700 submissions down to 100. So that means something. Then I entered it into a competition run by Bookline and Thinker, which I’ve yet to hear back from. And now it’s doing pretty well on Authonomy. But as The Walrus said, the time has come. Because, okay, I write for pleasure. But if I was just writing for me, I wouldn’t bother entering competitions or putting it on websites, would I? Books are written, and they are made to be read. That is their function.
There’s also the fear of seeming like a crazy person when you submit. You know the ones:
‘Hi there, this is my AMAZING book about THINGS AND STUFF. My mum really likes it, and the dog pissed on the first draft, so I think it’s lucky! Get in touch when you realise how awesome I am, and how I will make you millions. Well done for choosing me!’
Having belief if your art is important. Realising that you are one tiny person, and that in whatever you do, there will always be someone better and worse than you, is also important. It might be a matter of timing, it might be conflicting interests. It might be nothing to do with you at all, because the publishing market is having a hissy fit right now. But…what if it is me? What if I suck? What if I’ve spent four years and two degrees and a good portion of my life trying to do something that I am incapable of? These are just some of the questions that arise when you decide to submit. It’s not just a case of paying for some stamped addressed envelopes. This is the psychological shit, right here.
So what can you do? You can be prepared to respond badly. You can convince yourself you don’t care. You can bitch about the current titles offered by such a publisher. You can drink an entire bottle of whisky and tell yourself it didn’t do Hemmingway any harm. Or you can shrug, try and take on any criticism, and move on with your life. Maybe it’s just not your time right now. But be prepared.
If we’re going back to your manuscript being your baby, then would you send it on a plane ride by itself without knowing it’s being taken care of? Wouldn’t you wrap it up warm, and pack an extra bottle and do all that mother-type stuff that means you care about this little package of trouble more than anything else? What am I saying? Don’t send off half-finished, unedited bullshit. That is the opposite of being a good mother. Or writer. Be prepared, have a go, and if all else fails, I’m sure the whisky helps.
Happy Writing, and even happier submitting!