Putting Yourself Out There: WHAM-OH Submissions

Does submitting your writing for publication ever get easier?

I’ve been thinking about that question since reading this comment from Magnificent Minimalist in response to my goal of submitting one short story per month this year:

“Congratulations on having the courage to submit a piece of writing! I applaud you! I’m guessing that you’ve done quite a bit of this, but it still takes a bit of WHAM-OH energy.”

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WHAM-OH energy! I love that. Author Heather Sellers, who submits a piece an average of ten times before it is accepted, writes in Page by Page that “Publishing doesn’t change your life or make it easier to write.” I would add that neither does being published make it easier to submit your work.

I definitely consider myself still a bit of a beginner as a writer. Yes, I’ve been published, but only now am I working to build what I consider a writing life and career, one that is planned more carefully and that is a central focus rather than something I do on the edges for fun (although I plan to keep the fun part).

That said, here are few things I’ve learned so far about submissions that work for me. This first part deals mainly with the emotions and attitudes of submissions, and tomorrow I’ll touch on more practical matters.

The Personal Art of Submissions, Part I

Think of the submission process as part of personal growth. Whether it’s speaking up in a practice pitch session at a conference or pressing SEND for an e-query or sealing that envelope that contains your short story, remember that you are taking another important step in your journey as a writer. Learning to deal with the inevitable rejection–don’t kid yourself about the fact that your work will be rejected along the way–can, if you adopt the right perspective, make you not only a more confident and skillful writer, but a stronger and more self-assured person.

This is one reason it’s very important to have a trusted person or group to whom you can turn for support when you feel discouraged, someone who will help you to keep your eye on the big picture and who won’t give you a wet blanket response (“I guess that writing stuff isn’t working out so well, is it?”) but who will instead encourage and support you (“I’m sorry Dream Publishing said no to your query. Where will you send it next?”). If close friends who aren’t writers or family members give you that kind of support, that is terrific, but don’t expect it from them, which leads me to my next tip.

Be selective in what submission details you share and with whom you share them. Be careful to avoid the extremes of having no one off whom you can bounce ideas for submissions and keeping your writing aspirations a secret, perhaps even from yourself, on the one hand, and, on the other, telling everyone you know about every submission you make. Some people aren’t interested in writing. Some people feel threatened by it. Others simply don’t know what to say. So don’t be surprised when you don’t get the kind of support you are looking for from the person sitting next to you on the bus, or even from your best friend or spouse.

At the same time, don’t go it all alone as a writer. By telling someone, even just one other person, about what you hope to accomplish and the ideas you are exploring, you are telling yourself that they matter enough to utter aloud. If the thought of talking about your writing terrifies you, start by reading other writers’ blogs and sharing your own experience in the comments section.

Submit, then forget. After you offer a piece or a pitch, turn your attention to another project as soon as possible. Don’t think of that one submission as a make-or-break deal. It’s not. Not only would you be setting yourself up for a huge let-down if the answer is “no,” you also run the risk of saying “yes” to something you don’t really want.

My first big submission (for a piece longer than an article) was a proposal for a book on homeschooling. The first publisher I sent it to got in touch by phone to express interest, but wanted to know if I could change the focus in ways that, in the end, I was neither comfortable enough with nor knowledgeable enough about to agree to. So I declined, but not without some angst, because it was, I thought, my dream publisher. However, the next publisher I tried turned out to be the perfect fit for me, my true dream publisher. If I had felt desperate enough to say yes to the first respondent, I know I wouldn’t have been nearly as happy with the book.

Set goals that hit the sweet spot between too challenging and too easy. For me, the goal of submitting a short story a month is that kind of goal. I could have set a goal to have a certain number of stories published this year–at this point in my fiction career, too challenging and too much out of my control. Or I could have set the goal to write a couple of short stories this year–too easy and not challenging enough. The sweet spot will be different for everyone, depending not only on where you are in your writing career, but also on your personality, so if someone else’s goals aren’t working for you, change them to suit your own needs.

Remember that you are submitting your writing, not your self. Something I discuss with my college freshmen students each fall is that getting a B or a C or even worse on a written assignment does not mean that they are B or C (or even worse) people, or even that they are C writers. It means they have room for improvement on that particular writing assignment. I’ll go even further: It means that a specific reader decided to give that grade to a specific assignment. No more, no less. Learn from it what you can about your writing, make any necessary changes, and move on. Do not let it affect how you feel about yourself, other than knowing you are the kind of person who knows that who you are is so much more than what you write on a given day or what one reader thinks of it.

Still to come: The Personal Art of Submissions, Part II

2 thoughts on “Putting Yourself Out There: WHAM-OH Submissions

  1. Great post, Lisa. These are all so true. I do the same thing w/ my goals–I want goals that push me but don’t overwhelm me. I’d also add it’s important to stay open and flexible with goals. I wanted to push myself with my writing this year, but wasn’t sure what form it would take. After a random series of events this week, I’m doing a week long writing retreat with editors (several ‘dream’ editors) and a fabulous agent. I’m so excited by how much I’ll learn!

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