July 5th, 2008


The Scary Thing About Publication

Yesterday, Renard's Menagerie sent me the final proof for my story that they're buying. This was massively exciting to me: there was my story, but looking slick and magazine-like, with the first letter of each section all big and the whole thing in a very slick font. And one other thing -

- the writing wasn't as good as I could do now.

Mostly, I blame the fact that I wrote this story before taking two semesters of Advanced Creative Writing with Professor Robbins. Those classes made a world of difference in the quality of my writing. I did edit the story after that, but not mercilessly enough, clearly.

This feeling has struck me before. I often get nerves about submitting work for possible publication, because I have seen work that I liked, work I thought was good, get much better after I edit. What's to say that this work I now think is good, good enough for publication, isn't one more edit away from massive improvements? Publication takes a work out of a fluid, easily-edited state and effectively carves it in stone for anyone who cares to look. Personal pride dictates that I send out only work that is as good as I think I can possibly make it. Obviously, I can't keep giving it edit after edit, or I would never send anything out, but it is tough to decide that something is good enough.

It isn't just a question of whether the writing is good enough for the public eye. In many cases, as you surely know, the work doesn't reach the public just because you've sent it out to an editor or two. And there's the other risk: if the magazine or agent rejects the story or novel, and then I edit and improve it, they likely won't want to see the same piece again. This happens to me quite a bit, and is especially tough with novels, because agents more frequently accept multiple submissions than magazine editors, so you're more likely to have hit them all with the unedited version, and be left not knowing where to turn once you've fixed it up. So there's that balance. Sending out work that's not as good as it can be spells failure (or, if accepted, a bit of cringing at the knowledge that the general public will read a piece of your work that's not at its best). On the other hand, you've got to send it out sometime!

I think this hits me particularly hard because my serious writing career is pretty young. I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen, for a high school creative writing class. Since then, I've edited it at least twice, and I shudder at the idea of people reading the original. My fantasy world - totally removed from Earth - had people speaking Latin. And calling it "Latin." I laugh to remember that I did, in fact, send the manuscript around to agents when I was about seventeen. Not only have my fiction writing and editing skills improved vastly since then; my query letters have gotten better, as has my judgment of when work is ready to send out. Experience, reading, research, editing, classes, and - of course - writing, have all helped me.

To return to my original subject, I should point out that the story picked by Reynard's Menagerie is far from worthless. It isn't confusing, and contains no errors, just the occasional flabby or awkward sentence. True, if I wrote it today, the prose would be more polished, but:

1. The story is not in my usual style, which made it more difficult to edit.

2. When editing this piece, I was distracted from the prose by the storyline, of which I'm rather proud. In this latest reading, I finally got past the storyline because of how many times I've read the piece lately, and was able to look at the prose on its own. (Thus explaining how I didn't notice its iffiness in earlier proofs.) Such is my theory, anyway.

3. Most importantly, it will soon be published. Whatever I publish next may be better edited, but this one will still be a valuable literary envoy from me to the world. And I get a little experience with the world of professional writing, as well as a check.

So, while it was a blow to see work that I could improve in this final proof (extensive editing is NOT the reason the magazine sends people final proofs, or I wouldn't be having this issue at all), I can dust myself off, pick up my laptop, and use this as motivation to be a more stringent editor. After all, what better incentive than presenting my very best work to legions of potential adoring fans? :)