I recently had the opportunity to judge a writing contest. I, and two other brave souls, volunteered to read all the anonymous entries, and choose one winner who would win “the pot” collected from the entry fees.
I am going to admit that this was a grueling experience at times. I swore, somewhere around the seventh entry, that I would never do this again. My relief when I’d finally read the last entry, and made my choice for winner, was overwhelming.
Then I got to thinking. What I went through is probably not unlike what an agent or a submissions editor goes through every day. They get a mailbox full of submissions, and they have to review them all and choose only one, or none.
Now, consider this. The people who entered this contest paid an entry fee. This is one of the reasons I volunteered. I mean, seriously… if you are going to fork up ten bucks to get into a contest, you gotta know your writing is good enough to have a chance, right? I imagined my mailbox filled with fantastic, wonderfully imagined and carefully crafted stories.
Did I get that? Ummm… Not always.
Now, this is not to say that there were not some great entries. There were. But at times, I held my hand to my head and thought, “What was this person thinking”?
The good thing that came out of this is the realization that what you hear is true. There is a lot of poorly written or poorly executed work out there in the query-sphere.
If you can honestly look at your work and say:
1. It has been edited multiple times
2. It has been critiqued multiple times
3. It has been beta read by multiple readers
4. I have listened to critiques/beta comments and made changes without thinking “they just don’t understand me” and ignoring them.
5. I have a story arc with a beginning, middle and end.
6. There is a journey/change in the main character that makes the story worth reading.
7. There is conflict.
I could keep going, but I’ll stop there. If you can say “yes” to all of the above, then you at least have a chance of getting read by an agent or editor. If you work stands out as well written and conceptualized, you will be in the 25% or so that will actually be considered. This is the place where good writing is a given. This is where you are in competition for the best story.
This is where you want to be. If you answered “no” to any of the list above, and you are querying and getting rejections, there is a possibility you are just wasting their time. (And yours)
What I realized judging this contest is that there must be hundreds of thousands of people out there that are wasting their time by submitting before they are ready.
Do your research. Make sure you have learned your craft.
Don’t be afraid to ditch a story you have worked on if it is not marketable. Move on to something else. Every time you sit down to write you are better than the last time. Be patient until you can honestly say “This is my best work.”