Vision: A Resource for Writers
By Teri Sandstedt
You've written a story, and even edited it. Congratulations. Pat yourself on the back. Now comes the hard part. You have to send it out.
Many people find it far too easy to edit endlessly -- checking, improving and perfecting -- instead of starting another story from an empty page. We may say that we only want to get it right, to make sure it's the best it can be, but it may be fear that fuels the continued editing: fear of finishing, because when it's done we have to let other people see and judge it, and it's not perfect yet.
It will never be perfect. Memorise that phrase. It will never even be the best you can do, because you are always learning. All you accomplish with eternal fiddling is a story edited to death. If you are just fiddling with the prose, it's time to stop, and send it out. Isn't that one of the reasons you write, after all? To be published? So check the spelling and prepare to let it go. It isn't your baby, it's a fledgling, and one day, sooner than you expect, it has to hop to the edge of the nest and fly on its own.
Before you send it off you need to research markets. Which ones accept your kind of story, at the length you've written? And you need to know all of them, because it's highly unlikely that your story will sell to the first place. Read the stories the different markets have published in the past to see if your story fits their preferred style. If you're not sure, add the market to your list. Let the editor decide if it's right for them. You don't want to eliminate any market if you don't have to; there are few enough to start with. Check the Internet and writers' directories for more possible markets. Ralan's SpecFic & Humor Webstravaganza (http://www.ralan.com) or the sites of societies like the Romance Writers of America are good places to start, depending on your genre. Make sure you read the guidelines if they are available. Some markets have specific or unusual requirements.
Once you've got your list, prioritise it and address a large envelope to the first market listed. You are going to send them the story you've written. Write a letter to go in the envelope. Some short story markets say it's not essential, but a brief note giving word count, genre and title of your submission can't hurt. What hurts is an unprofessional letter, one that explains or describes the story, or says how much you mother loves it and how much the editor will regret it if he doesn't publish it. Keep the letter short and informative, and make sure it has your name and address on it.
Now you need to add the story itself. A short story doesn't need a cover page, but make sure your real name and address are at the beginning, especially if you have a pen name in your byline. Unless the market requests something different in their guidelines, make sure your story is properly formatted: double-spaced, 12-pt Courier with one inch margins. It's not pretty, but it's easy for the editor to read. It's what they want, and you want to be nice to the editor. She's the one who'll buy your story.
For a novel, you may only need to send the first three chapters. Check the guidelines for each publisher to see what they request. The good news is that this saves on postage, but the bad news is that you need to write a synopsis, too. There are many sites on the Internet offering to help uncover the mysteries of this elusive skill. I found a good one at http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Estates/9534/barebones.html, but type "synopsis" into any search engine to find a dozen more. There are also several articles at HollyLisle.com and in previous issues of Vision.
Your envelope should now contain a short letter and your story or first three chapters and synopsis. The only thing left is a SASE. If you want your manuscript back, make sure the postage covers the cost, but in this age of computers it's easier and cheaper to mark your manuscript disposable and enclose a letter-sized envelope for reply. You can just print the story out again when it's time to send it to the next place on your list.
But what happens if you read your manuscript before you seal the envelope and realise that you can improve it if you just...
I could have said what happens when you realise how you can improve it, because you will always see something. Reprint a page to correct a typo if you must, but remember that the story is done. It will never be perfect, so send it out and start writing the next, better story before you realise you've spent so long perfecting this one that you've killed it. This story may not be the best thing you've ever written, and it certainly is not the best thing you will ever write, but you cannot decide if it's good enough to be published. Only the editor can do that. Your job is just to put it on an editor's desk to let her decide.
This article was nearly two weeks in my head before I thought it was "good enough" to write. I had finished it on the day I said I would. Then I decided I could do it better if I restructured it. Rewrote it, in effect. It wasn't "good enough." I've been clinging to it, improving it. It's not ready yet...
I have to let go, and fly.