Saturday, May 22, 2010

Are You Entitled to Be Published?

This is for my younger readers, though I know it will come off as an old person "in my day we walked 10 miles in the snow..." post. But here goes.

While a positive attitude is important in the writing business, writers need some humility too. In my experience, the best new and emerging writers expect rejection, are thrilled and surprised by acceptance, and take every bit of advice and editing along the way as a precious gift that will lead to improved future submissions and maybe more chance at publication.

There is an interesting phenomenon occurring with new writers, many of them young, writing for content sites. This is a great way for college students and recent grads to make some extra cash. The pay per article isn't high, but it can provide some pin money for pizza and beer during the school years or during the after-grad job search, and even after getting a job if you have extra time in the evening.

But be warned! Being accepted at content sites doesn't make you an accomplished "writer" anymore than flipping burgers for a summer job qualifies you as a sous chef. Like many entry level jobs, however, it can be a learning experience. The problem is, too many new writers don't see it that way.

As noted in another post, these sites often imply a certain selectivity in the application process. In reality, you will often receive an acceptance email in less time than it took to open your attachments.  Then, if you are lucky, the weeding process will actually begin with your early submissions, which may be heavily edited, with only a certain number of rejections allowed before writers are dropped.

Why do I say lucky? Because without that process new writers will just continue making the same mistakes and carrying those mistakes into other venues. I'm the first to say that writing for content sites isn't a step toward scholarly journals or literary magazines, but there are some things that apply across the board, like:

  • Reading and following guidelines. 
  • Reading samples of published work in addition to, or in place of, guidelines when they aren't clear or available.
  • Writing clear and coherent sentences without too much passive voice.
  • Avoiding filler words and phrases like "one of the most important..." or "if you are considering..."
  • Proofing every submission carefully for proper punctuation (which can vary from site to site), spelling and typos.
To my more experienced readers this may sound obvious, but often new writers, who see acceptance to write for any site as a seal of approval, not only do not do the above but take serious umbrage at any kind of criticism, let alone rejection. I read posts in forums of other writing sites that complain about Copy Editors at the site where I work for being "too picky" or sending back or rejecting work for "minor" things. In three weeks I have had five writers appeal my rejections. In every case these were pieces where, despite little chance of bringing them up to par, I wrote copious instructions for rewrites. Sometimes these writers fixed some of the gaping errors but not all. But, in most cases the writing was just bad, and while I attempted to say that in a nice way, the writers obviously did not agree.

While there have always been writers who think they are better than they are, what concerns me, in this era of instant publication gratification through blogs, self publishing and a growing number of all-inclusive venues, is that some new and emerging writers, at least in the freelance market, have begun to see publication as an entitlement. When it doesn't happen or they are required to make some changes, they gripe to other writers or, worse, send an irate email to the publisher or editor, often showcasing the very reasons their work wasn't publishable in the first place.

I encourage those writing for the freelance market to learn what literary writers know all too well. You are not entitled to having your work published. Every bit of feedback is a gift. Every rejection is an opportunity for learning. Use it and learn. If you can't do that, you are in the wrong business.

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