Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Submissions: Part 2

It’s been my experience that some things get easier with time and practice, riding a bike, walking in high heels, even public speaking. There are some things though, that I am beginning to suspect are always going to cause me to break out in a cold sweat and lapse into temporary insanity. Given my dislike of crowds, one of those will always be going into a shopping mall during the Christmas season, but climbing the charts rapidly is submitting a manuscript to the deep dark pits of the publisher’s slush pile.

The third novel I ever wrote is now in the hands of a publishing house, may they be gentle with the fruits of my labor. Submitting a manuscript, at least to me, is a painfully revealing act that forces me to face my greatest fear of all, being judged by others and found lacking.  A rather counter-productive phobia for a writer, but there you have it, proof that the universe has a nasty sense of humour.

I set the submission for my deadline weeks ago, having reworked the novel using all the feedback I got from an editor who rejected a previous submission but saw promise in my work. That novel is still being reworked, but in the meantime I recognized that my third novel actually had evolved my writing to the point it was much closer to meeting the suggested changes, and so I focused on it first.  So it got a re-write, and then I set about rebuilding the synopsis, tightening up the language, checking for typos and spelling mistakes. I polished up the 200 word maximum length blurb designed to catch the editor’s eye and open the doors to a further review. I scoured, I reviewed, I re-wrote until I believed I had the submission perfect. I sent it to friends for review and fresh eyes. And yet as I ran my eye over the words one last time, I discovered I’d screwed up the spelling of a single word, multiple times. We’d all missed it. Spell check missed it. I was horror struck. Spelling errors in a submission document are the kiss of death. It’s like coffee stains on a resume, it sends the message that this is the best you can do, and you just don’t care enough to make it perfect.

Two frantic hours later I had finished reviewing the reviewed manuscript. By now it had been read over so many times even the pixels on the screen looked creased and well thumbed through and I felt like I’d been shooting espressos. My self doubt was using a bull horn in the back of my head and I was tempted to close up the whole thing and declare myself a retired writer. I finally simply closed the file, attached it to the email that had been sitting, proof read and patient, for several hours while I had my melt down in miniature. Then I said a mental prayer for acceptance and hit the send button.  This morning I got confirmation of receipt, which means in about six weeks I’ll know if I made it from the preliminary slush pile to the slush pile of an actual editor.  I’m going to use the time to go back and finish the rewrites on my other two novels, after all, if I make it to the next stage it might be 6 months before I hear from an editor, and the answer may still be no. (though I’m really, really hoping it’s not.) 

I think I understand better why writers are so well known for drinking and losing their minds.  It’s not the characters talking in their heads, it’s not the constant creation and discarding of plots and ideas, it’s not even the co-dependant relationship we all have with our muses.  I think it’s the self doubt that comes when we stare at a blank page, and the demon of writer’s block that sets us on that path. What pushes us all over the edge is the terrifying requirement that we take what we have created, born of sweat and tears and dreams, and cast it out for the world to see and judge. I’ve been at this for years now, and it has never gotten any easier than the first time. The more of myself I pour into my work, the harder it is to let it go.