Friday, July 11, 2014

A Lesson In Being Realistic From “The Simpsons’”


First, we’ve just had our 1000th hit on this blog. I know that some of those are referrer spam, but I’m excited anyway. Thank you for reading.

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One of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons’ is “Diatribe of a Mad Housewife.” In that episode, Homer buys an ambulance, and Marge meets an author named Esmé Delacroix during an author reading at a bookstore. While listening to the reading, Marge decides that she could write a romance novel, even though she’s never attempted to write one before. During the Q&A after the reading, Marge asks Esmé, “If I write a book, will they tell me when it comes out?” Esmé’s response is, “Well, they should.”

Marge missed one of the most difficult steps in the writing process: actually finding someone to publish your work.

For the last few years, I’ve been working as an editor for a literary journal and an anthology. One of the best things that learning to be an editor has taught me is how to be realistic about publishing. It can be insanely difficult to get your work published. I know that new writers hear this all the time, but I don’t think they fully grasp the meaning of “insanely difficult.”

Here’s an example. We finished editing our anthology a few months ago. The anthology received nearly 400 submissions from authors all over the world. Do you know how many of those submissions we’re publishing? Twenty-seven. That’s it. Twenty-seven out of nearly 400. It’s not because we only got twenty-seven good submissions. We received hundreds of good submissions, and we spent a lot of time discussing them before we decided which ones to accept and which ones to reject. We’re publishing those twenty-seven submissions because they’re well-written and represent the theme of the anthology. We had to reject a lot of great submissions because they just didn’t fit with the theme of the anthology.

Over the last few years, I’ve learned that getting your writing published is about talent and luck. Yes, you have to be a good writer, but you also have to find an editor/publisher/company/journal/anthology that’s publishing the kind of stuff that you write. The twenty-seven writers who will be published in our anthology are all extremely talented, but they were also lucky enough to stumble across the submission guidelines for an anthology that was looking for the kind of stuff that they write.

Many rejection letters contain some version of the phrase, “Thank you for submitting, but this piece isn’t what we’re looking for right now.” That’s not a lie or a platitude. Your piece really isn’t what they’re looking for right now. That’s where the “insanely difficult” comes in. It can be hard to know what they’re looking for, even if you’re familiar with the type of work that they publish. All you can really do is submit and hope that you get lucky.

In “Diatribe of a Mad Housewife,” Marge did get lucky. Her novel was published and sold a lot of copies, despite getting horrible reviews. Publishing in real life isn’t quite that simple.     

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