During the Pikes Peak Writers Conference last week we were presented with a challenge in the form of a contest. The theme was to concentrate on getting it done and submitted as opposed to getting it perfect. The deadline was the Wednesday after the conference, which was especially tight for me because I was flying home on Tuesday. I spent Wednesday with my girls (after not seeing them for almost a week) and by Wednesday night I’d decided I would just have to let the contest go.
Then I read a blog post by the contest sponsor DeAnna Knippling about not entering her own contest. She did, however, write a story for it, and found a venue.
The venue was one of the parts that I was sure would take me hours and hours to find. Seeing that she’d found one, I looked at it and decided that I would attempt the contest after all, even though I only had five hours left. (Three, if I wanted to get to bed by midnight. I took four and a half.) I copied the contest’s guidelines and the venue’s submission guidelines into a new document, and started writing.
I enjoy flash fiction, and I know that sometimes what comes out is crap, but every once in a while what comes out is positively inspired. This story felt like flash fiction, with such a short time to write it. What came out was pretty good. Not my best, not something I’d get excited about, but cute in a way that almost tempted me to dig out my children’s book pseudonym for submittal (I didn’t. I stuck with Inverness.) I read it out loud once and fixed a few little things, then checked the submission guidelines again so I knew exactly what font and formatting and information the publisher wanted.
This is where I apparently excel. In fact, I often stress far more over whether I did everything in the submission process just right than I do over the story itself. Yet I do hear stories from agents and publishers alike about scores of submissions being discarded simply because the writer didn’t follow directions. Sometimes this is nit-picking, such as using Ariel font instead of Times New Roman. However it is often some more important detail, such as sending to an agent who does not represent the genre written. Missing a deadline is also a big problem. It’s bad enough to miss a deadline when you already have a relationship or even a contract with a publisher, but to miss a deadline when it is your first introduction to the publisher is unprofessional at least. Far better to simply tell oneself “Oops, I missed that opportunity,” and not submit at all instead of having one’s initial contact with the publisher be so rude.
I submitted my story Something Borrowed, Something Blue to both the publisher and to the contest. A few days later, I found out that I’d won!
I was curious as to how many writers had entered. It was, after all, a tight deadline. You can read DeAnna’s breakdown of how many entries there were (ten) and how many of those entries failed to meet the guidelines in some way (seven) leaving only three.
I was surprised… not at the small numbers of entrants, but at the overwhelming percentage (more than half?) that missed some aspect of the instructions. Granted, DeAnna herself mentioned that she should have been clearer. I was confused the first time I read them, and so I asked her to clarify. Also, some entrants probably sent something just for fun, not really intended to compete or to submit to an actual publisher.
I asked around, and it seems that I’m safe in saying that well over half of submissions in general don’t follow 100% of the instructions. The actual number may be closer to 70% or 80% or more that don’t get it exactly right. Sure, some writers might not be as conscientious as they should about making sure they’ve done everything exactly as instructed, but there are also problems with instructions being outdated or unclear. Some authors miss some detail on purpose because they are hoping the agent or publisher will make an exception for them, such as submitting something slightly over or under the word count.
This is encouraging to me. One thing I learned at the conference is that I should be submitting much more than I have. Although I still intend to get my novels polished and ready for that just-right venue, I can do more short stories. I’ve learned that there are more than enough calls for submissions out there. I simply need to pick the right ones and stay organized about what I’ve sent and to whom. Oh…that reminds me… DeAnna also suggested a submission tracking website for authors. I think I’ll look into that too!
Wish me luck.