I have to be honest: I hate blackjack. Poker? No thanks. Craps? Don’t even get me started. But what I do like is writing. Short stories, newspaper articles, feature film scripts…you name it, I’ve written it. But I’ve recently come to realize that my love of writing and my disdain for gambling must meet and make beautiful music together. Why? Because getting your work out to the world and, better yet, published is a crapshoot. To be a success, you’ve got to play the odds.
Being a writer means your livelihood depends on submitting manuscript after manuscript to a bevy of faceless names in far away cities. Why? So they can decide if they want to publish your words. Promoting yourself is a necessity. But what’s the hardest thing for most authors to do? Send out their work. It’s a depressing pain. I used to feel that way. I had written a television show for Fox as well as written and directed two short films. Next, I wanted to conquer the literary world. But
getting my book published or my article into the next issue of Vogue seemed a daunting task.
I wrote a carefully composed manuscript and thought that sending my precious baby out into the world a few times (okay, four) was enough. I assumed some editor somewhere was bound to see it and proclaim its genius to the whole editorial staff. What I wasn’t thinking about was that on the other side of the submission queue was a towering stack of manuscripts written by people just like me, who were just as talented as me, and the majority of whom would get rejected…just like me.
Unfortunately, the reality of writing for publication is that you will get rejected. A lot. Remember, even Joyce Carol Oates gets rejected. Mastering your craft is only a piece of the puzzle. Getting published is a numbers game. The only way to win it is to send out as much work as possible, as often as possible. Everyone starts out on ground zero: no contacts, no published clips, maybe
not even an MFA. As a writer, you need to prove yourself and build up your relationships, experience, and reputation piece by piece. Though I realize all this now, after a few years of sending out a hodge-podge of submissions, and none too consistently, I was frustrated. Then I had a writing epiphany. I realized I was approaching the rest of my life—my finances, my apartment hunt, even my relationships—with the dedication I wasn’t giving to the most important thing in my life: my writing career.
It wasn’t that I didn’t devote enough time to the actual craft of writing. On the contrary, I did it for hours on end, literally wearing through the “N” and “M” keys on my poor laptop. I had amassed volumes of material, yet success still eluded me. I thought about the time I was applying for jobs after college. I’d sent out hundreds of resumes at a time, spending hours faxing, emailing and following up. The hunt for employment actually became my job. Now, years later, it was time to treat writing with the same dedication and respect. But that’s the eternal writer’s Catch-22: I didn’t have time for another full-time job. Then lightening struck again: what if someone took away the drudgery of the submission process (the aimless Internet searching, the manuscript printing, the stamp-licking) so writers could get down to the business of writing? It would be a victory for scribes everywhere, because they could send out more work than ever. An efficient submission system is the Holy Grail hard-working authors the world over have been looking for.
Take a writer like J.K. Rowling: it’s easy to forget that Ms. Rowling sent her writing out for years, endured numerous rounds of rejection, and was even on welfare for a time. Now she’s literally richer than the Queen of England. Why?
Because she kept sending her work out.
She didn’t run out of steam after the fourth rejection or even the fortieth, she persevered. She stuck it out. J.K. Rowling stacked the odds in her favor and guess what? She hit the jackpot. Big time. And someday, so will you.
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