Wed 31 Mar 2010
Reading Camille’s post “Professional Writers – How an Editor Can Tell” got me thinking.
Here I am, a writer who has been professionally occupied in her chosen field (fiction and poetry) for almost a decade now, a writer who gave up a good corporate job to pursue her passion for writing, one who has since then also turned down similar jobs to continue doing what she loves most, even though it hardly pays, and above all a writer who prides herself in her professionalism.
But a couple of questions arched their eyebrows at me when I read Camille’s post. How professional am I exactly? Am I always professional? Without fail? I confess not.
When I start off on a submission I am professional. In other words I have -
a) Submitted to the journal after familiarizing myself with its content by reading past issues and/or samples of work
b) Read the guidelines over and over again
c) Opened the link to the guidelines page beside my own email so I can double check while I write my cover letter, unless the magazine has a submission form like Every Day Fiction
d) Checked my chosen submission/s to see if I am submitting exclusively or simultaneously – some magazines encourage/tolerate this and some don’t, so it makes sense to go through your records before choosing your submission and AFTER finding out the magazine’s preferences
e) Proofed my submission once again, just in case, before attaching or copy-pasting in the email or uploading it into the submission form
f) Run a spell check over my cover letter (I wrote about the perils of not doing this in an earlier post)
g) Paused before hitting the send button and quickly gone through all of the above, uttered a quick prayer for good measure and then clicked “Send!”
h) Sat for a minute blinking at the computer screen and told myself, “okay that’s one on its way, and there’s nothing left to do. But there is…
i) Opened my submissions progress chart and noted the date, title of submission, magazine name and approximate wait period
j) Stared at the computer screen for another two minutes and told myself, “okay that one’s done and cannot be recalled even if I’ve made a mistake, time to move on and do something really important, like resuming writing.”
The last point is important, because it should ideally read as “that one’s done and ought not to be recalled,” because there have been instances when I have slipped up. I have -
a) Double submitted when the magazine clearly asked for exclusive submission
b) Noticed (Oh! The Horror!) typos and/or other mistakes in my submission, even one is an axe on the feet of your poor submission, believe me
c) Submitted an already published piece because I forgot it was published because that was a long time ago, and this is even more horrifying, trust me
d) Made a submission almost immediately after a rejection or acceptance letter to the same magazine. This is not done. Think, ponder, mull over everything, wait for a decent period within the submission window before submitting to the same magazine or at least query. Editors don’t want to be overwhelmed by the same writer, even when they welcome repeat submissions
The “Good God What Have I Done” bit does not end there on the rocky road to professionalism. It continues even after a clean submission.
I have on occasion been “chummy’ with the editor, almost at least, after an acceptance letter. Confessing this on a public forum honestly makes me blush, but I have done it in the past during that moment of emotional or writerly weakness. This is a complete no-no. Editors are busy people and they are interested in your work, genuinely interested in your work, but they are not your friends and have no intentions of becoming so. They don’t expect you to be grateful to them just because they published your work, and don’t expect a gushing thank you letters; they would rather read another submission.
Frankly speaking, becoming overwhelmed with gratitude is a loser’s attitude. If you respect yourself and your writing, please be assured that your piece was selected purely on merit and not because the editor felt sorry for you poor writer or was feeling particularly generous that day and picked yours up on a whim. If you must be grateful, be grateful to God, your muse, your family for tolerating your crankiness and eccentricities and so on.
Yet, I confess, even as I write this post, there have been occasions when my knees buckled and un-shed tears sparkled in my eyes after an acceptance letter; I have wanted to run and hug the editor. Usually I am able to stop myself from doing something silly (read send a gushing letter to the editor) and instead let the good feeling wash over me until it settles and adds another layer to my confidence level.
I make mistakes despite knowing the rules of the game. I probably will in the furture, every now and then. I have learnt to accept this because I am an emotional creature and a writer. I will have my moments I know. I will be unprofessional at times, no matter how hard I try all the time. There will be gaps, hopefully no gaping holes, in my professionalism. I have learnt not to be too hard on myself, not wear myself down with self-criticism. I have learnt to move on.
Rumjhum Biswas lives and writes in Chennai, India, though lately her writerly life has taken a back seat, somewhat. She hopes that will be ammended later on in the year. Meanwhile she braces herself for the awesome Chennai Summer. Her main blog is Writers & Writerisms