I would love to live in a world where art is art, and where the judgment of art seems predatory and wrong. I would also like to live in a world where we could live in harmony and speak freely (relatively) without judgment or fear, and where people can say things, truly, out of love and care to help us be better humans all the time. I wish we could all live in a state of constant growth without the repercussion of someone feeling less than or left behind in comparison.
But, alas, here we are.
Art sometimes has guidelines, just like everything else.
No one likes to be told to color within the lines, especially artists.
The truth is, boundaries are our friends. We need boundaries, and even the most haphazard-pantser-abstract artists will meet at a fence someone told them they couldn’t cross. There are exceptions to the rule, but sometimes, SOMETIMES, we need to talk about the rule. Why? Because exceptions are outliers, and we can’t live our lives fully if we constantly compare ourselves or our situation to statistical outliers.
So, let’s talk today about “the rules” and how and why it will get you ahead of everyone else. I am going to mention some writing/ publishing-specific rules here, but some pertain to other goals and art avenues as well, so keep reading.
- You HAVE to finish the project. You cannot make something out of an idea. You cannot expect someone to invest in your ability that you have not proven. You cannot guarantee you have the goods until you actually produce the goods. MOST PEOPLE DON’T FINISH OR EVEN START THEIR PROJECTS. If you finish even a first draft, you are well ahead of most people. So, if you have the time, energy, and passion, finish it.
- Edit, then edit again. Then, after you edit, edit again. If you can’t edit yourself, find a grammar-loving, book-reading, friend and have them help. Polish your work. No matter your project idea, you cannot finish a piece of poop thinking someone else in an editing/management position can turn your turd into a truffle.
- Submit your work to the appropriate person. Not all agents/contests/publishers accept the same kind of work. People who submit to 100 agents or more are probably (but, maybe not) submitting to places that don’t represent what they write. You want someone knowledgeable about YOUR project and someone who knows other people who are knowledgeable in that area. If they say they don’t want X, Y, or Z, and you have X, move along to someone who wants your X.
- Follow the guidelines. When submitting to a contest or agent, A LOT of people don’t follow the guidelines. If they want an email, but they want you to copy and paste your project in the body of the email and NOT AN ATTACHMENT, don’t send an attachment, for the love of everything good and holy, please don’t send what they don’t want. Believe it or not, if you do what they ask AND you have a completed, polished, work, you are already cream-of-the-crop material.
- Don’t sell something you don’t have. Submit your best. The best that you can do. You may need to try again. People do not usually get agents or publishing deals with their very first manuscript. The average is FOUR. Yup. That’s FOUR tries with full, polished manuscripts on average before an agent even considers offering representation. So, if you want it, buckle in for the long haul. This dream ain’t meant for the faint of heart.
Who am I and what do I know?
I am on manuscript three… I think it’s three. I think this is the third one I will try to submit to agents… I write a lot of stuff. I do a lot of research. I follow ALL of the guidelines.
I have gotten full manuscript requests for past projects AND personalized editorial rejections. Those kinds of personalized rejections do not happen if you aren’t SUPER close to what someone is looking for. It feels like a gut punch to be that close and get handed a “no” but because I followed the guidelines I am that much closer to my “yes” this time around.
So, to all my BIG DREAMERS out there, and my writing fellows, follow the guidelines. It’s worth it. It’s worth your time and THEIRS. Keep trying. It’s not easy for MOST. Remember you are more than likely the rule and not the exception.
Best of luck, break all the legs, and Godspeed.