What do you do if you're not ready for the big leagues? Or too darn scared to try?

My friend, MC Hana, and I both responded to a post on Absolute Write about a week ago. In it, someone was talking about fear of writing and a number of different issues were discussed around the kinds of fears that writers, particularly beginning writers, have to deal with as they work through the process of improving their craft. She wrote a post later on her blog, in response to something I had said.

Now, here’s my take on this–I have no problem with someone who knows that their stuff isn’t ready for the big leagues picking a smaller–well researched and reputable–publisher to sub to. Or for whom the thought of trying to produce a manuscript, one that might make it even to the point of a personalized rejection, creates a kind of writing stasis mediated by fear. Not everyone can be a Scalzi or a Sanderson (although, Brandon Sanderson wrote 12 novels–count ’em, 12!–before he got offered a publishing contract.) The way I look at it, I know I can sub to the Big 6, if I’m willing to wait to make it through all the slush piles. That’s not the issue.

What I was talking about was fear, which is a very real issue that many writers face on a daily basis. Some people would say that if you can’t overcome your fear of the rejections you will surely receive, then you shouldn’t be writing. I call shenanigans on that. The business is difficult enough as it is–there’s no need for us to be eating our young.

Yes, some people shouldn’t be writing and submitting. They don’t have the proper command of grammar or vocabulary, or maybe they haven’t yet developed the complexity of mind necessary for a riveting narrative. But, there are a lot of people out there who are close, so close, and they shut themselves down because they can see that they aren’t quite there yet and they need someone to guide them those last few feet. I know a surprising number of writers who fall into that category. And this is where I feel these second tier publishers can be of use to us.

You can learn a lot about the mechanics of writing good, entertaining prose through courses, in critique groups, while chatting on forums and from books on craft. But the real learning, beyond the self-training that occurs in those other arenas, is when you have to rewrite your work to suit your market. There are things I will never do again, because I’ve had to rewrite for a market. For those struggling with the fear of rejection, an acceptance even to a smaller market may be what keeps them in the business, despite school, home life, jobs and all the other things with claims on our time. And all those big, well-respected publishers had to start somewhere. There are a number of them out there now that didn’t exist ten or fifteen years ago, markets I would love to get into.

Just be sure you check them out, either on Writer’s Beware, or on Absolute Write (in the Bewares and Background Checks forum), before you send anything out. Check out their authors, read a few of their books to see what you’d be getting. Talk to people publishing in your genre and see what their opinions are of the smaller publishers. Do your homework, just the same as you would research for your book. This is your baby, after all. And don’t start at the absolute bottom, but a little higher than you think you can reach. We are our own worst critics.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t respect yourself if you submit to a publisher that isn’t Random House’s main imprint, or Tor, or Penguin. Everyone has their personal goals and it’s your right not to be ready for that yet. Be aware that you will be sacrificing sales in exchange for a smaller pool to be noticed from, but it’s not the end of the world to publish in a smaller press first. After all, there’s a reason we call them plot bunnies…you can be pretty sure there’ll be more. And when that truly special one comes along–we can hang out together in the slush pile with all the other soon to be big dogs. 🙂

About the author: Kate Lowell

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