Sunday, October 02, 2005

Submission Anxiety

Although I was going to avoid writing about the business of writing, this article on the slush pile by Susan Hill got me thinking. Her request for aspirant novelists got close on 4000 applications. I'm still juggling with that figure! When I was shortlisted for the Lichfield Prize, a prize worth £5000 and publication, I was one of less than a hundred entrants. There was a quite rigid entry criteria (the novel had to be located in Lichfield), but still... I wondered where Susan had advertised her "request" since she didn't receive many from literary agents or creative writing courses. Presumably those 4000 came from somewhere else - maybe in these "New Writer" magazines, or via mailing lists. Clearly, though she found a winning novel in the end, she also had to wade through more than her fair share of "slush". I used to suffer from submission anxiety - after sending something off, and waiting, and waiting. Becoming an editor of sorts gives you a chance to see it from the other side of the fence. One thing that surprised me is how much of a kitchen industry non-commercial fiction and poetry is in this country. Nobody - outside of London at least - seems to be paid anything to work in literature, and this, one of the country's greatest exports. My editorial time - like those I unjustly criticised for their tardiness - is short and occasional; lead times for magazines are 3-6 months at best. Submission anxiety was all about wanting to know when to "chase", what to "ask". Best thing to do with a returned envelope was send it or something else out again - get it out there. There were always stories or poems doing the rounds, and I would say that I'd recommend that to a writer even now. But I'm done with it. I guess like a lot of things, there's only so much you can take - but I think its more than that. Any "submission anxiety" I have now is of another type entirely. I don't know where I'd send anything. I've somehow burnt too many bridges. But I'm happier about it in some ways. I know too much about the disappointments, and how little it all matters, in the scheme of thing. The best I can do now is keep half-an-ear on opportunities that might leap out at me. I hope Susan Hill's chosen novel turns out to be a big success, the writer a real writer. One day soon I hope to have completed something else, something small perhaps, that I'm particularly proud of. I'll leave the submission anxiety until then.

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