There are only so many magazines and presses that resonate with your artistic project. You want those publishers to form a positive impression of your writing. If you send them your creations before they are finished, or before you’ve started writing publishable work, these publishers will remember you as someone who is not creating work they want to include in their magazine or list of books.
Imagine you are going out of the house for an important meeting. Would you leave the house without your shoes, just because you’re eager to get to your meeting, or you think you might be late?
I started sending work to one of my favorite poetry magazines when I was right out of college, in my early 20s. At the time, I was experimenting with all sorts of literary styles. I didn’t have either the sophistication, maturity, or distance to write any of those styles well. But I didn’t realize it. I just wanted to see my work in a magazine I admired, next to writers whose poetry I loved. I sent that magazine I liked work for every issue, and each time they rejected it. The editors probably decided I was a writer whose work they didn’t need to pay much attention to, and I can’t blame them. Now, years later, I’m sending them work with a lifetime of reading and writing and teaching behind it, and they’re still rejecting it, possibly because their image of me was shaped by the early writing I sent them repeatedly.
Waiting till your work is ready to send out is even more crucial for writers who work in book-length genres, such as the novel or a full-length work of nonfiction. You might finish a good draft of a book and find an agent to represent the manuscript. The agent sends the work out to forty potential publishers. They might all reject it, if it’s not really ready for publication. If you’re lucky, some editors might give suggestions on how to improve the text, but increasingly editors are too swamped to read a second version. What do you do then? You’ve already knocked on every possible door, so when you do finally revise your manuscript and it’s in publishable form, there’s nowhere left to send it.
So how do you know when a piece is ready to send out? When you’ve worked as hard on it as you can. When you have no further questions about how you could improve it. When no part of it makes you cringe. When you’ve shown it to several people whose taste and opinions you trust, and you’ve thoroughly incorporated their feedback. When you’re changing phrases back and forth to other phrases that are virtually identical. Then it’s probably done. For now.
In my next blog I’ll touch on how to decide where to send work.