Here’s a hypothetical. You’ve just finished your first piece of fully contained writing. So, what now?
First up, congratulations. There’s a lot of very hard work involved in polishing something to the point at which you are willing to say it’s finished. Not only have there likely been several reworks, it’s also probable that you’ve had to sift through the often differing comments friends and / or peers have thrown at you, trying to decide which, if any, you should incorporate into your piece. By the time you’ve agonised over how much that might make it someone else’s piece instead of yours, some will have shoved the pesky thing in the circular file and resolved to start again.
But not you. You’ve done the work and you’re ready to say goodbye.
Second. Don’t panic. Sending your work out does sometimes feel like packing your five-year-old off to army boot camp. You never really know how well your piece will be received and the last thing you want is to appear stupid, so do your homework. Read the type of thing your prospective publisher wants. Usually it’s a pretty simple thing to look up their website and browse. They often have a list of titles they’ve recently published and / or material available online. If it’s a magazine, get yourself a few recent copies and read it.
If you’re prepared to do that, you’ll already have avoided one of the biggest pitfalls many beginning authors make – sending their work to the wrong place. If you’re writing science fiction, don’t send your work to a romance imprint unless you’re damn sure they’re looking for hybrid work that incorporates both.
Third, competitions are the one of the best places to begin sending your work, especially if you are working in shorter forms. Poetry, memoir, short story, creative non-fiction – they are all well represented in both Australian and overseas competitions. Even novella and novel length manuscripts are considered in specific areas. But again, be selective and make sure you’ve a reasonable idea of the type of work they are looking for. And honestly, stick to the guidelines. If you’ve gone to the trouble to write a full-length novel manuscript and the specific competition you’re entering asks for single-sided, 12 point New Times Roman type, with double spacing and 3cm margins, don’t send in something in Comic Sans, packed so tight you need a magnifying glass to read it. No matter how brilliant your manuscript might be, it will be binned without remorse and your reputation will be blackened.
And lastly, even if your piece doesn’t receive a monetary prize, a commendation, or make a shortlist or longlist, don’t feel that your effort has been wasted. If you have done your research well, there are sometimes unexpected rewards. Even though your piece may not be exactly right for a particular competition or publication at that particular time, who’s to say the judge or editor won’t like it enough to remember it, talk about it with other editors, judges or agents.
Let’s face it. As a new or relatively unknown author, it’s as much about exposure as anything else.
If you’re patient and persistent, you’ll wake up one morning to find that like the intricate weaving of a web visible only after rain, your efforts will have made tiny connections in the minds of people who matter and only in hindsight will the threads become clear.