When I first started writing, I think the percentage of my work that was “worth publishing” was pretty close to zero. Isn’t that true of most writers? We start tentatively putting words on the page, unsure if we are communicating effectively even with ourselves, let alone any outside audience. We might have a burning story to tell, but however much it burns inside of us, our audience won’t be interested in reading it until our writing abilities and skills have improved enough.
What is enough? That’s the hard question. Who of us can honestly judge when our writing is good enough, affecting enough, clear enough, to give or sell to our readers? Even best-selling and award-winning writers still went through a rigorous editing and revision process before their books were published.
In a recent lecture on writing, I heard the words: All of us have sent out something too early. Yes, I thought, me, too. A picture book I thought was just “brilliant”, until I received the polite rejection, re-read it and thought, Oh no, why did I send that out. Unfortunately, this is also something I’ve heard several self-publishers say. Often they’ve had multiple rejections for a work that they feel very strongly about, that they are sure is being rejected for unsound reasons, so they go ahead and self-publish. Sometimes they spend thousands on printing, sometimes they spend a few hours formatting into an ebook. Either way, it’s out there, and with a few months or years more experience and craft knowledge, they recognize where the work’s faults lie.
It’s a hard call. Other writers are too afraid to risk rejection and spend years working on the same book, over and over. I’ve heard several full-time writers wish for the days when they could write whatever they wanted, however they wanted, because they are at the far end of the spectrum where everything they write has to be worth publishing so they can please their publishers and pay their bills.
But I think it’s an evaluation you have to make on a regular basis, for several reasons. One is simply to save editors (at publishing companies and magazines) and agents from the horrors of the slush pile. You save yourself a lot of time and money. You save yourself the heartache of constant rejections. And the more you take this evaluation seriously, the more you can work out what skills you still have to improve and develop and deepen.
Evaluate your percentage
How can you evaluate where you are on the percentage line? If you are a total beginner and think you have never yet written anything publishable, you’ll be at one end on 100/0. If you write full-time and are no longer getting rejections, you’re at the other end on 0/100 (there won’t be many at that end!). For the rest of the spectrum, try making your own decisions on what constitutes a percentage.
For example, if you are a children’s writer, some magazine credits or educational publications might put you at 15/85. Achieving publication of your first novel might put you at 40/60. Only you can decide – but honestly, if you haven’t achieved real publication of anything yet (real being a YES from a publication or publisher that other writers and readers respect), then you are pretty close to 0/100 still.
The good news is that you are on a great journey. It really is true – the only writer who fails is the one who gives up. I’d add to that – the only writer who fails is the one who thinks they already know all there is to learn about becoming a better writer. Where do I sit? I’d like to think it’s 60/40, but if I’m honest (and I am toughest with myself), I’m around 50/50. And looking forward to getting better and better.