Is It Good Enough?
By Ashley Lister
Without wishing to sound like a neurotic writer, constantly begging for acceptance and validation, I think the question at the top of this blog post is one that we often ask ourselves: is it good enough?
I’m not talking about the worries we all have over our creativity. We have an idea for a novel or story. We love the idea. But then we begin to worry that it’s been done before. Invariably, because the nature of story gets the comparable from the parable, we realise our idea is similar to something else. And a lot of writers step away from the good idea at that point, bleakly confident that there is no place in the world for their slant on creativity.
These sorts of doubts are commonplace and are a typical part of the insecure writer’s toolkit. Originality is an abstract concept. Even if we’re so original we write an erotic story that describes a new and previously unchartered method of sexual congress, there will be readers out there who dismiss our genius as, “a horny story about a couple getting it on.”
Here I’m talking about the worries we have once we’ve produced a piece of fiction. Is it good enough for the marketplace? Is it good enough to be worth troubling an editor? Is it good enough to meet the needs of a readership?
Unlike those forms we can complete online, which tell us that we’re 58% of the way through the content, and there are only 212 questions left, there are no convenient guides that tell us when a story is ready for its audience. Because of the solipsistic nature of writing it’s common that the only person who knows when a story is ready is the person who wrote it. And a lot of us have barely convinced ourselves we’re capable of writing a story, let alone understanding when it’s ready to be published.
So, I thought it would be helpful to mention some of the tell-tale signs which let us know a story is ready for publication.
1. This is probably the most important one: are you happy with what you’ve written? You finished your story a fortnight ago. You’ve allowed a little distance between yourself and the text you produced. Now, returning to the story with fresh eyes, you’ve had a chance to read it and answer this question: are you happy with what you’ve written?
This is the point where you should be making sure it tells the story you wanted to tell. The characters are the characters you wanted to see in this story, and the whole piece has the cohesive feel you envisioned when the idea first struck.
2. Does this story do what was asked for in the Call for Submissions (CfS)? If you’re writing for a CfS, or to the remit of an editor or publisher, does the story you’ve produced do what they wanted? Is the word count correct? Does the vocabulary match other titles from this publishing house? Or, for example, if the story asked for steampunk themed stories, is your story sufficiently steampunk, or does that content need to be developed in the edit? If the story was for an anthology of lesbian vampire stories, are the main characters in your narrative lesbian? Is there some suggestion of vampirism?
I’m not suggesting any of us make these latter sorts of mistake regularly, but I do know editors who have received futuristic science-fiction stories when they’ve been asking for Victoriana, so I believe it’s always a point worth making.
3. How close is the deadline? I’m not saying this to be brutal or callous but, if you’ve been working on this story for the past six months, and the deadline is midnight tonight, the thing is ready to send. Stick it to an email and dump it in the editor’s inbox.
4. What do your beta-readers think? No man is an island (except for the Isle of Man) and a second set of eyes is always useful to appraise the manuscript we’re producing. If you’ve had a beta-reader or two go over your story, and they’ve given a green light, it’s time to hit send.
The French essayist, Paul Valéry, said, “A poem is never finished only abandoned.” This is a helpful way of avoiding responsibility for any of the poems we’ve ever written, but it’s an unhelpful approach to gauging whether or not our material is ready for the marketplace.
I sincerely believe, if a writer considers his or her responses to the four questions above, they’ll be a step closer to knowing whether or not now is the correct time to publish. And, if you have any other ideas for how we can tell when a manuscript is ready, I’d love to see them in the comments box below.