There is another set of lessons that I learned from my virtual mentor, Steven Barnes, which has been very valuable to me. Essentially, they go like this:
1) Always send a piece out ten times before you consider revising it.
2) Before taking advice about revising a piece, it has to come from two people. One of those people can be you.
These are very important rules. Why?
You’re going to get advice from beta readers, and as you get more practiced at writing, you will get more comments from editors about why your story was rejected. Mostly, you’ll still get form rejections about “this wasn’t right for us,” but if you got advice from every market, you would get a mess of contradictions. I have had rejection letters telling me that there was too much detail and not enough. That the character was intriguing but the plot was dull, and that the plot was exciting but the character flat.
If you tried to satisfy every objection from every editor, you would never be doing anything else, AND with the added benefit that your story would be an unreadable hash of compromises.
I remember getting a different version of this advice from a workshop instructor. He was working on an accepted piece and disputing some of the editor’s recommended changes, and finally said, in some frustration, “Have you ever had an author who took every piece of advice you gave them?”
And the editor put his head in his hands and said, “Oh, God, yes.”
Wimpy writers are bad writers, and even editors don’t really want them.
So, why ten times? Have you, Scott, ever sold a piece after ten rejections?
Yes, I have. In fact, I just got paid for one that sold on its twelfth submission. The editor who bought it loved it.
It really can feel like, and I struggle with this, too, that you are completely powerless in this business, and have to do whatever people want to make it better. Especially when you have a story you really believe is good and no one will buy it, and you’re desperate to know what’s wrong with it.
Now, yes, sometimes a reader or editor will say something about a piece and it’s like a nova goes off in your head. “YES!” says the Morgan-Freeman-like voice in your head. “THAT’S THE ANSWER!”
This voice is not nearly as magical as it sounds, but that’s why the rule says, “One of these people can be you.” Just make sure it’s really the voice of your better writer, not the voice that’s desperate to sell this stupid piece however you can.
Patience is the hardest part of this business. That’s why you need it right now.