Karen Bovenmyer is making her clubhouse debut today! Big Unicorn welcome!
When to Stop Editing and Finally Submit a Story
I’ve been there. Working a piece over and over and over, sure it’s not ready, convinced the ending sucks, not sure how to fix it, and afraid to send it in (see my post on Fear over at Open Skype Book Reviews http://openskyebookreviews.com/guest-post-karen-bovenmyer-author-of-swift-for-the-sun/). How do you get yourself out of an eternal editing cycle? Three things that help me are experience, support from my critique groups, and a few very specific rules of thumb.
Experience: Learning when a story’s ready
I used to get stuck in eternal editing loops on almost every story. Now I don’t—I get a feeling for when a story’s ready and I look for a market and send it in. Other times I have to abandon a story because I understand I don’t have the skill to write it the way it needs to be written and I’m never going to be able to edit it into suitability. I think the essential skills I learned to help me understand the fine balance between a story that can be edited into something great and saleable and a story that’s dead in the water boil down to experience. After college and my first creative writing degrees, I spent about a decade writing for myself and my friends, or for NaNoWriMo, but wasn’t working on crafting stories for sale. Once in a while I’d get an idea and sit down and pound out a story, but then I didn’t know what to do with it. I’d give it to friends, but I didn’t have any friends who were professional writers and could tell me how to fix it or if it were good enough to send in. I’ve tried to analyze exactly what life experiences I had that helped me get over that hump and stop editing and send out my work.
- Keep reading: Keep writing. If you’re like me and you mostly read novels, read more short fiction. You’ll start gaining an idea of different sizes of stories and what ideas you can tackle at different lengths. Keep writing and paying careful attention to when a story starts to “gel” for you—is it that you’ve bonded closely to the character? How can you make that happen every time? Is it that you’ve written out an outline that you like and can’t wait to share with the world? How can you refine your outline skills so you get excited every time? In short, I reached a critical mass of reading and creating where my ability to recognize when I’d written something very interesting to me that had a complete story imbedded in it.
- Do some slush reading. I spent two years as a volunteer slush reader at a professional-rate magazine reading stories submitted by anyone and everyone. I read two to five stories each day and rated them on a scale of 1-10. This helped me understand how skill and voice and compelling stories came in all shapes and styles and sizes. I fell in love with parts of stories, even if I couldn’t give them a high enough score to pass them on to the next tier of editors. Through this process, I learned how “ready” a story has to be for it to get past an editor and what major flaws can take a story down from an eight to a six.
- Love your work. If your story satisfies you, the characters compel you, and it’s interesting to you, (even if your critique group doesn’t like it) send it out there.
Confidence: Trusted readers say it’s ready
As a person who struggles with life-long low self worth, I depend on my experienced writer-friends to help me understand when a story’s ready and get out of my editing loop. If they only have a few suggestions for it and everyone in the group more or less agrees that the story and characters are very strong, I know it’s time to send it out. Note: they aren’t always right. Sometimes a story will be rejected by three different markets and I’ll have a sudden mental breakthrough why, try that fix, and then sell it—even though my critiquers said it was great. Keep trying.
Rules: A checklist
To wrap up, here are a few specific rules of thumb I use when I approach editing.
- Sleep on it. “I just wrote a great story! Woo hoo, let’s send that puppy in!” No. Stop. Give yourself a little space to make sure there isn’t the perfect phrase or idea waiting for you in your subconscious. After a day or two, reread and edit a few times, and if you are still confident, send it.
- Did you change less than ten percent during this last editing pass? If so, send it in. Don’t keep trying to get every sentence perfectly beautiful. Give editors a little something to play with.
- Does it have all the parts of good fiction and do they function together well? Is the conflict interesting? Is the main character’s desire clear? Are the characters distinct individuals? Does the first paragraph grab the reader and pull them in? Have you used concrete, specific sensory detail to connect the reader to your character? Is there a crisis action where the conflict comes to a head? Does the last paragraph give closure? Does the prose have good rhythm and variation? These are the essential craft rules by which I interrogate my fiction.
There really is no substitute for experience, and that’s why I listed it first in this article. Keep reading, keep writing, share your work with people you trust and look up to, and when you start to believe in your work (or other people do), send it out into the world. My confidence grew with every acceptance, and I hope yours does too.
For the interested, SWIFT FOR THE SUN’s first major edit is chronicled in an early interview here: https://writebrainsite.wordpress.com/2016/09/19/swift-for-the-sun-a-path-to-publication/
Benjamin Lector imagines himself a smuggler, a gun runner, and an all-around scoundrel. A preacher’s son turned criminal, first and foremost, he is a survivor.
When Benjamin is shipwrecked on Dread Island, fortune sends an unlikely savior—a blond savage who is everything Benjamin didn’t know he needed. Falling in love with Sun is easy. But pirates have come looking for the remains of Benjamin’s cargo, and they find their former slave, Sun, instead.
Held captive by the pirates, Benjamin learns the depths of Sun’s past and the horrors he endured and was forced to perpetrate. Together, they must not only escape, but prevent a shipment of weapons from making its way to rebellious colonists. Benjamin is determined to save the man he loves and ensure that a peaceful future together is never threatened again. To succeed might require the unthinkable—an altruistic sacrifice.
Karen Bovenmyer earned a B.S. in anthropology, English, and history; an M.A. in literature; and an M.F.A. in creative writing—popular fiction. Fans of historical romance, Tarzan, Master and Commander, and Pirates of the Caribbean will enjoy this funny, romantic action-adventure.
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: Mar 27, 2017
Cover artist: Anna Sikorska
Karen Bovenmyer was born and raised in Iowa, where she teaches and mentors new writers at Iowa State University. She triple-majored in anthropology, English, and history so she could take college courses about cave people, zombie astronauts, and medieval warfare to prepare for her writing career. After earning her BS, she completed a master’s degree with a double specialization in literature and creative writing with a focus in speculative fiction, also from Iowa State University. Although trained to offer “Paper? Or plastic?” in a variety of pleasant tones, she landed an administrative job at the college shortly after graduation. Working full-time, getting married, setting up a household, and learning how to be an adult with responsibilities (i.e. bills to pay) absorbed her full attentions for nearly a decade during which time she primarily wrote extremely detailed roleplaying character histories and participated in National Novel Writing Month.
However, in 2010, Karen lost a parent.
With that loss, she realized becoming a published author had a nonnegotiable mortal time limit. She was accepted to the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program with a specialization in Popular Fiction and immediately started publishing, selling her first story just before starting the program and three more while in the extremely nurturing environment provided by the Stonecoast community, from which she graduated in 2013. Her science fiction, fantasy, and horror novellas, short stories, and poems now appear in more than forty publications including Abyss & Apex, Crossed Genres, Pseudopod, and Strange Horizons. She is the Horror Writers Association 2016 recipient of the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship. She serves as the nonfiction editor for Escape Artist’s Mothership Zeta Magazine and narrates stories for Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, Far Fetched Fables, Star Ship Sofa, and the Gallery of Curiosities Podcasts. Her first novel, SWIFT FOR THE SUN, an LGBT pirate romantic adventure set in the 1820s Caribbean, will be published on March 27, 2017.
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See our review of Swift For The Sun HERE.