By Lester Smith | October 18, 2009
One question creative writers often ask publishers is “What are you looking for in a submission?” As a professional writer since 1985, and a small-press publisher since 2005 (see PopcornPress.com), I’ve had some time to mull over this question and hear what other publishers have to say. Here’s my GUP formula, three basic adjectives to describe a successful piece of creative writing.
Genuine: If a piece of writing touches me, I’m likely to champion it, whatever flaws it may possess. To be genuinely touching, however, a piece needs to take chances. It has to expose the writer as an individual. Which brings us to the second descriptor…
Unique: Inexperienced writers often spill their feelings and assume that is enough. But as Garrison Keillor wrote in the introduction to Good Poems, such pieces are “like condoms on the beach, evidence that somebody was here once and had an experience but not of great interest to the passerby.” If your piece could have been written by pretty much anybody, it’s missing the “creative” part. Creativity takes work, which leads us to descriptor three…
Polished: Writing is a transaction between an author and an audience. It isn’t enough to say what’s in your head or heart; you also have to connect to what’s in the reader’s. That means writing a draft, getting honest feedback, and making changes. A few tips are in order here:
- Find a critique group. Your family and friends probably aren’t skilled at giving useful—or honest—feedback. You need to workshop with other writers. Check to see if your state has something like the WFOP or WRWA, or join an online community of writers.
- Read. Read writers you like. Try to understand those you don’t. Absorb everything you can, so that you can learn to turn a phrase.
- Be honest with yourself. It’s easy to overlook a line that feels not quite perfect, and sometimes that’s what you have to do. But usually taking the time to ask exactly what’s bugging you about the line pays off in delight and improved skill.
You may notice that the sections above increase in length from G to U to P. Their relative word counts should tell you something about how much effort you’ll need to put into each.
Best wishes with your writing!