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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Bearing Fruit
by Jane Seaman


Any business, small or large, will regularly review and evaluate output and productivity. What is selling? What isnít? How many writers analyze their output? Of course, writing is a creative act, not a business. Well, if youíre serious about getting published, itís both of these. But most of us enjoy the creative part too much to want to know how productive we really are.

A year ago, I decided to do something I had never thought of before. An analysis of my output - in terms of volume and results. I put in a lot of hours on my writing and had always considered myself to be quite focused and efficient. So I trawled through my ring binder and studied my records. You know, the usual - title of manuscript, where sent, date and result. Like all writers are supposed to do. I knew from the frequent trips to the post office that I had increased my output over the past year. Iíd had more work published and was generally feeling quite pleased with myself. So much for the emotional reaction. But what had I really achieved for my many hours of work?

I assessed the previous three years and did a simple analysis, as set out below. First, I examined purely speculative submissions to magazines and publishers.

  1998 1999 2000
Number of Submissions 48 49 91
Accepted 5 7 10
Rejected * 43 42 81
Success Rate as % 10.4% 14.3% 11%

*this category also includes "never heard of again"

Initially, the results were depressing. In proportion to the volume of work sent out, less had been accepted in percentage terms, although more pieces were accepted in terms of actual numbers. However, doubling my output had certainly not doubled my results. Was I producing quantity rather than quality? Was I failing to target my work effectively? Or was the majority of my work simply crap?

Being a glutton for punishment, I pursued my analysis further. This time I looked at competitions. I had given myself three years to make some headway in writing competitions, mostly short stories, but some poetry. And where had it got me? See for yourself.

Competitions 1998 1988 2000
Number of Ms Entered 27 18 46
Awarded Prize 0 1 1
Shortlisted 0 1 0

I hadnít realized Iíd entered so many and when I added up the total entry fees I was horrified. Bearing in mind that some competitions have in excess of 1000 entries, the odds are really against you. In terms of time and money, this was a poor use of both. Admittedly, I had recycled most of the unsuccessful competition entries, and several of these had gone on to be published elsewhere. Even so, I had put in a lot of effort for unimpressive results.

Further depressed but still undeterred, I decided to focus on the positive, so I undertook a breakdown of work that had been published, to see where my strengths lie, or if any trends were apparent. I also included work awaiting publication for 2001, where known.

Work Published 1998 1988 2000 2001 (Jan-Mar)
Poetry 5 2 3 0
Features & Articles 5 5 3 4
Short Stories 0 2 4 4
Total 10 9 10 8

So what did I learn from this exercise? Quite a lot. And some of it hard to accept.

The short story form is my first and most serious love, and I spend more time on this than anything else. It also causes me more heartache, and makes up by far the majority of my rejection letters. But over the past three years, only six fruits of my passion had appeared in print. Poetry, on the other hand, which tends to materialize when I am depressed, had resulted in ten pieces published in magazines and collections. However, writing features for a wide variety of publications had proved more successful and satisfying than I had realized, with thirteen pieces of work published. It also earned me more money. And, generally speaking, editors are much quicker to respond.

As a result of this analysis, I decided to concentrate more on feature writing. Also,  repeated editorial feedback indicated that my stories lie uncomfortably between "commercial" and "literary." So, I put my efforts into commercial fiction for the next year and this has started to pay off but Iíll review the situation in six months.

Finally, no more competitions.

I would urge any serious writer to regularly undertake this kind of analysis and evaluation, particularly if you intend to rely on income from writing in the future. It can also be a valuable tool if you find it hard to organize your time efficiently.


Jane was born in 1962 and had her first short story published at age 14. She enjoys writing articles, fiction and, sometimes, poetry.  In addition,  Jane also teaches in a college.


 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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