There’s something artificial about any numbered list of “bests.” Criteria are fluid and subjective. You can cheat by allowing for “ties” and end up with more than the stated number. Or heck just make it the “50 best” say, rather than the 10 best or whatever. My own list of 10 all time favorite novels is constantly changing. I add new ones as I read them. I remember ones from the past that need to be included. But, for what it’s worth, here’s the list as it stands right now, in NO particular order.
Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keys
Night Flight, Antoine de St. Exupéry
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
The Circle, Dave Eggers
The Wall, John Hersey
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Père Goriot, Honoré de Balzac
Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
A couple of years ago I entered a short story contest. There were three anonymous judges. Since they were anonymous, I have no idea whether they were editors, fellow writers, agents, writing teachers or other. Even though this was a no-fee contest, each entrant still got a summary of the scores. I did not win. But it was the scores that were illuminating. One judge loved the story and gave it the highest marks on all criteria. Another judge felt the opposite and gave it all low marks on each point. The third judge graded the score right down the middle, halfway between excellent and not worth the paper it was printed on.
I told this to a writer friend of mine and he had the perfect response. “It just goes to show how subjective anyone’s response is to any piece of writing.” It didn’t mean it was a bad story. If it appealed strongly to one person, it will appeal strongly to some other editor down the road. So, as I said in the last post Turnaround, the only appropriate response is to take another look to see if it can be improved, then find another market and send it off.
The writing life has changed radically since the onset of electronic submissions. Mostly this is a good thing. No more trudging to the post office, weighing large envelopes so you don’t attach too much or too little postage, having to re-type manuscripts that come back damaged, or keeping a supply of various sized envelopes, for queries, manuscripts, and SASE’s. Sure, there are a few markets that still accept submissions by mail, and even a few that still insist on them. But these are rare. Another big advantage of online submissions, is that in most cases, you get an instant acknowledgement of receipt. No more wondering if the package has gotten lost in the mail. One thing, however, has not changed one whit: the waiting for a response, either an acceptance or a rejection, whether by mail or online. Some markets give a rough estimate of their response times. Others don’t. My biggest fault is impatience, and I start checking my virtual inbox within minutes after I click “send.” My impatience is out of control with other writing- related activities as well. Last week, I applied to join another online forum with restricted membership. Even with something that wouldn’t really affect my success as a writer, I checked my email obsessively until I got my acceptance one week later. I know I’m not the only one who suffers unnecessarily with raging impatience. For help, read Michael Bracken’s take on the whole impatience thing. Unless and until you can train yourself in serenity and detachment, his cure is the still the best one going.