Your Story Submission is Just an Audition

Journey III was listening to an interview of actor David Tennant (Dr. Who, Jessica Jones) the other day and he said something I think we’d all benefit in hearing.

Tennant was recapping his successful acting career and mentioned that he’d had to audition for a part recently, which was something he hadn’t done in a long time. Successful actors often get to skip the audition given their status as a known commodity, so an audition is rarely required. Tennant is a very funny man, and his story harbored no malice or jealousy, but he did mention in passing how an audition is very competitive, and that on this day he was bested by someone else who showed up and did a better job.

This made me think about the process of getting published.

As writers most of us are unknown. We send our little envoy along, our speaking part if you will, in hopes of impressing an editor enough to put our story in their publication. When the story comes back rejected, we feel a wash of negative emotion, from despair to disgust to anger, and believe simultaneously that the editor is a fool and we are delusional to think we’d ever succeed at writing in the first place.

But what if we had to audition? What if we had to physically carry our story in hand, down the littered sidewalk and into narrow alleys, up steep stairs into a crowded room with chairs lining the walls, nowhere to sit, the competition staring into our faces with polite contempt while we wait for our name to be called. During the wait, our resolve diminishes. Fatigue sets in as we study the pages in our hands – our best work. How embarrassing. The room is warm, stuffy, the air disgusting as we breathe in the fear and self-loathing of everyone else, just as they breathe in ours. And finally our name is called, and we step behind the door with the frosted glass window, the loose glass rattling once as the door shuts too loudly behind us. Seated at a table in what amounts to a tiny classroom are three strangers, experts, who are about to listen to us read our story, judge us to our faces, letting us know as we finish that they will be in touch.

At home we are sure others must have done better. In excitable moments we rise in the feeling that maybe, this time, we did it right. We remember how we stumbled in our reading, how we misspoke the line when Clara revealed to her mother that she was contemplating a divorce. How could we have botched such an important moment?

When the call comes, sorry, we’ve chosen a different option. Please contact us again for future opportunities. Spurned, we are outwardly grateful for the opportunity. Will try again soon. Have a lovely day. And then for an hour, we completely give up.

Thank God it isn’t quite like that. Writers are spared the physical confrontation with our judges. Our envoy makes the trip for us, and stands in for our audition beside hundreds of others. Once in a while, we get the part.

Every successful actor is no different from every successful writer. Whether by person or pen they showed up, did their best, walked away for a time to return once more and try again. This is you. Many times you will be bested. But show up for each opportunity, again and again. Get better. One day you will get the part. Each chance is only one audition. Whether you failed or succeeded the time before, remember that it’s the next time that matters most.

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5 comments on “Your Story Submission is Just an Audition

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    Very true! Every time I feel despondent about a rejection, I just take a look at my 12 year old son, who, over the past 2 years has auditioned for 6 shows and never got in, but now finally made it. It’s always a small matter (too short, too tall, too skinny, too many others who are similar etc. etc.), but at least we writers are not being judged quite so much like cattle…

    • I respect the job editors have in reviewing the hundreds and thousands of manuscripts we writers throw at them every month. Their work has to be, by nature, efficient and particular or else they’d never get anywhere. It’s easy for writers to get offended when our stories are rejected but, as you point out, at least we don’t have to parade around in person being judged not only on our creative merit, but on our appearance and speaking skills as well.

  2. As authors, we’re always competing. When looking for an agent or publisher, we’re competing with our fellow writers. After a book is published, we’re competing with other books for readers’ attention and money. I’ve spent quite a few hours this past week seeking out reviewers for my novels — competing with other candidates — and I couldn’t help but feel as though I’ve gone full circle.

    It still all boils down to us saying, “Hey, give me a chance!”

    Separating one’s self-worth from one’s work is terribly tricky, and I think every successful writer needs to develop a thick skin. What we do is art and, therefore, subjective. And because so many people out there want to get books on store shelves (virtual and otherwise), we are forced to fight to be heard above the noise.

    [end scene]

    • Right, David. It helps the ego to remember about all that competition. Writers should be encouraged to do the very best work they can – not so much for the chance to publish, but because doing anything worthwhile should be to do it right. Publication should be a byproduct rather than the goal.

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