So last weekend, I'm in Kathleen Rushall's NESCBWI Conference workshop on query letters, and she suggests that writers not query too soon. With picture books, for instance, she says writers should wait until they have three manuscripts before submitting one of them. Agents are interested in working with writers on long-term careers. Writers who have several pieces of work, at least in progress, show that they're thinking about a long-term career rather than the thrill of seeing their names on one book. For that reason, agents may ask "What else ya got?" In which case, you probably want to have something.
Am I About To Drift Away From The Writing Portfolio Issue?
I was mulling on Kathleen's words this past week when I happened to read Submit Like A Man: How Women Writers Can Become More Successful. The author, Kelli Russell Agodon, a former literary journal editor, contends that when men receive a rejection from a lit magazine with a "We want to see more of your work" note, they get more work in to that editor. When women receive that same response, they take much longer to get back to editors, sometimes not resubmitting at all.
Her theory is that women become anxious, worry that the editors were just being nice, worry that they will appear needy if they rush. Men, she says, are more confident. Women's lack of confidence slows them in their attempts to get published
No I Am Not Drifting Away From The Writing Portfolio Issue
I am one of those women writers who have received positive feedback with a rejection from literary magazines and didn't respond to it. In my case, lack of confidence wasn't what held me back.
What held me back was that I didn't have another appropriate piece of work to submit. I do have a stash of short stories and essays, but they are varied in genre and subject. I once had an editor indicate he would be interested in more work. But he edited a science fiction magazine and I had only one scifi short story, the one he'd just rejected. I truly didn't have anything else to send him, and I'm not the kind of writer who becomes inspired under pressure. I accept that I'm never going to just sit down and knock off a publishable story in a week or two, on demand.
Well, maybe there is some lack of confidence operating there.
But my point is, if I had a portfolio of material--a couple of science fiction pieces, more than one memoir essay, a few articles about writing at least outlined--instead of the random short stories and essays I have now, I could respond to a "What else ya got?" editorial request in a timely manner. Just as a writer who has some picture book work lined up could respond to an agent asking the same thing.
As it turns out, this month I am working on short form writing. I'm going to take a look at what I have on hand and think about whether or not I have ideas for, shall we say, companion pieces?
Even if no one asks for more work, if I've found an appropriate market to which I can submit Piece A1, I can later submit its companion, Piece A2 there. What I'm doing now is starting researching all over again for Piece C3.
Hmm. Maybe that's still another reason to maintain a writing portfolio.