Dear aspiring writers,
In the second of our guest blog posts, its a delight to introduce Rianna Walcott, valued intern at Linen Press. Here she shares her thoughts on reading submissions and advises against some of her pet peeves.
I would like to preface this blog post with a strong statement about how very much I enjoy reading your submissions. I’m relatively new to the publishing world and have worked as an intern with Linen Press for just over a year. This means I am constantly exposed to diverse and beautiful snatches of writing and labours of love which fascinate me. I’m grateful for this experience, so thank you for your submis-sions, and please feel encouraged to keep them coming!
That said, reading so many submissions means I have begun to gather a collection of common types of narrative I’d prefer not to read! If you’re about to send in a sub-mission along the lines I outline, please ask yourself if your writing truly stands out and if you have managed to avoid the common pitfalls listed below.
The memoir or biography
When you send us a biography, please be brutal and ask yourself: why should we care about this person? You may think your subject is an everywoman, that your story is intensely relatable and incredibly fascinating. Who wouldn’t be interested in the plight of a 15th century loom weaver? Or your aunt’s life story? But you need to separate your own interest in the story from the biography itself. How long a reach does your tale have? Your interest may be more personal than you think and may stop there.
That doesn’t mean that we aren’t interested in accounts of other people’s lives, nor that we won’t find a biography as engaging as you do but your writing has to persuade us to read on and persuade us that other readers will immerse ourselves in a story based on this person’s life. The life story itself is not enough. It has to be convincingly, beautifully written.
The novel within a novel
For some reason, this format has been incredibly popular lately! Submission after submission is about a novelist writing from within a novel with thousands of heavily italicised flashbacks and excerpts which can be a very heavy handed technique. They are so meta. The sheer volume that we receive makes it difficult to get ex-cited and it is tricky to keep a reader engaged.
I’m not putting a moratorium on this type of plot line, just dropping a helpful hint that your idea may not be as novel as you think. Please pardon the pun.
Notes on staying within your lane
‘Write what you know’ is still sound advice. I say this not as an instruction to curb your wild imaginations but to warn you to be careful when writing about experiences completely alien to you. Remember that when you write about painful themes, you may be writing about the real experiences of some of your readers.You need to be very sure you are portraying those experiences with sensitivity and accuracy.
If an author is writing about characters from a culture and ethnicity different to her own, she needs to avoid stereotyping. She must faithfully portray the characters as people and not turn them into a caricatures. Can you do this? As a black woman reader, I’m insulted by words like ‘exotic’ or ‘savage’ which immediately send up red flags. I can spot the fetishisation of a minority ethnic group from a mile away.
Are you writing about a character that is differently abled? Who is non-neurotypi-cal? Who is LGBTQIA+? Please do your research or leave these characters to an author who has lived and knows the experience. Your readers will be able to tell the difference.
We are here at Linen Press because we believe in promoting the experiences of voices that have been traditionally marginalised. Be careful not to contribute to the problem Do you have the literary skills not to speak over a voice that is not your own.
That’s all from me today. I hope you found this useful, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.