When I began my internship at the Santa Fe Writers Project, I was very much looking forward to reading submissions. To be let in on the secrets of the other side of a Submittable page felt a bit like being allowed to sit at the table reserved for grownups at Thanksgiving or like having one’s first sip of alcohol; it couldn’t help but be revelatory, finally experiencing firsthand precisely what it’s like. Unlike my first sip of beer – people drink this on purpose?! I thought, horrified – reading hasn’t let me down. If anything, it has exceeded my expectations.
For the last several weeks, I have been reading book entries for the 2022 Literary Awards Program, a contest which past winners have described as career-launching. The winner receives $1,500 and 90% of them go on to be published. There are no genre restrictions, so everything from erotica to memoirs to YA fantasy has come across my desk. Although I am allowed to read up to 25 pages, I am encouraged to get a feel and make a decision by page 10, and I’m usually able to.
In my last post, I described how being a reader for SFWP has helped me appreciate the fact that there are just so many factors that go into a piece being accepted or denied, promoted to the next level or declined. While I had been reading, judging, and writing comments on stories, I had been doing it in a bit of a vacuum. I’d received some bare instructions on how to read for SFWP, but even as I tried to respect them, I worried that I was doing a poor job of it in that my ideas about what works are good and what works aren’t up to standard might be radically different from those of Andrew whose baby the SFWP is.
Still, I went along, carefully reading the pieces and being totally amazed by their quality. In the instructions for reading, it was noted that there would be a number of them that you would be able to write off immediately, but I haven’t found that to be the case at all. I can think of only three or four that were unequivocally not a good fit from the get-go. Instead, there were many that I had to drag myself away from and tenfold more that I thought were very, very good. That feeling of not wanting to stop reading has been one of the best bits of my internship thus far, to know that there are people out there writing brilliantly and striving toward the same goals that I have is reassuring. There is so much talent yet undiscovered, and so many names we have yet to know that one day will feel as though they were always there.
This past week, the layers of my learning were deepened even more as I got to read for the first time Andrew’s notes on the stories I had also been responding to. It’s incredible how differently a story can feel from one person to another. A piece that I might find compelling, Andrew may feel is oppressive in its style. A protagonist he instantly likes may fill me with distaste. There are so many examples of this, and we are only two of the many people whose eyes will be on these works before the final one is chosen. Now, even more so than before, I see just how subjective all of this is – almost maddeningly so. However, even though there is a degree of frustration that comes along with this, far more important to me is the understanding it has given me. I feel much better prepared for my future and think I have a more nuanced idea of where I fit into the vast machine that is publishing.