Vanity, Dorian Gray, and Chutzpah: On Submitting Your Work for Publication

By Amee Bohrer

It’s easy to write something and refuse to share it with anyone, saying that you’re doing it for altruistic reasons.

“I only write for myself,” you might say. “I just enjoy the creative process.”


The truth is, all writers are vain.

But when you hoard your work, you can feel superior. You can be all, “If I really wanted to, I’d be famous. I just don’t need that.”

I dare say that no writer alive would turn down validation of their work through legit publication. And yes, we want cash.

A friend of mine from a writer’s group I joined last year just submitted her short story to The New Yorker.

THAT is a writer.

I am so proud, I had to blog. She’s younger than I, but has enviable focus and ambition. She understands the value of her work, and possesses the chutzpah to make a bold statement about it by aiming high.

We met in a writer’s group, and are now in a new one together. The first meeting was a few nights ago, and she read this short piece of fiction. The lone man in the group said that her piece was nuanced and smart, something he could imagine in the The New Yorker.

And 48 hours later, she’s got it sent out. How’s that for fire??

Listen to your readers. Target your audience. And go.

The truth is, writers don’t venture submitting because of insecurity. We are attached to our work, and usually, what we write is a portrait of ourselves. Whatever the genre, our content belies our true selves, even if it’s not directly portrayed.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is a perfect example.

The artist, Hallward, painted model Dorian Gray, but never wants to showcase the portrait– even though it’s his masterpiece. He fears that his affection for the subject will become the dominant feature, overtaking the beauty of his artistry or even the model himself.

“The why don’t you exhibit his portrait?” asked Lord Henry.

Because, without intending it, I have put into it some expression of all this curious artistic idolatry,of which , of course, I have never cared to speak to him. …. But the world might guess it, and I will never bare myself to their shallow, prying eyes. My heart shall never be put under their microscope. There is too much of myself in the thing, Harry– too much of myself!

The portrait is of Dorian, but the artist feels exposed nevertheless.

And some of our work is just like that— too personal for publication, like a diary. Which is a shame. If we could overcome our egos, the art which exposes us the most is the art to which most people connect. It reflects the deepest aspects of our common humanity.

Submitting our work for publication holds up a mirror– and reflects reality.

That reflection does not flinch, and remains objective. That reflection shows us the blemishes, varicose veins, stretch marks– all the flaws.

Sadly, we miss out on enjoying the glory when our work is truly remarkable, because we can’t bear the possibility of humiliation.

I’ve been complacent for too long. I need to start submitting my work for publication.

Not to diminish the importance of my blog, but I need to continue pushing myself. There are so many challenges yet to tackle with blogging– there’s a lot to learn. I have a lot of opportunities to grow Unrelenting Amee, but pursuing other dreams concurrently may actually help me achieve more satisfying results.

I have difficult time planning, and nailing down reasonable goals and time-frames in which to accomplish them. At least, for myself.

So that’s one of my new agendas for 2012. I wonder, is there a way for me to incorporate this into Lent?


5 comments on “Vanity, Dorian Gray, and Chutzpah: On Submitting Your Work for Publication

  1. Thanks for the props, but honestly if I really wanted to seek the approval of a media I idolized, I would have sent the work of fiction to This American Life.
    To receive a rejection from them would hurt me to the core. I don’t have a subscription to the New Yorker, I don’t think I’ve ever even picked one up to browse through it. The New Yorker to me is a “Pie In The Sky” dream. It’s like applying to Harvard, knowing fully that I may not be accepted, but I might as well through in my application.
    TAL on the other hand, I listen to daily. I feel a personal connection to the show’s host, Ira Glass, and if I were to receive a rejection to a story pitch or short story submission, I’d feel that Ira personally saw my submission and tossed it into the waste bin. I wouldn’t be able to listen to them anymore without the sting of rejection. Like not being able to go to a bar an exboyfriend goes to.
    If I do get my short story in The New Yorker, I’d feel a little more up to submitting it to This American Life. And if they didn’t take it then, at least I’d still have New York.

    • I gotcha, Kristina. Can I edit your name in? I wasn’t sure if that was cool– but I’d love to give you give you a proper shout-out!!!

      I understand the “This is SO not gonna happen, so why the hell not?” rationale of submitting to the New Yorker. It seems like a safe risk.

      But even so– what I’m talking about is how fast you moved on it. You got together a letter, and mailed that submission ASAP. Or maybe you e-mailed? I don’t know how these things are done. That’s where it breaks down for me– I have no follow-through. I can’t take that final step!

      Your devotion to TAL is one of the things I associate with you, a core aspect of your personality and one of the reasons you’re such a phenomenal writer. So keep submitting to other publications, until you feel ON. When you’re getting acceptances, or just in a wicked successful mood, tackle TAL. It would be awful if your favorite thing was forever tainted, there’s no rush.

      Sharon Olds is my absolute FAVORITE poet. I love her explicit, Confessional style. If she ever rejected my work? I could never read her collections again without reliving the shame. Your passion for writing– AND PUBLISHING– lit a fire under me. Thank you, I needed it!!

  2. You are absolutely right: I believe the majority of writers (myself included) are self-serving narcissists. It’s part of our charm.

    Thank you for sharing this piece with us.

    • Three cheers for Narcissistic Writers! Hey, that’s kinda catchy. Can we maybe make this into a thing on WP?

      Unabashed Narcissistic Writers of America? That’s an awkward acronym. Maybe we can rig up a new blog award in this name? I bet you can come up with something better.

      Welcome much, thanks for chiming in!

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