Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Crushing the Contest Curse

Some of you know I haven't had the greatest history with contests. I'd only entered two—well, the same one, two years in a row. I got through the initial slush round both times. When it came to the agent judging/voting round, however ... silence.


All the things people say about subjectivity, not the right mix of agents for you, etc. are true. Someone thought my work was good enough to put me through the slush.

Those true words don't stop the hurt. The feeling that readers and other writers may appreciate aspects of my writing, but to the "people who matter," I'll never be good enough. The conviction that I'm doing something wrong and no one can tell me what.

Or maybe someone could tell me. They just don't.

I kept writing, kept revising, kept querying. With each story, I've gotten better. I know that. But I figured contests weren't for me. The sting of public silence was too much.

Then a couple of friends talked me into trying one more contest. (Okay, they didn't have to try that hard. Mostly it kept coming up in conversation and they said, "Yeah, you should.")

Maybe I'm just a masochist at heart.

I got picked by a coach, thus getting through the slush again.

Monday was agent voting day. One or two votes meant partial requests. Three or more meant full requests.

Would I suffer silence again?

No. Not this time. Five votes. Five full requests.

Nothing is guaranteed. An agent still has to love the whole manuscript enough to offer representation, and that's a whole different hurdle. The point for now is that when I was put up next to lots of really stellar work, I still caught some eyes. That feels really good.

But I still remember how the silence felt.

If you've suffered the silence, it's okay that it hurts. I'm a big believer in letting yourself wallow for a day or so, but only if you definitively cut off that wallowing before it does some damage. Keep working on the story you've got, or start working on a new one. Tweak your query or opening pages. Do some research on which agents are most likely to love your story.

Hope that you hit the right agent at the right time with the right story, because it takes a little luck. I'm not one to say we will make it if we keep working, because no one knows that. The only thing I know is that if we stop writing and stop trying, failure is guaranteed.


Lisa said...

Congratulations! That's great!

I didn't make it to the coaching round, but I've had a little bit of luck with other contests... just keep trucking on, right?


Rena said...

Great post! I didn't make the Baker's Dozen and I pulled my manuscript off the market to revise it. It hurts to get rejection at every level.

I think what hurts most about the silence in a contest is that someone said it was good enough. And then the agents didn't love it too.

But yeah, the only remedy: Do it again.

T.L. Bodine said...

First, can I just say: I am so freaking excited for you! Yours was one of my absolute favorite entries and I really, really hope that good things come from these fulls.

And, yeah. I'm immersing myself head-first into my new project and trying not to think too much LOL. Someday....

Jemi Fraser said...

It was so exciting following the news for the WV contest! You did really REALLY well. I'll be crossing my fingers and toes for you to get to the next step this time!

MarcyKate said...

AHAHAHA! You did it! So excited for Stitching Snow!

Also, what you said about subjectivity is SO true. It's just not something you can fix.

Anyway, GOOD LUCK :D

R.C. Lewis said...

Lisa, "keep on trucking" is absolutely right. Otherwise, you definitely quit moving forward. And that would be lame.

Rena, totally. The worst was the feeling that I was in this gray area of doing some things right, but some wrong, or maybe just not right *enough*. And I couldn't figure out how to pull out of the gray. My solution was the same: Do it again. Be more awesome each time.

TL, thanks so much! I'm looking forward to being able to let my creative juices flow again ... just as soon as I survive the end of the school year.

Jemi, thank you! Feel free to uncross when you need to type, though. ;)


E.B. Black said...

Great post and congratulations on making it as far as you did.