The Lesson to Learn from Rejection
I lost a bunch of important contests
This past year I decided to invest in myself. I entered my novel into four contests, and several short stories into others. Overall, I entered seven paid contests. Which is not a huge amount, I grant you, but it was six more than the year before and eight more than the year before that. Not sure how the math gets me there, but I trust my spreadsheets. As you should.
My win count is pretty easy to report: big pile of zippy. I have one more contest I’m waiting for — one I entered a short story into. But my short stories have rarely won contests. So I’m calling it now. I have won no writing contests this year.
That isn’t the point to fixate on, and I’m not fixating on it. I mention it first because I’ve been learning from the mainstream media. Tragedy sells. Choose your lead based on what the world likes, then bury your REAL lead, because nobody likes cheerful news. If it bleeds, it leads. And my heart is bleeding on account of all the times I’ve put myself out there this year and failed.
That’s less than half the story.
The other half of the story is that I put myself out there. Which is pretty damned hard for me, let me tell you right now. They say your fandom starts with you — if you ain’t your biggest fan then why would anyone else be? A specious argument, I think, although it has a grain of humanity in it. You do come over a thousand times more charming if you do believe in the goodness of your writing. Or any other creative output you’ve got. That’s a hard truth, made particularly hard for some of us. I have no luck convincing people how excited I am about my writing. I don’t have the temperament for excitement in general, let alone for stuff that basically runs on the fuel of all my emotional hang-ups and honesty. Which is all my writing is: the story of how sad and angry I am, and the hope and love I find anyway. That would be a hard sell in anything. Harder in writing, since books are a few hundred pages of potential betrayal of trust and now we’re all wise to it.
It’s been harder’n it’s got any right to be to put myself out there.
So the happier and larger half of this year’s story has been this: I put myself out there. I entered seven contests, eight more than two years ago, and now I’ve got some skin in the game. I haven’t won any of them, but…
…the nuts thing is I feel galvanized now. I feel as if the universe is daring me to back off. I feel nit-picked at by magisterial gatekeepers who fancy their shrewdness as a bulwark between the punk-rockers and the high-minded. “I will not be shaken up by your peculiarness!” I feel like that’s what the world’s saying to me through half-sneering lips.
Which sounds like a challenge.
Because two things happened today.
Thing one: I decided that since all THOSE contests missed the opportunity of showcasing my writing, it’s time to enter a few new ones. So I have. I entered two contests today.
Thing two: I got some feedback from one of the most serious contests I entered. I’ll tell you about it.
This contest was for self-published novels, so I entered my novel, City Song. It’s some pretty good stuff, that novel. Thought maybe they’d like it.
Didn’t win the whole contest, me. Or any of it. But because this contest is a fairly serious, fairly well-respected contest, and it cost a bit to get into it, the judges provide feedback on the submissions as a matter of course.
I will share some of that feedback with you.
So that’s what the judge who read City Song had to say in their own words about my novel.
It may look like bragging. I grant that. But this is the feedback I got from a contest that I didn’t win.
There was other feedback I got on the novel, all of it was boiler-plate content from dropdown menus, I believe. It was commentary on things like my book’s structure and the cover design. The comment on the cover was particularly gratifying. The comment was that it was clearly created by a hired professional. But I made it myself.
All the comments I got on this submission began with the word “exemplary.”
So according to that judge, and according to the people I know who’ve read it, City Song ain’t such a bad book.
The which reality includes a life lesson:
You’ll get NO feedback without putting yourself out there.
I had a yearful of entering contests, and a yearful of contests sloughing off my writing as not quite whatever.
Which doesn’t discourage me. It affirms my sense that a reader sometimes needs to be in the right headspace to really GET a story.
My stories are good, and I put myself out there this year. Putting myself out there — that act alone — increases my odds of success a thousand times. And I didn’t lose any contests: I found myself on the receiving end of a fistful of dares to come back but harder. In this coming year, I will put myself out there again, and with a will.