In the years before I became a published author, I spent many an hour scouring authors’ webpages trying to figure out how they accomplished the seemingly impossible task of getting published. While no one journey, in particular, held the magic answer for me, I did learn a great deal from reading those experiences. As a result, I thought I would share my own history in a series of posts. As I mentioned in the title, these are my VERY PERSONAL experiences. I am in no way trying to argue that there is one right way to do things.
Oh, contests. Sweet, exhilarating, excruciating contests.
When I first started writing in a serious manner, I made a vow to never enter a contest. The idea was horrifying. I didn’t want to be judged by strangers. No way. No how. I would just send my manuscript out to the professional agents and let them establish my worth. Why expose myself to people who probably couldn’t help me anyway? Or wouldn’t get me…or whatever…I had a ton of excuses to cover up the fact that I was just really scared.
I stuck to my vow in those early months and began the querying process. That whole experience can be summed up in a single word, Ow. I soon became well acquainted with the dreaded form letter. As if the rejection wasn’t bad enough, a form letter? That was useless to me! I wanted to know why I was being rejected. Was my writing craft sub-par? Mechanically? Stylistically? Was my pacing off? Was my humour too “out there”? Was I close but no cigar? Or was the agent shaking his or her head in pity at my delusion of becoming an author?
That’s when I turned back to contests. See, depending on the contest, oftentimes the judges are required to give feedback or, at the very least, provide a scoresheet. I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed some idea of what I was doing wrong, so I started sending my baby out to be judged. Once I started, I found I couldn’t stop. The idea that someone other than those nearest and dearest to me would read a section of my book and give me feedback was both terrifying and intoxicating. Plus, as an added incentive, in many of the contests I entered, if you made it past the first round, an agent or editor would read your work! And, of course, one of them would surely fall in love with me. Ha ha…sigh.
A month or two later, the first results arrived in my inbox. I remember excitedly opening that little missive…only to have all the excitement quickly go splat. I wasn’t a finalist. It hurt. It did. No point lying about it. Preparing myself for the worst (like that’s ever possible), I hesitantly clicked on the attachment of the first judge’s comments…and I was blown away. The first judge loved me…really loved me. She gave me a perfect score. She read those chapters exactly the way I dreamed readers would! So what had gone wrong? Why wasn’t I a finalist? Then I remembered the other attachment. As much at the first judge loved me, the second one hated me. (I say me, but I really mean my first three chapters, but it sure felt like me in the moment.) It was a odd experience. I was crushed…then exhilarated…then crushed again…then exhilarated…and so on.
As the weeks passed, more results from more contests came in, and guess what? The same thing kept happening! I had judges who thought my work was funny, original and smart. And then there were others, who, well, thought all sorts of things. For example, one judge in particular speculated that I must be a man because I didn’t understand women AND perhaps enjoyed bullying them. Again, I’m not going to lie. That gave me pause. On the bright side, SIDEKICK did final in three contests. Sadly, not a single agent or editor fell in love with my entry, but, at least, I was left with something to add to the dreaded bio section of my query letter, and the feedback I received gave me enough confidence to keep trying.
I also learned another really valuable lesson from those contests. Writing is about putting yourself out there. And all of those judges? Well, they’re not just judges. They also happen to be readers – and, regardless of how I felt about it, their opinions were valid and would be mirrored by the feedback I received once SIDEKICK was published. In terms of preparation, the experience was invaluable…and really, everyone should be prepared before they face all that is Goodreads.
NEXT ENTRY: SUBMITTING DIRECTLY TO PUBLISHERS