Ah, spring and early summer. The time of year when fiction writers hold their breath and watch their phones in anticipation of hearing the good news--your contest entry made it to the final round!
There are so many great contests, and many aspiring inspirational fiction writers enter ACFW's Genesis contest or My Book Therapy's Frasier contest. Romance writers get giddy over RWA's Golden Heart contest. All of these offer bragging rights and the chance for your entry to be judged by top editors and agents.
But with prestige come few finalists and hundreds of non-finalists. I want to hug everyone who doesn't get the phone call. Wrap my arms around them and tell them a few secrets.
Yes, I know things. I've been on this aspiring writer merry-go-round for a while now.
While I haven't entered very many contests, I've come away with enough golden nuggets that have improved my books to make each contest worth it.
For everyone who took a leap and entered a prestigious contest this year and didn't go on to the final round, I'm sharing some hard-earned wisdom with you.
1. Something about the experience will improve your writing.
You might find it on a scoresheet. You might not. A long time ago I received feedback that made me wonder if the judge had read someone else's entry--it had nothing to do with my book! But it improved my writing because it helped me trust myself. Some advice resonates with us. We should only take advice we understand and agree with.
2. Not everyone is on a fast-track to publishing, and it does NOT reflect your talent.
I wish I could tell you why some people seem to board the lightning-fast plane to contest wins, agent contracts, and overall buzz from their peers. I applaud them. But I want YOU to know it doesn't matter.
For every overnight success story, there are roughly five hundred slow-and-tortuous stories. Yes, I made that statistic up, but honestly, you need to know most writers lose contests, face many rejections, and take five steps back for every step forward. Ask around. You'll see.
There is no expiration date on your dream. Yes, it stinks to get our hopes up only to have them smashed. This is an extremely competitive business. Take the hard knocks now, ask yourself how much you want this, and continue to improve your skills.
3. When you go through enough trials on your way to publication, something wild happens.
You get humble, you get confident, you get good at writing, and you realize you'll put up with a lot of misery to grasp that golden ring.
Don't believe me? It's easy to continue on a journey when all the lights are green, and everyone is waving you in to the finish line. It's hard when light after light is red, and no one realizes you're even on the road. I wonder how many writers who entered the Genesis contest five years ago are still writing?
When you've faced a devastating rejection on your wedding anniversary, a cruddy contest result on your son's birthday, or a rough pitch session at an expensive conference--you get humble.
When you write and revise and study the writing craft, listen to your critique partners, and pay attention to the industry--you get confident.
When you do all this day after day, refusing to give up, you get good. Really good.
When you do all this year after year, you understand publishing itself won't make your life perfect. It won't be a picnic. You might have a strained relationship with your first editor. The sales of your debut might stink. Hey, you'll get some bad reviews, your family could mock your book, you might not get that second contract. And guess what? You'll still put your butt in the chair and keep going.
Why? Because you've done it for years. You'll remember all the rusty nails you stepped on to get to that point. What's a few more? This is your job. Your career. One you sacrificed for, cried over, poured sweat, blood, tears on and maybe even lost some of your sanity.
But here's the thing. After all the trials you went through on your way to that first contract, maybe, just maybe, you'll land the editor of your dreams. You'll get the second, third, and fourth contract. Your sales will rock. You'll still get some bad reviews. But you won't care, because you're living your dream.
So, you didn't final in the contest...
You're going to do fine. Just wait and see.
If you entered a contest recently and did not final, please feel free to e-mail me (jill(at)jillkemerer(dot)com) if you're struggling. I'd love to help you through this.
Have a wonderful day!