Monday, March 29, 2010

Contest Emotions

As many of you know, the finalists of the RITA and Golden Heart awards were announced last week. Romance Writers of America awards the RITA for excellent published books and the Golden Heart for excellent unpublished books. They're both prestigious and highly coveted awards.

I didn't enter the Golden Heart this year. I simply had nothing ready. So when I scanned the list of finalists, I clapped in delight for a name I recognized, Keli Gwyn. Keli's been finaling and winning the contest circuit all winter for her book, Violets and Violins, and she also recently landed Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary as her agent. For those of you familiar with Keli's blog Romance Writers on the Journey and her personal blog, Keli Gwyn, you'll understand why I couldn't stop smiling at her exciting news. Keli's just a generous, fantastic person!

When I congratulated her via a direct message on Twitter, she humbly sympathized with all who didn't final. Her response provoked my thoughts all day. I hadn't even considered those who'd entered and didn't final, and here she was aching over their disappointment. Have I mentioned her generosity? Yes?

Well, I'll follow it up with class. She has class.

Contests emotionally open up a thirty-gallon vat of worms. On the one hand, we desperately want to final. Are we being selfish or arrogant? I don't think so. Some of us desire feedback from judges, and others crave validation. A contest final means someone loved our writing. Who doesn't want that? It can also pave the way for an agent to take a chance on us or for our manuscript to get into our dream editor's hands.

But what if we don't final? Oh, the crushing disappointment! It hurts. Feedback from judges on non-winning entries can slice us to the bone. And validation? It's difficult to feel validated when you have no chance of winning, not to mention, the manuscript didn't land in your dream editor's hands.

Here's the final blow. Your friends may have finaled. Your critique partner may have entered the same contest and finaled, while your entry sailed home to you.

Your response may confuse you. Maybe you're genuinely happy for your friends, but you're a bit envious too. Maybe you're slightly bitter, what do they have that I don't? Or maybe an uglier emotion rears its head--spite. You think you deserved it and no one else did.

The best way to deal with contest emotions is with a dose of humility. If you've finaled, take Keli's example and remember the feelings of your competitors, but by all means, celebrate! If you haven't, try to put the experience in perspective and not spiral into the ugly emotions of envy, bitterness, and spite. They'll only make you feel worse.

In a few months, American Christian Fiction Writers will announce the finalists for the Genesis contest, similar to the Golden Heart. I know many of you entered. I submitted an entry to the Genesis contest and my critique partners did too. While it would be fabulous if we all made it to the final round, I'm realistic that it probably won't work out that way.

Handling disappointment becomes easier when we remind ourselves that whatever the outcome, God has a wonderful plan for us. We took a big risk--dreamt big!--and we should congratulate ourselves on taking a chance.

Have you been disappointed by a contest result? Have any of your friends won a
contest you entered? And did you enter any contests this year?

Join me on Wednesday for sickeningly sweet photos of my furry writing partners!


  1. I just entered my first contest with no expectations of being a finalist. It's my first story and I just want some feedback. I know I have lots of stories to write before I will be good enough to final. I'm nervous about how I will react to my entry coming back chopped to pieces, but I know I need to toughen up and take the criticism and use it to make my stories better. :)

  2. I've entered a couple of short story contests - won't find out results for a few months yet. But I don't think I'll be too disappointed if I don't final. We'll see when the time comes! I've already had three years of intense criticism - and realised that it has really only made me a better writer. In the beginning I had this most horrible aching in my gut every time my writing would be put down, and I'd sulk, sometimes cry, thinking that I didn't have what it takes - but now I say, "Oh really? Let's fix that." And I keep going, making my writing better and better. It's all part of the process. We should embrace it - welcome criticism with open arms and keep growing.

  3. Last year I entered two contests. Of course I wanted to be that one-in-a-million who has the most AMAZING entry that everyone raves about!

    Not even close.

    I had mixed emotions, but when I was HONEST with myself, I considered it a great opportunity to get some professional feedback.

    I will recommend this, though - compare judges' comments. On the 1-5 scale (bad-good), many comments were consistent, but some were not (how can the same category receive a 2 and a 5??).

    Since I'd entered two contests, I took all of the results and looked for consistencies. If one judge gave a 2, but four judges gave 4/5, then I went with the majority. B

    By doing that I was really able to focus on my weak areas and consider the contests a great chance to identify them. It also gives me a goal for this year - increase my score!!

  4. I just wanted to agree, Keli is all class.

    ~ Wendy

  5. Yay for Keli! And you're so right--there are so many mixed emotions with entering contests! The risk is high, like you said, but so is everything else about publishing. For example, even thinking ahead to publication, the risk is so high too--what if people don't like the book, what if that's "it," or what if the second book flops? There are so many risks. But if we don't take the risks, we won't fail or succeed!

  6. Congrats to Keli, she sounds like a class act. I agree with Jody, so much in publishing is a risk, and we need to take those risks in order to move forward. It's inherent in the craft, and exciting at the same time.

  7. So, so, so happy for Keli.

    I entered my first contest this year, the Erma Bombeck humor writers competition. I didn't even get honorable mention. Yes, I was a bit disappointed. But I have many more years to perfect my writing and my sense of humor.

    I think you are very wise not to enter when you didn't feel ready, Jill.

  8. Lots of wisdom in your post! And what a beautiful way to respond to finaling on your friend's part. I haven't entered a contest in a long time, but I remember those exact emotions.

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  10. Many CONGRATULATIONS to Keli!!! Yay for her! And thank you, Jill, for this very honest post. I agree with you whole heartedly that so many emotions fill us when entering a contest. And finding out the finalists brings all of those emotions to the surface. But we must risk in this world in order to grow and learn and suceed.

  11. Congrats ot Keli! Great post, too!

  12. You are awesome, Jill! Being human is hard sometimes. :)

  13. Good Morning!

    Sherrinda: Every year I enter a few contests and I've gotten great feedback and not-so-great feedback, but they're always worth it. Hope you exceed your expectations and win!

    The Alliterative A: Oh, yes! I agree. The first contest I entered was so painful to read the comments, I actually sealed the whole thing up in a manila envelope with the words "Don't Open Until You're Published." I haven't! But since then, it's not hard to read comments. I've learned valuable lessons. Crossing my fingers you win your contests!

    Karin: I've had that too. One judge loves something and the other hates it. Go figure!

    Wendy: Yep. She is!!

    Jody: Uggh, you're right! It never ends, does it??

    Joanne: True. All the risks we take prepare us for the ups and downs of publishing. It would be nice if they were all ups!

    Jen: Say it isn't so?? You're the perfect Erma Bombeck writer! Well, consider yourself the winner of it in my book. :)

    Georgiana: I don't enter many, either!

    Heather: True! It's hard to get my expectations up and then be disappointed, so I use the ridiculous method of pretending I didn't actually enter. No obsessing!

    Susan: Thanks!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  14. I've been both disappointed and elated by contest results. Often, in the times I've been disappointed, I have learned that I could improve the work that I had submitted. So, in those cases, the losses have been blessings in disguise. When I become a finalist or a winner in a contest, I often see that those final selections are pretty random. (I know this from being a judge as well.) I think it's take quality writing to get into the higher tiers of the contest entries, but once it gets down to those final decisions, I worry less because at that point I believe it's more subjective.

  15. Jill, what can I say, but wow? I'm honored. Your support and encouragement mean so much to me. Thanks for the many congratulatory messages. I've been blown away by the outpouring.

    Thursday was a very difficult day for me. I received my call at 8 a.m. sharp. Then I waited for hours, aching to see the names of those near and dear to me. Some of my closest friends and writing partners didn't make the list, and I cried. My poor hubby wondered what was wrong with me, why I wasn't rejoicing. All I could tell him was that it was different this time. Finaling two years ago when I knew not one single writer was incredible. That final brought me out of my writing cave and introduced me to the wonderful world of writers, many who have become my friends. I'm not happy to admit it, but it was all about me.

    This time, I longed to share the experience with others and rejoice with them. But there weren't enough spots for everyone. So I wept.

    I'm doing better now because I know I'm going to the conference and will get to meet many of my friends in person. That is the highlight for me. The rest is the taco sauce on the conference tostada. (I'm a Taco Bell addict, so that cliche works for me. :)

  16. I think we're all human and go through those emotions naturally. That's the bitter-sweet we all experience in life.

    Yeah Keli! :O)

  17. Jill, you and I are on the same wavelength. When I congratulated Keli on finaling, she sent me a similar response about feeling badly for those who didn't final. With 1200 entries and only about 100 finalists, there had to be a LOT of disappointed folks out there. I thought about Keli's gracious response all day.

  18. Wow I didn't realize it was that time of year again. I need to go check out the nominations:) I think contests can be tough. Especially when you and your writing friend are all competing in a sense. What I love about contests is the feedback you get from entering:)

  19. I used to submit to a small regional literary magazine. The magazine ceased publication last year. The editor had a contest for stories related to a fictionalized town she was trying to create.

    I entered the contest, so did a friend of mine. In the last issue of the magazine the results were announced. My friend's story got first place and mine got fourth.

    What I appreciated was the judges' thought about my story. It really didn't matter that I placed fourth, the judges comment made me feel as if I had an answer for the situation the fictional town faced.

  20. Ah, I just started entering my writing in contests this year and haven't heard anything back yet (bites nails). Either way, it's true, you have to take chances if you're going to get anywhere in this business. ;)
    I did recently win a chance to get a query letter I was working on cirtiqued...and got chewed up and spit out! It's not exactly what I'd call fun, but the comments helped me write a much better letter.
    Good luck with your entries!

  21. Great thoughts on contests and the emotions they can generate. Thanks, Jill!

    In the past I've received some good feedback from the PNWA contest.

  22. Davin: Very true. Writing is subjective--some are going to love our writing and others won't--contests are no exception.

    Keli: I'm so glad you popped in! I know what you mean about crying for those who didn't final. I wouldn't expect any writer just starting out to feel that way, but I know you've been seriously pursuing publication for a long time and you understand the disappointments and triumphs. I know who I'll be rooting for come awards night! Wish I could be there too!

    Diane: Bittersweet sums it up!

    Erica: Absolutely. These contests always lure huge amounts of entries!

    Kara: I agree. I only enter contests where I get feedback or my dream editor is a final judge.

    Quiet Spirit: Congratulations! I'm sorry to hear the magazine no longer is running, but how thrilling to get fourth!

    Emily Ann: Queries--yikes! Another thirty-gallon vat of worms :)

    Paul: I'll have to check that one out!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  23. It's not a contest and everybody wins so nobody has to feel any negative feelings. And I know that you normally only blog 3 days a week. But why don't you join us in our April Challenge:

    I’d like to invite you and your readers to join us in a blogging challenge for the month of April. Check it out at Blogging From A to Z

    And even if you only do three days you could always thematically post on 3 or 4 letters at a time.

    If you want to join us that would be great. Or at the least maybe you can give the challenge a mention.


  24. Jill,
    having judged contests, entered, finaled, and not finaled, I truly see the subjective, subjective side of them and try not to base my feelings, self-esteem, value, on the "judgments of men" but on that peace that passeth all understanding that comes when I do my best and listen for His voice as I write.

    It is enough, Dear Friend. It is MORE than enough.

    Very countercultural, but kingdomcultural!


  25. Arlee: I just saw it on your blog! Very cool idea!

    Patti: You're a wise woman, you know? :) Thanks for keeping it real!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  26. I'm spreading the love to Keli too.. such a SWEET person whom I'd love the honor of giving a great big hug to someday!

    As one who entered and did NOT win said contest, oh my goodness, at the moment it is painful, this I know. We ALL know that pain, but for me, it usually fades the next day.

    Because I know this: Even though contests are subjective, God's will is NOT. He knew who needed to final in that contest. And I was not one of them. And I have peace in that, because Jesus knows best:-)

    Keli finaled because she DESERVED it. She worked hard for what she got and I am SO SO SO SO excited for her! As a contest non-finalist... it's hard for me to lament too hard, because I feel like then, I"m saying that those who finaled should have. And wow, the truth is anything but!

    So, a HUGE kudos to those finalists! They deserved it big-time!

  27. What a thrilling time for Keli!

    The Genesis Contest is my first big entry into the world of writing competitions. I'm nervous, but want to improve my skills.

    We'll see how things go when the results are posted. :)


  28. What a great post, Jill! Such a great precursor to the impending Genesis results. I think the important thing to remember, is that while talent definitely plays a role - so does God. He knows exactly who He wants to final and why. I kept reminding myself that last year, when I was hoping for a final.

    Also - finaling in a contest isn't everything. I've entered five or six. I've only finaled in one (and it was really small) and somehow I still got an agent. So really - that should bring people hope and encouragement (I hope!)

  29. Congrats to Keli! You're right--she is so classy!

    I've entered two contests this year. It's not so much for the prize as for the feedback I hope to get. I hope it makes me better... and everyone else who enters as well.

  30. I've not done contests, so can't say. but, i have a friend who got a spot on a bell choir that another friend really, really wanted.

    both showed grace and were such an example to me in that situation. The one who got the spot was uber humble and the one who didn't was gracious and excited for her friend who did win.

    it was cool. i hope i can be like that.

  31. I always love your blog because it brightens up my morning and gives me a positive outlook on the day.
    And you're right, even if we don't get what we want right away, there are still big things in store for us if we only try try again.

  32. I am so thrilled for Keli again! Her story must be fantastic cause it wins all the time and yes she is a class act. But I love your attitude as well and I'm glad you are my critique partner. Whether any of us finals or not, I know we will be there cheering each other on as we have.:))

  33. Congratulations to Keli!!! She is definitely one classy writer for sure!!!

    I didn't enter any contests this year. The first year I haven't in quite some time. But I'm excited to get to judge a few Genesis entries. I hope I'm a helpful judge, not one that sends the entrant crying. :(

  34. Krista: Great attitude! It's so beneficial to shake off the bad feelings after a day or so. And with the big contests, there's so much competition. The entry could have only been off by a point or two!

    Susan JR: Good for you! Hope you final in your category!

    Katie: Contests definitely are not everything. They don't guarantee a request from an editor, nor will they miraculously seal an agent for us, but they can assist in both!

    Kristen T: That's great! And a great attitude to have.

    Tess: Ouch! Tough spot for both your friends. Sounds like they handled it very well.

    Maria S: Thank you. If only we could have what we want WHEN we want it, right? :)

    Terri: I would LOVE to see your name, along with Cindy's and Wendy's in the finalists! You're so talented. I am definitely cheering you on!

    Eileen: I can't even imagine you making anyone cry. You have the kindest heart. The Genesis contest is blessed to have you volunteering your time.

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  35. Jill, I hope next time you will have something ready to submit. I can certainly relate to the frustration.

    When I began writing, I entered contests and I truly didn't see why the winners were chosen over mine. Worse yet,two friends got articles published on the first try to small magazines and I had been sending out and researching for years. That really hurt. I'm over it now. Really I am. I believe you will do very well when you're ready to enter.

  36. Oh, this is such a great post. There're so many emotions associated with writing, and we don't enter contests thinking that we suck, that we're not ready or that our stuff isn't good enough.

    So when you don't move forward, that's basically what you feel. (I suck, I wasn't ready, my stuff isn't good enough.) And that's an awful feeling.

    Sometimes we try to project our negative feelings on others when we have jealousy or spite. I feel these things all the time. I have to constantly combat myself against them because I don't want to feel that way. When I channel my negative energy into improving myself, those feelings turn into happier ones.

    Great food for thought today!

  37. Nancy: Oh, how painful! That must have been a rough experience. And thank you for your words of encouragement!

    Elana: Oh yes! This business constantly churns up emotions--some are great and generous, and others are not so great. I combat them all the time.

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  38. Very exciting about Keli! I agree, she's very classy. :-)
    I didn't enter any contests this year but I think it would be painful if someone close to me finaled and I didn't. At the same time, you give really good advice about humbleness. I completely agree with that being so important.

  39. Jessica: And it might be more awkward for the one who does final?

    Thanks so much for stopping by!


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