The most interesting things in my inbox are the ones I don’t expect. (All those too good to be true offers of unbelievable financial and romantic success, those I expect. They go straight to the automatic deletion dump.) So because I had almost forgotten about it, I was pleasantly surprised to get an email telling me a short story I had entered in a contest had placed¾ second.
Second place may not excite anybody else, but I remember the advertising slogan about second-placers who try harder. Also, the story netted me a small amount of money. But the real thrill was getting to see the judges’ comments, the comments of people who the contest sponsor had assured me were “top industry professionals.” Yay, I thought, finally I’m getting really worthwhile feedback.
The results made it clear that the assurances we get from editors and agents about everything being a matter of taste are all too true. Results ranged from judges who pronounced my story “overall, one of my favorites in this year’s group,” and “very good work,” to one for whom the story had almost no merits except its grammar and spelling.
I appreciated the encouraging judges. Boy, did I appreciate them! But the most helpful comments came from the judges in the middle. They were the ones who checked “good but needs improvement” or “very good” (but not “excellent”), the ones wrote “I feel this (plot turn) happens very quickly” or “suffered from some overly long sentences.”
I determined to try harder. I spent a morning while plumbers were at work in my house analyzing the comments and another morning in rewriting, working on what might change a “very good” to “excellent.”
Could the rewrite time have been better spent revising the novel an agent has asked to
see? Maybe. But it was fun and I was surprised at how much more I liked the rewritten story.
I responded promptly and courteously to the email informing me of my second place. (Writing prompt and courteous acknowledgements is a habit I’m making a conscious effort to develop.) And I refrained from asking whether my story would be published by the contest sponsor, which, if you really have to know, is the FenCon XI science fiction/fantasy convention.
Because I don’t want my original story published. I like my rewritten version so much better. If it’s not published, I’ve got the money and the feedback and can still offer “first rights” to another publisher who may pay me even more money.
All this reminds me, there’s another FenCon story contest still open, the one for authors in the third through twelfth grades. There’s no fee, the winners may receive online publication, and I hope, judges’ comments. But hurry. The deadline is September 10, this Wednesday. See www.fencon.org/youngauthor.html for rules and regulations.
And keep trying. Even harder.