AKA the Dorchester/Textnovel Next Best Celler Contest. I promise you here and now this isn't going to be a bitter rant. I'm calling it the contest from hell because to everyone who entered, it ripped a part of their soul out through their nostrils. No matter where they placed or have yet to place.
The golden apple that all of us hopeful writers were striving to attain? A $2,000 publishing contract and the manuscript in print by the end of 2010. I'm pretty sure no one I know was in this for the money. You see, as a struggling writer we all want one thing, for people to actually read what we write, to have readers tell us they loved our stories. It's vindication for wrestling with the demons in our heads, for all the times we tell our friends, or worse our children, "No, I can't right now, I need to write". It sounds selfish, it feels selfish, but it's what we must do, who we are.
Stage one was posting the romance manuscript on textnovel.com and soliciting votes. The top twenty votes would be the semi-finalists. I discovered the contest at the beginning of September and first entered River Rats. It had already been going on for a few months and since I was new to the site as well as the contest I started from zero. Took me a few days to figure out how the contest worked, a few weeks to solicit votes without pissing off other textnovel members all the while convinced I'd never gain enough votes to stand with the semi finalists. I'm not exactly a social creature, after all.
About a week after first joining, I started posting Redeeming Characters. I started with a prologue describing Dakota's life after her husband's death and how she adopted baby Kim. Reading over the 500 word chappies on textnovel, I realized how much of a downer the story started out and axed the prologue, beginning instead with Drue's snide commentary on author day. Within a week the story was selected as an editor's choice for the site. I did my best to read as many stories on textnovel as possible, to comment and invite other authors to read mine, operating under the writer's unspoken golden rule, leave the feedback I'd want to see on my own work. I posted other WIP that are not under contract to the site to demonstrate how prolific I can be. I checked in about five hundred times a day, and analyzed the profile of anyone who had voted/ subscribed to my story and sent thank you e notes. I started the Are you A Character Contest, signed up for and Twitter and began using the Facebook account I'd created many moons ago. My numbers kept climbing, but so did everyone else's. There were several times when I wanted to say, the hell with it all.
Much to my surprise, previously untapped resources rode to the rescue. Fans of Laundry Hag, friends of my father and step-mother who I talked through the registration and voting process, even people who came and voted for other contestants, stopped by and voted on mine. With two weeks to go, I made it up to the top twenty, vote wise. In the last week, I'm pretty sure some of my fellow contestants were knocking on sorority house doors with sacks of chocolate because the numbers were absolutely insane. When I first joined, the high score number for the contest was 300. By the end it was over 700. More than double in two months time.
I kept telling myself, once I got the manuscript on the table, it was a sure thing. That I had written a great story,which needed fine tuning, yes, but it was gonna get a chance to see the light. I finished Redeeming Characters, which I had been working on since early 2006, a week before the first phase ended. I made sure it was polished, that everything jived, word count was accurate according to the contest rules, left it on a pretty great hook if I do say so myself.
Then, on November 1st, we all waited anxiously for that official announcement. Which happened on November 2nd, around midday. Stinking calender didn't account for business days. The top twenty were announced, no wait it was twenty-one. A little confusion over the rules, oh well, no biggie. An extra story got thrown in the mix, a darn good one too.
We all waited anxiously to find out who would be in the top ten. Ironically, after the vote pimping ended, I felt as though I was constantly forgetting to do something. So I focused part of my energies on Stellar Timing, my nano that still isn't and the rest goofing off with fellow contestants on Twitter. Made some kick ass friends that way. Of course, I kept going over all of the things that set my story, as well as me as a contestant, apart. I'd read at least a little of all the others and I kept a mental list of who deserved to be in the top ten.
I was so bloody sure that someone just had to bitch-slap my hubris. If you've ever read any of the Greek tragedies, you know to what I am referring. Pride goes before the fall and all that jazz. The announcement came when I was out with A.J. at soccer practice. I read the list over twice, three times, to be sure, but Redeeming Characters wasn't on it.
For two days I stewed and kept asking what did I do wrong? I think a small piece of my heart broke off when I found out that editor's from Dorchester were helping the other contestants write print-worthy jacket copy. I'd already invested too much time to simply let it go, I needed to know who would walk away with that contract, and the why of it.
I offered to help a friend, who'd written an excellent story and did make top ten, edit her work for the final push. Was a double bonus for me since in doing so I got to read the whole thing as it was created, like a kickin' backstage pass. Plus, I had an excuse to justify my continuing interest with the contest. I wasn't playing favorites, I cheered on all the other finalists too, because they'd already put in the time, not just logging the hours to write and edit their own manuscripts but investing themselves in the contest.
Are you starting to see why this was the contest from hell? It was completely interactive, and each stage happened in a very public forum. This is so much different than sending in a check and a couple of pages for a judge to review, as is standard with many RWA contests. It was pretty much a public flogging and our only crime was wanting our work to be seen.
When my friend's story didn't make the final five, I commiserated with her as only one who'd experienced that pain first hand could do. She had that same grieving process to endure. Soon after, the first of five was cut with some incredibly harsh criticism tagged along with it. This past Monday, same deal, a cut with a few snarky comments which basically told the writer only that their book sucked for various reasons. Most of the criticism was extremely subjective, which gives the writer nothing to build upon.
Here's the point, rejection happens all the time. As long as there are people with opinions, my work will be summarily dismissed as trite, overzealous, unoriginal, blah blah freaking blah. If you want to be a writer, you need to get use to it. The best way, I have found to do so was to distance myself from the outcome as possible. And with this contest, it just wasn't going to happen. We were all right there in the trenches, newbie writers and old hands at the game alike. The only thing we had in common was we weren't part of the starting line up at a major publishing house and had written novels we believed in to a fault.
You want in, you gotta ride the wave to the shore, or like I've said many times and in many ways, you have to want it badly enough to put up with all the unexpected twists and turns. As a writer I enjoy controlling the world I've constructed. The one I have to live in doesn't have a joystick anymore so I gotta wing it.
Who's with me?