I’ve spent a fair amount of time this week getting entries ready for some contests with May 1 deadlines: stories, novellas, novels in progress, novels. The entry fees are usualy $15, but some go as high as $40. It’s a terrible business. You don’t hear for months, and then often the announcement is “we had 768 entries and the one winner is X.” Lucky X. Only once or twice have I been X, and they were minor contests. A couple of the contests I like better at least pubilsh honorable mentions, short lists, long lists, something to scribble on a writing resume; some proof that for whatever reason, my manuscript didn’t go straight from the post office box to the circular file. I’ve made a couple of those honorable, “also-ran,” “always a bridesmaid,” lists–a small percentage of my overall entries–and it is small consolation. But it must be some, because I keep entering, rolling the dice, hoping. Because, as they say, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.
And, because, perfecting a few pages for a contest is a discipline all its own. There’s a deadline, a format, an attention to detail and nuance that might excape me when I’m just thinking of sending something to a journal and figuring they’ll forgive a typo or two if they really like the story. In a contest, that could be the difference. So I’m stricter with myself, and for a couple days after sending off an entry, stricter with all my work.
And then I get sloppy again. Probably because as much as I want to get published, I can get awfully discouraged, just not seeing it happen quickly enough for me. So the contest thing helps to keep me sharp, and critical of my own work, and I need that. In the interim drafts, we’re so close to our work and our characters, we miss the little inconsistencies, the little jumps and hiccups (for the convenience of the lazy author), the small grammatic errors that prevent us from offering up our best work.
And I keep entering because you never know. Once I didn’t win a contest, but they wanted to publish my story anyway! That was fun (actually, the fun is supposed to be forthcoming this summer.) And because I have a competitive spirit. I know some people who have won. Some better writers than me, some not. Grand Prizes. Prizes with Fancy Names. Crowns and Roses. Some cash.
One thing I’m fairly certain of: their entries were letter-perfect!
That’s all for now. Off to enter some more, with a click and a prayer!