Saturday, July 2, 2011

Writers of the Future update

Yesterday, I promised an update on Writers of the Future. The contest administrator responded to my e-mail Friday afternoon and apologized for the mix-up. As for the rest, I am now waiting just like many other entrants to see how the quarter shakes out. I hold no ill will toward anyone over what was an honest mistake. The folks who run this contest work very hard at it, and I appreciate all they do.

For those who are clueless to what I am talking about, I received notification Thursday I was a semi-finalist for the second quarter and found out the next day that semi-finalists and finalists had not yet been determined. Amid my disappointment, I got told by someone close to me that I was overreacting to the news. The implication from that person was clear: WotF is not a big deal. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, that is true. But it is a big deal for me. Let me explain.

My ultimate goal is to become a novelist who can live off the income from my writing. More intermediate goals are to make enough pro sales that I am considered a professional writer and to write a novel that sells. However, all those goals right now seem to be locked up behind an impenetrable door. There are many ways to open that door. The one I've chosen is the Writers of the Future contest. I don't believe that winning this contest will open up the world of publishing to me. I'm not that naive. I do believe it can get my foot in the metaphorical door.

So three years ago, I promised myself that I would enter the contest every quarter until I either won or I made myself ineligible through too many professional sales. I have stuck with that. In my early entries, I sent off whatever story I had available at the time, and I didn't do too badly: Five honorable mentions in eight quarters. Right around Christmas last year, those HMs started to feel not like success but stagnation.

I read once from a professional writer who is now a judge of the WotF contest that if you receive an HM, you're good. You are writing quality work, and your placement is only a matter of the judges' personal taste. At the time I read that, I believed it because it meant I was doing well. It was an affirmation. But I don't believe that anymore. To me, an HM means the story is good but is not good enough.

At the start of 2011, I set myself another goal: to make semi-finalist or finalist (or even better yet, to win) by the end of the year.

So in that next entry - my ninth - I pushed myself harder than I ever had before, and the result was a silver honorable mention. In my 10th entry, I spent so much time writing and rewriting that I only finished one story that quarter. I just about sweated blood over that story. I worked on it until I was sick of it. By the time I hit the "submit" key, I could not stand to look at it even one more time. And I was rewarded for my work on Thursday when I received word of my semi-finalist status. I had done it! More than that it was proof that I could do it. It was the first time I truly believed that I was a good enough writer to win this contest.

Then came Friday.

I have hopes for how things will work out for me personally this quarter, but there are no guarantees. But here's the thing: If you pursue a career in writing for long enough, you will meet with setbacks and disappointments. Mine this week is small potatoes compared with some of the horror stories I've heard about or read online. Those writers dust themselves off and keep going, and so will I. I will stick to my promise of three years ago and continue submitting to WotF every quarter until I win or pro-out.

... But I do hope when all is said and done this time around, I get to keep my semi-finalist berth.


Aaron Hughes said...

Well, I hope you don't get to keep your semifinalist spot.

I hope the mix-up goes the other way and you end up one of the finalists.

Good luck!

Grayson said...

Aaron said it before I could! I think this is actually good news, Jennifer. I think you're in the single pile of clearly awesome stories that KDW now has to arbitrarily divide into finalists and semi-finalists. I think you could easily come down on the finalist side of the line.

Fingers crossed!

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks said...

Aaron and Grayson, thank you for the support. Anything is possible, but I'm not going to hold my breath. The pessimist in me makes me think it's more likely that my story would be downgraded. Whatever happens, I will keep writing and submitting. If it doesn't work out this time, there's always next quarter, and the one after that, and the one after that ...

Adam Colston said...

You're a great writer and I think winning for you isn't so much about if you can write well enough, but if you submit the right story. Remember a sci-fi story increase your chances (fewer people submit them and the judges lean towards them), also remember they sell these books to schools, so give them a theme to discuss.

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks said...

Hi, Adam. The theme angle is an aspect of the contest I hadn't thought of before, but it makes sense. Thanks.

Adam Colston said...

The like stories with strong themes where something of worth is actually discussed within the story. I took that literally and had my two characters actually discuss being alive versus appearing to be alive (plus a little about slavery).

Good luck!