The Subjective Side of the Writing Business

Wednesday, December 18, 2013
About a week ago, my horoscope read:

“Your success and failures are not based solely on your own actions. Be firm with yourself, but have compassion, too. It’s not all in your control.”

I smiled when I read it, appreciating the timely reminder from the Libran stars. You see, just the evening before, I’d received an email about a contest I’d entered.

I had a short story (a flash) that I really liked and a couple contests with similar deadlines for a flash story. So I sent off the piece to three different contests, and though I hadn’t set it up intentionally, I realized I had a sort of writing experiment going on. The same story to be judged by three different people. How would it fare?

The results trickled in. For the first contest, the story won a first prize and I was super-excited! I proposed what I thought was a sound hypothesis. That if the story placed first in one contest, it was bound to place well in the other contests. I sat back and waited for more results, with visions of dollars dancing in my head.

But when the second contest email came in, the story garnered an honorable mention. Just an honorable mention? An anomaly, I figured. I was sure the validity of my hypothesis would be proved in the third contest.

And just a week or so ago, the afore-mentioned email came and the story won…nothing. It didn’t even get an honorable mention. How was that scientifically possible?

It didn’t take me long to answer that question. Even without the horoscope, I would've eventually remembered that writing is not an objective, scientific business. The story may have been the same, but the people reading the story—well, every person brings a different perspective into the reading experience.

Some aspects of writing can be quantified, I suppose. Poor grammar, for instance. But once a writer gets to the level where he or she can produce a well-crafted story, then personal opinion becomes a factor in the judging. And one judge’s “Wow!” is another judge’s “Didn't care for it.”

So, just sending along to you a timely reminder: Don’t let a rejection (or even a stack of rejections) undermine all your hard work. Keep submitting.

And feel free to borrow that gem of a horoscope (and maybe print it out and stick it above your desk).

~Cathy C. Hall


Unknown said...

My first reaction is, wow, congratulations on your story doing so well! I love the Ann Landers of horoscopes too. Well timed and good advice to remember. Thanks.

Marcia Peterson said...

Congrats on the contest win and for sharing what happened. As someone with experience judging contest entries, I would also mention a couple of factors that could apply.

Entrants should consider what the host organization or website is like, i.e. what sort of material fits with their mission or style. Also, sometimes the organization receives tons of great entries, so the competition is fierce; other times there are few good ones amongst the pile, and they have more of a chance than they normally would.

I pretty much love everything you write, Cathy, so here’s a virtual First Place ribbon for you! :)

Unknown said...

I've had similar experiences. I was a finalist in a competition for one story I wrote, and got an immediate rejection for the same piece from someone else. Another time I got a rejection from a site that would have paid me $50 for a short-short - and two months later I sold it for $300 to someone else! I figure it always comes down to finding the right market for your work - someone with whom your story is going to resonate. And no matter how carefully you research, that's not always something you can predict.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Since I'm also a Libra, I won't feel funny about doing just what you suggested---posting the horoscope to my laptop as a reminder. Horoscope or no, that's sage advice. Thanks Master Y.

See--I knew I'd learn something. :)

Angela Mackintosh said...

Congratulations on winning first place, Cath! And for winning an honorable mention. :) I have to agree with Marcia--it comes down to the market you're submitting to, the number of entries, the quality of the competition, and the final judge's preference. In WOW's flash fiction contest, I've seen the same exact story not place one season and win a cash prize the next. So I agree with you--keep submitting. It may be in the stars!

leslie said...

What a wonderful post and a wonderful reminder. I get irritated with those who believe they can control every aspect of life by "intending," "affirming," or "believing."

My motto is to do my best and stay open.

I might also hang your horoscope quote over my desk, although I also get irritated with people who believe in astrology, lol!

Unknown said...

Well, congratulations on winning one out of three! I've never tried to submit the same story to multiple contests, I should give that a try.

Debra Mayhew said...

Talk about getting lots of mileage out of one piece! It was interesting to read about your little experiment, and I'd say 1 for 3 is pretty good. It also helps to be reminded that writing is so subjective, and more importantly, to remember to keep those submissions going. Thanks and congratulations on your win!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Thanks, y'all!

One thing that made this experiment so interesting is that I had no way of knowing the judges (if a judge is listed, I'll do my homework!), so it really was a case of throwing the work out there and seeing how it landed.

And yep, when all was said and done, I was happy with my one win. As my mom would say, "Be thankful for what you got." :-)

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