So what does an Honorable Mention from WotF mean? Here’s an infuriating answer: It depends.
Defining what an Honorable Mention is, is a bit easier, though it requires a fair bit of digging and some logical inferences.
Every submission to WotF lands in one of the following categories: Winner (1st-2nd-3rd), Finalist*, Semi-Finalist, Silver Honorable Mention, Honorable Mention, or Rejection.
Eight submissions are Finalists, from which three are chosen as winners. Eight submissions are Semi-Finalists. It gets a little more ambiguous for Silver Honorable Mentions and Honorable Mentions. The WotF blog does a post about the winners. It lists 1st-2nd-3rd, the Finalists, the Semi-Finalists, the Silver Honorable Mentions, and the Honorable Mentions. In order to be listed in the blog, you need to respond to the notification email and say you want to be listed. So, the list is helpful, but not comprehensive. I’ve seen 15-30 Silver Honorable Mentions, and 100-150 Honorable Mentions listed, which is, again, not-comprehensive.
So lets take the most generous figures and say that about 200 entries place.
Next, we need to know how many entrants there are in total. They don’t publish the number of entrants, so this is more educated guesswork than anything. I’m confident that the contest has used the word “thousands” to describe the number of entrants. If that’s the case, then lets use the most conservative definition of “thousands” and say there are about 2,000 entrants.
If that holds, then an Honorable Mention means the story rates somewhere in the top 10% of the entrants for the quarter.
I can say with confidence that Very Good Writers have earned Honorable Mentions and gone on to success. For example, I’m roughly 90% sure that Brandon Sanderson has said that he received an Honorable Mention a few quarters before selling Elantris.
Okay, so what does that mean? It depends.
I think it depends a great deal on who you are when you submit, where you are in your writing career, and where you want to be in your writing career.
If you peruse the forums (which is a wonderful community that I suggest you join), you’ll see people reporting in after results come back each quarter. People rejoice at being Finalists, commiserate about Rejections, and you’ll see a gamut of reactions to Honorable Mentions. Some people rejoice. Some people shrug their shoulders. Some people are disappointed.
A past winner remarked something along the lines of (paraphrasing here): An Honorable Mention is still a rejection. That’s totally true! One way of viewing the contest is that an editor is tasked with assembling an anthology, and if you don’t end up in the anthology, that’s a rejection. For this person, who has professional sales under the belt, and who is looking to further a professional career, this assessment is true.
Where was I when I received that first Honorable Mention? I needed positive reinforcement. I loved writing. These worlds and characters and stories bounced around in my head and I enjoyed writing them out from time to time. In my artistic hubris I thought I wasn’t half bad. Rational me thought that there was no way I was really any good and this is a Very Hard Field to Break Into, so maybe I shouldn’t get my hopes up? So with that background, someone (a serious someone who isn’t handing out participation ribbons to last place at the pinewood derby) looked at what I submitted and said, “not bad.” It was the nudge I needed to keep doing this. For me, where I was at the time, and where I wanted to be, it was good news, and the feedback that I needed at that moment.
Stay tuned for me to tell you the stories of Rejections yet to come, and how they too were exactly what I needed, when I needed them.
*Some Finalists are asked by the editor to hold their story to possibly be included in the anthology as a Published Finalist. As the editors are finalizing the anthology, they may have a gap based on the winners (e.g. if 9/12 winners were SF, maybe adding a fantasy story or two would balance out the anthology). As I understand it, the Published Finalists are paid $.06/word, get to go to the workshop in LA, an artist does a piece based on their story, and they remain eligible to enter the contest.