About that Rejection…

Have I  mentioned how great the WotF forum is? It’s pretty great. This whole story does not have this ending were it not for the WotF forum. K.D. Julicher (Published Finalist from Vol. 32… read her story, it rocks) was a Finalist in Q3 for Vol. 34. She noted on the forum:

Yeah, so, that Q3 finalist I just had? Trunk story. Well, not quite, but “story I haven’t touched in a year, pulled out and polished up” counts, right?

I read that and a light bulb went off. I could meet my goal of submitting every quarter without submitting the broken thing I was stuck in banging-head-against -wall zone. All I had to do was polish up the story (that I loved) that was just rejected from a different anthology.

Here’s what I posted on the forum about what was thinking in the moment:

With what I was working on for Q4 being (not-quite-but-close-to) hopelessly broken. I took this inspiration and rather than skip this quarter, got something in that feels not too shabby. And that gives me enough time to fix what’s wrong with the other one.

I submitted sometime near the end of September.

Joni Labaqui called to tell me I was a Finalist on November 6.

 

This One’s Not Working

For whatever reason, I’ve mostly ended up writing fantasy and almost exclusively in the third person POV. So for the next quarter, I wanted to push myself to get better by doing something I was unfamiliar with. I was going to write a first person POV science fiction story.

I would say the results were… not great?

I still love the idea, and want to come back to it at some point, but man, I couldn’t execute it to save my life. The folks I was swapping with, most notably Kent and Robert were nice about it, but it was obvious it wasn’t working. Sometimes the critique can give you hard insight that the piece is broken as written and the better choice is to walk away.

Don’t throw good money after bad, as it were.

I was running out of time in the quarter and was presented with a familiar set of choices: Submit nothing, submit something I knew wasn’t good enough, or (a new option), submit something that already existed.

I opted for the latter. It was a good decision.

Back in the Win Column

My WotF journey thus far had basically consisted of falling backwards into an Honorable Mention, getting headstrong, and being dosed back to reality by rejections. It wasn’t exactly like I was covering myself in glory at this point, but I was armed with blind enthusiasm and a newfound weapon: the forum, and specifically, the critiques of fellow writers.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve played this whole “Jon writes stuff” thing pretty close to the vest my entire life. Setting aside larger discussion for the time being, the practical effect of that is that I didn’t develop a network of fellow writers, or a writing group. The forum allowed me to connect with other people in roughly the same spot I was. I dove head long into the forum to find people to exchange stories with, and wonder-of-wonders, it was super helpful.

For the next submission I worked it through [checks folder] 43 [dang] revisions. I made a list of all the lessons my rejections had taught me. I made a list of all the things that I knew were important to the contest. I focused on making my prose tight, concise, impactful, beautiful. I poured a lot of metaphorical blood, sweat, and tears into it.

It netted another Honorable Mention.

My first reaction was disappointment. I’d worked so dang hard, maybe that’s my ceiling, I thought.

My second, much more rational, reaction was that was what this story had earned. I didn’t stick the landing. There’s no way that 95% of a great story wins. Maybe it would have placed higher with a killer ending, maybe it wouldn’t have.

Each submission was a lesson, and this one was clear: Stick the ending!

What an Honorable Mention Means or “Hey Kid, Keep It Up”

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.

The First Submission

In the last post I mentioned how I learned about the Contest, and I set myself the goal of submitting each quarter. I promptly… uh… didn’t do so well at writing and finishing a story. So, faced with a choice (/foreshadowing: a choice that would reappear in the future /foreshadowing): Submit something–anything–at all, or don’t and make it a whole 0 quarters before failing my goal.

I chose to submit something.

That something was an epistolary story about the discovery of King Tut’s tomb that I had I started scribbling in free moments. I felt great about the concept, great about the open, meh about the rest of the execution, and bad about the ending. Essentially, I treated it as an historical fantasy. I used real dates, and in at least one instance, an actual telegraph sent by Howard Carter. I knew when he died. I kind of just ended the story, rather than giving it an ending. There was no good set up. It just sort of ended.

Anyhow, I dusted my hands off, and did two things, 1. Didn’t learn my lesson about starting earlier in the quarter, and 2. Forgot about the submission.

Then a month or more later, I received a thoroughly unexpected email:

Dear Entrant,

Your story has been judged and is an Honorable Mention for the 3rd quarter of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. (3rd quarter is 1 April to 30 June)

Congratulations!!!

Dang.

My initial thought was: “Maybe I can actually do this.”

My second was: “Uh oh… Q4 ends on September 30.”

Discovering the Contest

For those who aren’t aware, Brandon Sanderson, in addition to being a great author, gives a ton back to the field of aspiring writers both by doing the Writing Excuses Podcast and teaching a creative writing class at BYU. At least some of his lectures are available on youtube, and they’re a great resource. He needed a substitute teacher for one of the lectures, so Eric James Stone stepped in.

In this he mentions the Writers of the Future Contest, and gives the advice of (paraphrasing): submit each quarter and either you’ll win or you’ll have enough short stories out in the marketplace that you pro out (or sell four stories at $.06/word and are thus ineligible for the contest).

I took Eric’s advice and started submitting. Allow me to humbly suggest you follow his advice as well.

So, this is happening

WOTF-34-Front-Cover

In what can only be described as a stroke of magnificent luck, I was selected as the 3rd Place finisher for Quarter 4 of Writers of the Future, Vol. 34. My story, “The Howler on the Sales Floor” is going to (UPDATE: OUT NOW) appear in an anthology (cover above, cool, no?), alongside a whole bunch of fantastic authors that pretty much nobody has ever heard of… yet.

I’ll tell the whole WotF story in a series of posts I’m sure, but most salient to this post is the fact that I had zero expectation of winning, and when I did, was woefully unprepared for this moment. No website, no nothing really. And so, here we are chipping away at that problem with the finest web hosting wordpress can provide. Please bear with me while I work out the kinks… I’m sure there will be more than a few kinks.