Give it Up or Suck It Up

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




This anonymous question was submitted to our blog. I thought I would attempt an answer and would love it if everyone could share their own answer.
“When you were at your lowest point and about to give up writing fiction, what pulled you through?”

I distinctly remember this low point. Ironically it came after a huge high. Go figure. I’d been working full time in the energy industry, doing a demanding job with travel, and had been writing for 3-4 hours every night (much longer on weekends). I did this grueling schedule for 3 years and it felt as if I worked two full time jobs at the same time.

I had joined a writer’s group, attended conferences & craft workshops, entered national writing contests, and submitted proposals to agents and editors with countless rejections. Mind you, I’d been named winner or finalist in half the contests I entered and I’d been receiving “good” rejections. The ones with handwritten notes or encouragement to resubmit from editors and agents, and I had 7 full requests out at the time. This kind of feedback requires risk. A writer has to dare to put their work out there for public scrutiny and rejection in order to learn and open your mind. Here’s an excellent post from TKZ’s James Scott Bell on the importance of Rhino Skin.

With every one of these aspiring author stories, there often comes tantalizing peaks along with devastating emotional valleys. I had entered (for the first time) the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) Golden Heart contest for aspiring authors and had been named a finalist. This is like the Oscars for RWA. This was the Mt Everest high I’d talked about.

A good friend of mine, who had also been a finalist that year, gave me good advice. She told me to simply focus on my writing (a new project) and not get caught up in all the hoopla of the event, like what formal dress I would wear, or my shoes, or hair. From her experience, she knew it was too easy to get distracted and that if I didn’t sell from this, I would have to find a way to carry on and keep going. As high as I’d been from the contest, I felt my hopes dashed when I didn’t sell by the time the event came around. (Often, expectations are the proverbial albatross.) My friend had been right. I had to focus on what was important.

What got me through the crashing low after such a Rocky Mountain High was one question. I asked something that would change how I looked at my writing from there forward. “Would I still write if I never sold?” When I answered with an enthusiastic “YES,” I knew why I wrote. I wrote for the passion of the process and the love of storytelling, my way. I had tapped into a form of self-expression, creating something from nothing, that I hadn’t experienced any other way. The love of writing and reading had been with me since I was a child. It would always be a part of me.

Writing has elevated my quality of life. It’s changed me forever and in that moment, the burden of expectation (something I had no control over) was lifted. After I’d let go of the Must Sell mentality, it wasn’t long after that I sold big. My first sale story is here at this LINK. Yes, I sacrificed a body part to sell. But after I finished “No One Heard Her Scream,” I knew it would sell. Don’t ask me how I knew. I just did. Who needed pain killers when the euphoria of writing had me walking on clouds?

In that stage of my writing journey–after I’d rediscovered the joy–I focused on the craft of writing and forgot about what was popular or what some publishers were wanting in their detailed submission guidelines. I never was one to worry over or chase trends. I had my day job. I treated my writing as something I did because I loved it. Writing still brings joy to my life and I continue to write the stories I want to read.

I’d love to hear from others in our TKZ family. What gets you through the slumps? What keeps you going?

Writing Contests

Nancy J. Cohen

Writing Contests for Published Authors

Being a finalist in a writing contest can lift your mood, while not earning any kudos can depress you. So why enter them at all?

One reason to enter a contest for published authors is to expose new readers to your work. A judge might become a new fan. It’s another way to get your name out there. Plus, if you win, you’ll be able to call yourself an Award-Winning Author. That looks good on your book cover and in your professional biography. If you’re a finalist, you can get mileage out of that term as well. The ensuing publicity can broaden your readership.

On the other hand, low scores can totally strip you of confidence. In the mystery field, there aren’t a whole lot of contests to enter. If you write humorous cozies like I do, there’s no sense in entering the Edgars. You have to be nominated for most other awards like the Agatha, and that becomes a popularity contest as conference goers vote for the winners. There’s little judging with feedback or specific criteria like in the romance field.

Thus this past year I entered both my paranormal romance and my mystery into separate contests sponsored by RWA chapters. I did enter Shear Murder in the Florida Book Awards, even knowing a work of serious crime fiction would be more likely to win. My purpose was to gain the attention of whatever librarians might read my entry, although with the $50 entry fee, the cost of four print books (over $50), and the $15.41 postage, I might not bother again.

My romance didn’t garner a single nod in the myriad of contests I’d entered. I could understand this reaction because my mixed genre story might not appeal to the standard romance fan. My paranormal romance stories have a humorous touch and blend elements of science fiction and fantasy with mythology.

I’d had better hopes for my mystery, Shear Murder, but this title didn’t make the cut at the Daphne award sponsored by RWA’s Kiss of Death chapter. I’d entered it into the mainstream category because romantic suspense is more the cup of tea for this group. And then I got my scores back. Talk about demoralizing!

My heart sunk at the first score, 44 out of 88. Is my writing that bad? Does my series only appeal to a select group of fans? But as I read the comments, I realized that maybe this judge didn’t read a lot of cozies. Her final remark was, “A struggle to complete the reading.”

Oh, wait, there were two more scores. My spirits lifted. The next one was 72 and the last one was 87 out of 88! The last judge said, “This book is superb; masterfully written.”

So who am I to believe? Judge number one or Judge number three? Might I have finaled if not for that one judge who obviously didn’t get my work?

It doesn’t matter. The point here is that judging is subjective. One reader might love our book and another might say it should never have been published. I went for the goal and didn’t make it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try again. I did, once in my lifetime, win the HOLT Medallion Award. If it happened once, it can happen again. You just have to grow a thick skin to keep trying and weigh the investment of time and money against the possible benefits.

Do you consider writing contests for published authors to be worthwhile?