April 1, 2024

disappointed, not winning a contest, not knowing you didn't succeed
                                                                                                                                                                Photo: filadendron


I get bummed out when I don't have the answer as to why something went wrong.  Not knowing eats at me.  I need an explanation.  

For instance:  Last year I submitted a story to a writing contest that I'd been entering for over fifteen years.  My work had always won an award.  This time my entry didn't even garner an honorable mention.  I had submitted (IMO) a prize-worthy piece.  The hardest thing for me was not knowing why my story didn't resonate with the judge.   

In contrast, I knew exactly what went wrong with the 2023 PB Party contest.  Shortly after I submitted my manuscript, I realized the plot was weak and the writing was subpar.  But it was too late to do anything about it.  Somehow, I had been blind to its faults.  The entry wasn't good and a golden opportunity had been lost.  

But later in the year, another opportunity cropped up.  

Literary agent Stephan Fraser offered a competition called the Encouragement Fund in which three children's writers would be awarded a cash gift to be used towards their writing careers.  To enter you needed to:  have had a children's book traditionally published, submit a cover page, and write an essay to explain why you're entering the contest and what you'd use the prize money for.

Though my book was published by a small press, the contest sponsor verified that it met the qualifications.  Then, I wrote an essay to show why I needed encouragement and what the funding would be used for.  I read the piece to my husband, who always points out problems and offers helpful suggestions.  This time, when I finished reading the piece to him, he was silent.  In a good way.  He said, "It was perfect.  I wouldn't change a thing."  Coming from him, this news was assuring and gave me the confidence to enter the contest.  I HAD written a damn good essay.

I assumed the judges would check Amazon author pages to be sure the applicants' books were traditionally published.  After seeing my book information was accurate, I sent in the cover page along with my essay.  According to the rules, the judging would take place mid-January.  

But by then, I hadn't heard a word.  That's when I got this strange feeling to check Amazon.  I found my book title was now misspelled.  So weird.  It looked fine before the contest deadline.  

Something was fishy.  There could have been a computer glitch with Amazon, but I wondered if my publisher had been involved (we have a strained relationship). She has control over the book details on Amazon and has made my book unavailable for purchase.  She may have been contacted by the contest chair to verify the information about my book.  I don't have proof and it's not nice to accuse, but my book had been online since 2017.  How can it be that the title had been correct for six years and then get messed up during the judging period?  I will never know how this happened.  But when I contacted my agent about the misspelling, she got in touch with my publisher, and then the title was miraculously corrected.  

The first of February rolled around, and there was still no word about the winners.  Then mid-February I checked the agent's Twitter messages.  The decision had been made.  The agent chose three woman to receive the prize.  I tried to figure out why my entry was not selected.  Were the other essays more compelling?  Were the writers' needs greater than mine?  Was my book disqualified because its title was misspelled and that it could no longer be purchased online?  

My essay was written with deep sincerity.  It was evocative.  It had the power to transport and anchor the reader to a place where hope and desire stirred the heart of a writer.  If I lean on my intuition, I feel that the judging was tough.  It may have been a close call.  I take heart in feeling this vibe.  But for now, I have no choice other than to accept the loss without knowing the reason why. 


À la prochaine!