As my few (but favored) Facebook followers already know, last week I found out that Dark the Night Descending passed the initial phase of Amazon’s venerable Breakthrough Novel Awards, a massive contest that promises thousands of authors in five genre categories the chance for a $50,000 advance on a publishing contract with Amazon’s own publishing house. The competition is extremely fierce, with about ten thousand people vying to make it past the elevator pitch round, and I was surprised and pleased to have my pitch selected as one of four hundred in the speculative fiction category.
There are three more rounds to go, with my novel being judged first on a 5000 word excerpt and then on the full manuscript, before it moves to the inter-genre battle to win the grand prize. I’m not sure I really anticipate making it past the next cut, but that’s all right if I don’t. I’m not sure I could really stand the suspense for another four months, anyway.
Then again, maybe the anxiety is the best part. I’m not a very lucky person, in general. I don’t win anything when I buy a couple of scratch tickets, I’ve never ended up coming out ahead on the slot machines, and we all know how much of a disaster my attempts at interpersonal relationships have been. I only buy the tickets and play the slots because I find that tiny moment, that little thrill of hope before the silver dust falls away from the losing numbers or the pixels settle on “try again” to be one of the most clearly calming moments I can have.
I’m not alone in dreaming about being handed one of those oversized novelty checks with lots of zeroes on them, of course. We all love to spend a few moments thinking about our non-existent beach houses or ski lodges or fancy imaginary cars. We think a little less about the taxes, but that’s okay. If I win a million dollars, I’ll happily take the cash option even if it’s half as much. I could buy a house with a garage. Talk about luxury.
Writing competitions are a little more strenuous on the system, though. There is luck involved, certainly. A whole lot of luck, especially when you’re dealing with big numbers of hopeful entrants. But they also depend on skill. Writing contests judge the product pouring from your opened soul: something you’ve spent months or years or decades creating and perfectly crafting until you squeeze your eyes shut and hit “submit” with your heart in your throat and your fingers trembling on the mouse.
Winning a contest may be attributed to luck, but losing it is personal. Really, really personal. And it sucks. The powers that be have pronounced judgment that your work is just not good enough to make the grade. It’s a let-down like no other in the universe, and just like being rejected by a literary agent, it can lead some people to feel so defeated that they never try again.
I’ve felt that way a few times. I certainly felt that way when I fell just short of a competition that cost me a cool hundred bucks to enter. It takes a few days to get over the disgruntlement, and sometimes it takes even longer. But for me, the exhilaration of imagining myself as the winner still trumps the nearly inevitable disappointment of receiving a “thanks for entering, but…” email from the organizer. For a few days or weeks, I’m a lucky person, even if my luckiness is only in potentia.
I like that feeling a lot, despite the stress and worry and nail-biting madness every time I check the website and don’t see any results. It’s all part of the fun. So even if I don’t make it through another round of ABNA, I’ve had the triumph of getting one step up the ladder, and I think that will be worth the doldrums I will no doubt have to slog through if my novel isn’t the lucky winning card.