Slamming Doors

September 11, 2007 at 5:19 am (Uncategorized)

That’s slamming, not sliding. Today I received written notification that my entry in The Australian/Vogel competition for unpublished manuscripts was unsuccessful.

And it’s actually a bit worse than that, because my MS didn’t make the shortlist. Oh, and because it didn’t make the shortlist, I don’t get any feedback whatsoever on why my work failed to make the grade. Talk about frustrating. Three and a half months of waiting, and then nothing but the news of failure. Ouch. This, as Sheena emailed me earlier, fully sucks.

Big sigh. Naturally I’m disappointed. It’s not that I thought I’d win, it’s that I’d hoped to make the shortlist. And in not making the shortlist, I have no choice but to conclude my work is substandard. The Vogel is one of those awards that is popular at all levels precisely because there’s no agenda other than to identify the best unpublished MS among the two hundred or so entries each year. It’s also one of the only opportunities in this country for unpublished, aspiring authors to have their work read and judged by industry professionals. So it’s no minor thing to have failed to leave the desired impression. It’s quite a big thing. I have to accept that my submission simply wasn’t good enough; or, “They’re just not that into me.”

That’s two for two, people. First the literary agency rejected a sample of my writing, and now a literary competition has rejected the entire MS. Things are not going well. I know, I know, I know and have already written elsewhere on this blog that so many ultimately successful authors go through years of this. I know. But it would be naive and possibly the sign of some kind of mental illness were I to assume this is all just a rite of passage. It may be happening not because it happens to the best of ’em, but because it also, in much greater numbers, happens to the worst of ’em.

But let’s be frank. I’ve looked over my MS a few times since entering it in the Vogel. I still don’t think it’s terrible. Tim, my reader, didn’t think it was terrible either. We each hold a PhD in English, and we have done our fair share of reading over the years. We have above average English language skills. So what’s truly terrifying about this failure is that the judges weren’t even looking for the MS that’s closest to ‘publishable standard.’ They’re looking for the one with the most potential, the one they think can be knocked into shape by the editors at Allen & Unwin in time for the book’s launch in about 12 months time. And mine still didn’t make the shortlist.

I’m sure the field was excellent and of a very high standard. I have absolutely no doubt this country is teeming with talented young writers who just can’t win a trick. I’m certain the judges have fulfilled their remit with great integrity, and I look forward to reading the eventual winner’s book when it’s published (the winner is announced on Thursday). I’ll also be interested to read the judge’s report – annually, one of the judge’s writes a piece about that year’s entries. I’ll be glad to know what he or she has to say about the level of competition, number of entries, criteria for the shortlist and so on.

Unfortunately, though, none of that helps me understand what’s wrong with my MS and how I can improve it. None of it helps me work through the intense sense of failure, nor the accompanying loss of confidence about what I am doing with my time. All I can do now is move on. It is what it is – a pretty lousy moment in time – but what can I do except try to learn something from the failure, and keep trying to improve?

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