Just once in my life I pulled out all the stops, worked as hard as I possibly could, and held nothing back. I created a book called Motherless Child. It took me 17 years to get it right.
As an act of faith, I entered the book into three competitions. These were specifically for self-published books, and I believed that Motherless Child was worthy of entry, and that it just might win something. For me, entering the book was the culmination of the “pull out all the stops and go for the goal line” effort.
It took a considerable amount of time, and not an insignificant amount of money, just to enter the books. I had to make sure everything was perfect, inside and outside. No typos in the manuscript, everything looking professional on the cover, all entry forms correctly filled out.
After you enter a contest, there’s always a waiting period, sometimes of months. If you win, they notify you. If you lose, you find out by checking the winner’s list they send you, or by looking up the contest if they don’t send you anything.
I lost. All three. Not even an honorable mention.
And with book sales flat, with only three reviews from all my family and friends, I figured, “Well, that’s it.” The book is not a success. I did my best, and it’s time to move on.
Even so, this one hurt. Just because I’d given all I had to this book. I thought, just maybe, I’d move the earth a little bit, get an honorable mention, something.
The failure weighed heavily on me. And then I got an e-mail from one of the competitions. They were kind enough to send the judging forms to me and, being interested, I read them.
The first judge liked my book, but had penalized me significantly for not having a price on my cover. Because that judge lowered one part of my score so drastically over a tiny element that (s)he considered essential, my book was beatable by entries they might have liked less, but which got a better aggregate score. That helped me understand why the book didn’t do better.
Then I read the second judge’s comments.
"This is an incredible book, and the first one that I haven't been able to put down. The writing is so good it's almost hypnotic. I had the feeling I had when I was a child, reading Brave New World for the first time. Grammatically correct, no spelling errors. Just perfect!”
I completely succeeded with at least one reader. If I hadn’t read that feedback, I could have gone my whole life feeling as though I’d failed. I would have left the book behind and moved on.
So the takeaway? 1) Competitions are not the best thing to use to estimate your worth. They’re games, like gambling, except that you have just enough control over the process to drive you crazy (i.e. - is your product meeting the guidelines perfectly?) 2) There are people responding to your work in this world that you have never met, and some of those people are far more interested in it than you could possibly believe.
So keep moving forward. Do your best, let it go. And maybe the bottle will come back to you.