the downs and ups of writing contests: Little Gems Garnet 2011

I’m ‘a bit of’ a contest junkie (addicts find it hard to make a full admission) and over the past few years I’ve entered a couple of Romance Writers of Australia contests. 

I didn’t make the finals in any until last year, when my short story scored a place in the annual Little Gems Topaz Anthology. It was one of 14 short stories with a romantic theme to make the cut and ranked 7th out of about 45 entries (I can’t remember the exact number).

I entered RWA’s Little Gems this year with high hopes. I was sure my story was better than my 2010 effort. I was so confident that I shared it with two non-romance readers – my partner and a good friend.

They both liked it and said they found it an easy read. My friend said she was hooked from the start and keen to find out what happened at the end of the story. This buoyed my hopes of success. Surely, I thought, the three contest judges would feel the same?

This morning THE email arrived, announcing the stories that made it into this year’s anthology. Mine wasn’t one of them.

I’d already put on mascara so I didn’t cry. I drove to work and tried not to think about it, though it hassled me all day.

Where did I go wrong? Was it my heroine? I find it hard to write ‘likeable’ women and she was complex (more about that in another post). Was it the plot – also complex. Was it my hero? I find it hard to write alpha males (more about that soon).

I arrived home to find another email from the contest coordinator that contained feedback sheets from the judges and the ranking sheet.

The maximum total score that each judge could award was 62. Here’s the lowdown from best score through to worst:

62/62: This judge wrote, ‘The story was beautifully done and a privilege to read. Thank you for writing it … I hope you get into the anthology – I think this story is outstanding.’

59/62: This judge wrote, ‘All aspects [of the story] are strong – characters, dialogue and setting, but it is the element of surprise and the way the story unfolds that particularly appeals to this reader … This is good writing.’

47/62: This judge wrote, ‘Overall this story was a good read, it just needs a bit more polish to reach its full potential. I like that the characters were not perfect and that the heroine made some down right stupid mistakes in her life. I just feel that I needed to understand them better.’

My story ranked 26 out of the 84 stories submitted.

Am I pissed off? Yep. Sort of. Well, not really. It’s OK. I’ll live. Things could be A LOT worse. Actually, I feel pretty good. But maybe that’s the glass of red wine kicking in.

Anyway, if there’s a lesson to be learnt from this, it’s to take the good and revel in it like a pig in mud and consider the bad and how it ruined my life.

Now it’s onto the next challenge – the Valerie Parv Award. Not another bloody contest. I can’t help it!