I honestly did not expect to advance a single round. I hit refresh with shaky fingers every announcement day hoping to see my name there but expecting it wouldn’t be. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried, just a little bit, every time it was. Once I passed the pitch round, the one I was least sure of, I hoped most for making it through the second round and into the quarterfinals, because that was based on writing. I thought my writing was good and I hoped the judges would agree. Luckily, they did. That got me to the stuff I was eager to see: the reviews!
Only one other person had read my entire MS before the contest, and she’s a good friend. It so happened that she loved it, and that felt great, especially because she’s a picky reader and honest. I had accomplished something if she enjoyed it. But she’s still my friend. I didn’t think she was just fluffing my feathers, but I looked forward to hearing what complete strangers had to say.
To my further surprise, my reviews in the 2nd and quarter-final rounds were almost entirely positive. That felt great too! I was disappointed there wasn’t more critique, but I couldn’t complain. (The negative comments would just come later!) Onto the semi-finals and, I was certain, the end of my already miraculous ride.
I used a key word above: luckily. Luck is a factor in the contest, landing with the right readers at the right time. Not advancing in the contest does not mean what you’ve written is no good. This is one contest, judged by humans, with a format that favors some things over others. Undoubtedly some great things are cut at every round, a few only because they lacked some luck.
Now I’m going to say something controversial: But not advancing might also mean your work needs work. Maybe just a little, maybe a lot. Not many people want to hear that, but it’s true. Artists can be sensitive creatures. I see many new writers, who’ve to date only been told how good their work is, buckling under their first constructive or critical words, even worse if they’re negative words. So here’s my advice for this part:
First off, I lied last time. Everyone does have something to lose by entering the contest: a bit of ego. Be sure you’re ready for criticism. If you’ve never heard anything but praise and encouragement, you may be on dangerous ground. Try to prepare for tremors.
Hope, but don’t expect.
Don’t be afraid of criticism. In fact, welcome it. You need it. (We all need it.) But don’t accept it blindly either. Digest it and apply what you’ve learned. Something I’ve said before: If praise is the air we breathe, criticism is the stuff that keeps us from floating away on it.
...don't be afraid of pure negativity either. Learn to take your blows and move on. (This is a skill I honed by teaching middle school!)
Lastly, if you do make it to the review rounds, don’t expect too much from them. This is not a writing clinic. PW reviews all follow the same format and have only a few lines of real commentary, geared more toward telling a reader why (or why not) they’d like to read your book. The 2nd round Vine reviews may offer a little more in the way of helpful critique, but possibly even less. Some are incredibly thoughtful and some are no more than a few words. A handful are awful. Again, what you get involves some luck.
I hope you’re all lucky.
Up next: Be excited! But not over-excited. Follow this story with the golden ticket tag.