I got an email from the second place winner the M.R. Jordan Winter Writing contest, Doug Donnan. He asked me to send half of the Cathy Bryant's winnings.
To say the least, I'm pretty irritated right now. To choose the winner I used a scoring system for plot, character, setting, pace, and story arch. I didn't take grammar into consideration. I gave two bonus points for properly formatted manuscripts. Cathy won by two points and deservedly so.
Doug justified his request for more money because..
- He's a starving artist in Florida
- He's been published 40/50 times but decided not to clean up his manuscript for my contest.
In other words, he knew all the information in my critique and decided not to bother with it. Frankly, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't feel good very good to hear he thought my contest was a garbage can to toss his work in.
I'm not rich and I've sold far less work than Doug has published. My prizes were small because they came from my pocket. I'm offended on deeper level because there were lots of fledgling authors who entered my contest-- that's who it was for. My intention above all things was to give other writers a little boost on this very hard road to success.
But Doug did bring up an important point. One I've been kind of making but maybe haven't said explicitly.
Published or sales?
There is a huge difference between writers who publish work and writers who sell work. I run a very small publishing company. When I get queries from writers with 50 or so publications to their name, a couple of things cross my mind, but the biggest question I have is, "Why are they querying me?"
I'm going to come back to that in just a minute. But first lets talk about my publishing credits. I have a couple non-paid credits at the very bottom. I have some semi-pro sales and I have one pro sale. I haven't cracked a big nut like Clark's World, Lore, Science Fiction and Fantasy, or Cemetery Dance.
Not all writing credits are created equal. It's a fact of life. Are my credits impressive to an agent? Not really. I've sold work but I'm not writing pro work yet. Their respective value also depends on the project. Since most of my sales have been horror, my credits may actually work against me when I query books of other genres. Short-story credits are so relative to the situation, I mention them only in passing. In the war of writing credits, who has bought your work means more than how many times you've published.
Unless you've been nominated for something like the Bram Stoker Award (you have to have sold your work to a pro magazine, then it has to be nominated a lot to get into the contest), all contests have one glaring flaw: someone has to win. The award doesn't reflect on your writing in relation to all other authors. It only reflects on your writing relation to the entrants of that particular contest. Stories that win contests can have grammar flaws and structural errors, and depending on contest rules, these things may not matter. But they do matter if you want to sell your work to a publication like Esquire.
Agents and editors don't care about how many credits a writer has. They care about quality of those credits. And that brings me back that little question I ask myself when I don my editor hat. "Why is this writer querying me?"
So far the answer has always been this: They've been published markets that don't pay or edit. The writer doesn't have to change a single word.
When I used to send editing queries to these kind of writers, they always responded in one of two ways:
"I've never been edited before so therefore I don't understand why my story would need editing now." Don't get stuck here. Don't do it.
"I dashed this off in five minutes."
These are two sentences you never want to say to an editor. The first one means any edits will be earth-shatteringly traumatic to the author and the second means he or she didn't care enough to send their best work. Why should the editor care if you don't? (On a side note, the five minute-rs are often shocked by any edits too. How could anyone think a story dashed off and sent without revision wouldn't need some? But I'm preaching to the choir on this.)
Don't take up residence
No pay/token pay markets and contests are a place to start. Don't "donate" your work more than five times. Enter all the contests you can win (see "low-class" for the one caveat.)-- some of the prize money is pretty good-- but don't put them on your resume`. Just say "I've won some contests" and leave it at that. And when the little ego monster (that all us authors need to write through all the doors that get slammed in our faces) starts thinking it's something special tell yourself this:
"No-pay/token pay markets are always desperate for content. All you have to be is the best of a heap that's really bad and sometimes all you have to do is breathe and type. Just because none of these markets have edited your work, does not mean your work doesn't need edited. They were an accomplishment, now they're not. You're better than this. Remember that 40, 50, 100, or 1000 no-pay/token pay publications means nothing. A writer with one sale to the New Yorker will carry more professional merit every time."
* Low-class: Imagine if J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or Ray Bradbury went around entering blog contests like mine and squabbling over $25.00? That would be low-class, wouldn't it? Consider the contest you're entering. Don't enter contests that you consider beneath you and/or not worth the time it takes to put your best foot forward.
M.R. Jordan is a writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. Lives in South Korea with her two cats, Bear and Geumbi.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Gold in English)... then (above) and now (below).