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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

You Didn't Final in the Golden Heart... How to Move On

(Yesterday Clarissa blogged about reasons to be happy you didn’t final in the Golden Heart. Today is my follow up to the discuss she started.)

March 25th was a day for tears of happiness and tears of disappointment. I’m not sure if there is another contest with the same emotional punch as the Golden Heart. We all want to be the best writers we can be and have our efforts validated by being named a finalist. Unfortunately, we can’t all be at the top at the same time. It’s not a testament to our abilities so much as the reality of statistics. Two of my great critique partners finaled in the Golden Heart and several other equally talented writers in my group didn’t. In my opinion, they all deserve the recognition. And I believe some day it will be their turn to receive it, but this year isn't their year.

Being named a finalist is a wonderful experience, and I don't want to take anything away from those being honored for their hard work. The Golden Heart can be a spring board for an author's career, but not making the finals has never kept anyone from becoming published. If you didn't receive the call last Friday, your dreams can still come true, but only if you keep going.

Watching my daughter learn to ride her bike yesterday, I was reminded that once we didn’t allow setbacks to be a personal statement about us. We didn’t believe a scraped knee meant we were inadequate children, and we should park the bike forever. When we were learning to walk, we didn’t allow multiple falls to dictate our mode of ambulation. We stopped crawling, stood and took another chance that this time we wouldn't fall. Our first steps were wobbly, but our muscles grew stronger and before long we ran. When evidence pointed to failure, we kept going. We need to tap into the resilience we had as children, because sometimes there are more setbacks than successes in a writer's world.

Here are six ways to mentally withstand the bumps associated with pursuing publication:

Set realistic goals. Writing is a craft. It requires hard work, continuous learning and practice. To expect to final in the Golden Heart early in your career is like expecting to run a marathon when all you’ve done is run around the block. Don't set this as a measurement of your abilities as a writer. Runners add blocks until they meet their goal of running 26.21875 miles (42.195 km), and they don't compare their progress to others'. They compete against themselves for their personal best. The same goes for writing. Measure your progress against your earlier writing. Exercise your skill. Enter other contests to polish your GH entry for next year. Someday you’ll either be a GH finalist, or you’ll be published and can enter the RITAs instead.

Look for secondary gains. Everyone hopes to win when they enter a contest, but look for something else you can get from the experience. Sometimes you receive great feedback. Even if all you get are scores, you can check your manuscript’s vital signs. Did three judges give high scores and one gave a low one? That tells you 75% of the judges think you have a good thing going and the fourth one doesn’t get you.

Keep a running list of your successes. When a situation doesn’t go as we’d planned or hoped, it’s easy to get focused on other things that haven’t gone well in our lives. We can get down on ourselves and only see our past failures. One year for work we had to list everything we’d accomplished that year. It took a while to recall the good things I’d done for our department, but seeing the list made me feel good about my contributions. Don’t wait until you’ve been kicked in the head to make a list. Keep a running total of your accomplishments then pull it out as a reminder that you’ve been successful in the past.

Challenge your negative thoughts. “I’m never going to be published.” “No agent is ever going to like me.” “My writing stinks and my friends are too nice to tell me the truth.” “I’m just fooling myself. I have no talent.” These thoughts have gone through my mind at different times throughout the process of becoming a writer. I’m sure I’ll think them again at some point. Thank goodness I like to argue, because that has pulled me out of a funk more than once. When I thought, “I’m never going to be published,” I argued everyone can get published if they’re willing to stick with it. When I told myself, “My writing stinks”, I re-read the letters I received from Textnovel readers asking how they could get the rest of my story. I pulled up the file I keep with positive comments I’ve received from contests. The truth is some people like my writing, and it was just a matter of finding the right publishing professionals for me.

Watch your language. Some people might say I’m splitting hairs, but I don’t like to use the word rejection. One definition of the word means to throw out as useless or worthless. What a negative association! The changing of one word might not seem important, but the way we think about events affects us emotionally. I choose to think of an agent as "passing" on my manuscript, or if I’m feeling sassy, I say, "This agent lacks the insight to recognize my brilliance." LOL. That’s just a joke!

Have a Plan B, C, D, E, F… Clarissa calls it the spaghetti method where you toss a bunch of queries out there, knowing some are going to stick. (This comes from testing if the noodles are done by throwing one against the wall. If it sticks, it's ready.) Catherine sent out ten more queries for each “no thank you” she received. Disappointment from bad news is lessened when you discover a request from an agent in your mailbox later that day. I guess what I’m trying to say is not to put too much hope into any one thing working out. Maybe you’ll even be thankful later that everything didn’t work out the way you’d planned. This was the case for me about eighteen months ago. When I didn’t final in a contest after being in the top for weeks, my spirits suffered. It was the only time I cried in this process. But what seemed like a curse at the time turned out to be a blessing when the publisher sponsoring the contest began to have financial troubles and stopped paying their authors. Try to have faith that your path will lead you where you need to go.

What are some ways you’ve learned to beat back disappointment and stay on the road to publication?


  1. Great post, Samantha! I'm sure I'll come back to this one again and again.

    I have two tricks:

    First, rejections are just more proof for the IRS that I really am trying to get published. I don't give them anymore importance than I would a Form 1099.

    Second, I make a point of always staying busy and knowing exactly what I'm supposed to be working on. Then, when rejections come in, I shrug them off, "Oh, that's the last book. I can't worry about that now. I've got to get this new one finished."

    My biggest moments of writer's distress come when I'm floundering between projects. Sometimes, when I'm totally immersed, I don't even open my mail.

  2. Clarissa,

    These are great tips. I love the way you think of rejections, which I said I don't say! I agree that staying busy helps a lot. Thanks for stopping by when you're on vacation. :)

  3. Cool post. Tenacity is partly a temperment issue but it can be trained. Those polar bear ice swimmers? Well, i don't want to do it but if I did I'd start 1 degree colder in the shower.

    Tolerating that negative stuff with your eye on the goal (like grasshopper that burned his dragon tatoos on his forearms by moving the hot anvil) is what Masters do.

  4. Ah, a Kung Fu fan in our midst. Great point. Disappointment in small doses helps to build tolerance. Thanks for sharing your insight. :)

  5. Great post, Samantha. I've had my shares of ups and downs in this business. When I'm down I allow myself to wallow, but I never allow myself to give up. I will never become published if I give up. One thing that has really helped me is attending RWA in Washington and listening to NYT bestselling authors tell their stores of being one breath away from quitting. They had rejections, they were beat down, broken, and on the verge of saying forget it, but they pulled it together and send out more queries, wrote more books and then one day they got the call. It has helped me so much to know those women were where I have been and I can look to where they are now and say someday if I keep going the NYT bestseller list is a possiblity for me. I suppose this is one great reason I suggest going to the RWA conference.

  6. Julie,

    I agree. The speakers were so inspiring that year. I also recall an editor saying he was kicking himself for passing on a fantastic new writer on the scene. I can't tell you how much hope that gave me.

  7. Great article, Samantha! it's applicable to so much more than just the Golden Heart. There is simply no such thing as an author who hasn't experienced setbacks. Learning to cope with those setbacks is a valuable skill indeed.

  8. So true, Erin. Setbacks seem like the norm some days, but then something really great happens and keeps you going. It's kind of like playing a slot machine. :)

    Congratulations on being named one of the GH finalists!

  9. Fantastic post, Samantha! I have friends who finaled and friends who didn't, all fantastic writers. Love that you tipped your proverbial hat to both. In the end perseverance really will pay off!

  10. Thanks, Jen.

    You've been a great role model to me when it comes to believing in yourself and sticking with it. Congratulations to your friends who finaled, and for those who didn't, I know we'll still see their work soon.

  11. I continue to remind myself to be careful what I wish for, because is may come true. So often, in my life and my husband's life, we 'thought' we knew what was good for us at that moment and were disappointed when such goal was not achieved, BUT THEN...something bigger or better or more appropriate reared its head and we were like "WOW!" That opportunity would never have been if we didn't have the disappointment and the growth from it. (Forgive my grammar Samantha, I am just going with my flow here). And the self talk! Yes, so needed...replace those negatives with the positives. You know it is a proven fact that the mind will accept the negative first, so saying things like "I am not going to get anything less than an A on that exam" is read "I am going to get anything less than an A" in our mind--I really did read a book or two on this:) Replace that statement with "I AM GETTING AN A ON THIS EXAM!" "I am running 3 miles today." "I am a good writer." "I am publishable." (if that is a word)...anyway--you get my point. Those double negatives always fooled me anyway, so it is just easier to go with the positive spin. Keep up the posts. Excellent food for thought...

  12. I did not know that! Did I just hear I DID know that? :)

    It's a very interesting fact. I'm going to be more conscious of creating a strong positive statement from now on.

    And so true about even better opportunties coming along in life. It has happened to me repeatedly.

  13. Very wise! You don't really know what's coming each morning, if you just keep trying. :)

  14. If you don't final, do you receive feedback of any kind, letting you know what the readers thought of your entry?

  15. Gillian,
    Thanks for stopping by today. :)

    You only get scores from the Golden Heart. That can be one of the drawbacks. But you could have a high score that wasn't quite high enough to final, but is still a great score. That gives you an idea of how your wip was received. But there are a lot of other RWA sponsored contests that provide really valuable feedback. If I had to choose between those other contests and GH, I'd go with the other contests at least until you are consistently finaling. Others might feel differently.