Some of you know I haven't had the greatest history with contests. I'd only entered two—well, the same one, two years in a row. I got through the initial slush round both times. When it came to the agent judging/voting round, however ... silence.
All the things people say about subjectivity, not the right mix of agents for you, etc. are true. Someone thought my work was good enough to put me through the slush.
Those true words don't stop the hurt. The feeling that readers and other writers may appreciate aspects of my writing, but to the "people who matter," I'll never be good enough. The conviction that I'm doing something wrong and no one can tell me what.
Or maybe someone could tell me. They just don't.
I kept writing, kept revising, kept querying. With each story, I've gotten better. I know that. But I figured contests weren't for me. The sting of public silence was too much.
Then a couple of friends talked me into trying one more contest. (Okay, they didn't have to try that hard. Mostly it kept coming up in conversation and they said, "Yeah, you should.")
Maybe I'm just a masochist at heart.
I got picked by a coach, thus getting through the slush again.
Monday was agent voting day. One or two votes meant partial requests. Three or more meant full requests.
Would I suffer silence again?
No. Not this time. Five votes. Five full requests.
Nothing is guaranteed. An agent still has to love the whole manuscript enough to offer representation, and that's a whole different hurdle. The point for now is that when I was put up next to lots of really stellar work, I still caught some eyes. That feels really good.
But I still remember how the silence felt.
If you've suffered the silence, it's okay that it hurts. I'm a big believer in letting yourself wallow for a day or so, but only if you definitively cut off that wallowing before it does some damage. Keep working on the story you've got, or start working on a new one. Tweak your query or opening pages. Do some research on which agents are most likely to love your story.
Hope that you hit the right agent at the right time with the right story, because it takes a little luck. I'm not one to say we will make it if we keep working, because no one knows that. The only thing I know is that if we stop writing and stop trying, failure is guaranteed.