Being a good sport is hard, particularly when you’ve tried – and failed – multiple times at something. But it’s a requirement for living life the right way, so you suck it up and do it. Period.
Take Pitchmadness/Pitchwars. I’ve participated several times now (3 total I think). All three times I failed to make the cut after the first round. This time in particular was hard because I felt I have a very strong work. The novel is good, the 35 word pitch seemed solid, and the only thing I felt slightly shaky about was the limited 250 word excerpt they asked for. Personally I think 250 words isn’t enough to get to know anything about an author and a work, but thems the rules, so I followed them. My 250 is a slow start, though, because that’s what the novel is supposed to reflect. The languid, slow, magical pace of a summer season.
I watched like so many on Sunday as the results were posted in Twitter. The first round of picks were selected at noon, the second round at 6:30 in the evening. The last name came up, and mine was not included.
I could have railed at the results and talked about the unfairness of it all. I could have pointed out that they tend to pick more young adult and middle school works, and adult fiction is much more scarce. I could have angrily raged about how good my pitch was. But none of that changes what they agents felt they were seeing in the works this time. What they think they can sell, because yes… it’s about selling books. It’s simply sour grapes from me for not getting the result I so hoped for. Still, I wasn’t quite ready to engage yet given what I could tell were negative thoughts on my part (though not as bad as those examples), so I put aside the contest and went up to bed to play on my Kindle and read for a little while. Then slept.
Monday morning I wrote 1600+ words on my new novel. In better spirits and back on track, I gave my congratulations to the winners. Then I encouraged those who, like me, had tried and failed to keep on trying. Because that’s what this ultimately is about, keeping on with what we are doing. When I was twenty, the result would have been that I quit writing. Because that’s what happened. I didn’t have the intestinal fortitude then handle rejection of something so deeply person and intrinsic to who I am as a person. It was easier to not try and end up rejected than to try. It’s important for other young folks to keep on trying, and encouraging them is the best way to do that. Had I kept trying, I might be much further ahead in this career I hope to pursue than I am now. I’m stuck at 50 with two finished novels, lots of finished short stories, and no buyers. I feel like the writing is improving, the ideas are solid, the execution is vastly better than when I was twenty… but luck hasn’t been with me yet.
Let me pause for a moment to emphasize that: luck. There’s a good deal of luck in anything we do. Don’t let ANYONE tell you different. Don’t fall for the bullshit stories by politicians of how they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, did it all on their own, are self-made men and women. It’s simply not true. We require a great deal of support in the stuff that we achieve, whether its from the encouragement of friends and family, the financial support of various government structures like the student loan program, or the infrastructure we as a society have determined we need to share the cost of, such as roads and schools. And then there is luck. The right place at the right time is simply luck. Not getting hit with a debilitating and financially ruinous injury or disease is luck. Our looks are the luck of genetics, as is our intelligence and other physical factors. With books, there is a huge factor of luck, of querying the right agent at just the right time, bumping into the right publisher at the right conference who is interested in your work. Writing something that hits a sweet spot in the market just as those types of stories are beginning to rise in popularity. Never discount that there is luck to go along with all that hard work and all the support given.
Back to my original thoughts. Being courteous and kind is the right thing in everything we do. Too often we don’t get the results we want and we lash out at everyone else. We cast blame on others for what we unconsciously feel are our own failure. Whether its politics or art, we want to say “but I’m better than they!” That’s not to say you stand by and let someone else tear you down without defending yourself. I am nothing if not capable of telling a troll to take a flying fuck off a very tall building if they’re being a raging asshole. There’s simply no reason to start being an asshole yourself. That says more about you than about who you’re insulting.
So be the good sport. Congratulate your peers. Be respectful and polite. Don’t be a dick. Because when you do the opposite, the results are going to be a burning of your future bridges. And my future is writing. Keep doing your thing and in time you’ll see the results you hope for. With a little luck (because the one thing I won’t deny is there’s a bit of luck in all this, just as there is a hell of a lot of hard work). Over time your writing will improve, your ability to handle rejection with grace and dignity will increase, and the only thing left will be that lucky moment when an agent or publisher takes a chance on your work. Or you can always self publish if you like, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Congratulations to all the wonderful Pitchmadness entries for March 2017. I wish all of you nothing but the best of luck in landing that agent and getting a contract for your works!