I Could Have Been a Contender!

Man, I was so sure I was going to win. I was so close to the semifinal circle in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards that I could taste it. My Tarot cards even said good news was coming! What could possibly go wrong?

Well, Seized could fail to be a semifinalist. That’s what could go wrong. And did, this past Tuesday.

If you’ve been playing this game of life for long enough, you’ve entered some contest or another, and unless you’re an extraordinary individual (and if so, I’d like to stand very close to you so the magic rubs off), you’ve lost at least once. So you know what it’s like: the sinking feeling in your gut; the denial; the rage; the desire to put the whole episode into your next novel and savage all those rotten writers whose books made the cut, because God knows nobody’s – NOBODY’S – was better than yours!

Oh, right. Sorry.

The rage and denial, at least, have been clinically documented. Years ago, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross famously wrote a book about the stages of grieving, and those two emotions are in there, along with three others. Here, then, as a way of helping my own healing along (and with apologies to Ms. Kubler-Ross), I offer the Five Stages of Grief for the Writing Contest Loser:

1. Denial. “There must be some mistake!” For me, this was exacerbated by Amazon’s server issues on Tuesday, the day the semifinalists were announced. I couldn’t get to the page and had to rely on the Minion Brigade to check the list for me. So I had that niggling sense that maybe somebody had looked at it funny, and my book really was there, after all, and it was all a big mistake.

2. Anger. See “the desire to put the whole episode in your WIP” above.

3. Bargaining. This stage is marked by sacrifices to one’s deity of choice: “I’ll do anything You ask, if You’ll just make their site go down long enough for them to put up the corrected list of winners!” This is also known as the “if only” stage: “If only I’d tweaked the book a little more, or edited it one more time, or spent more time beefing up the section on X, I just know would have won.”

4. Depression. Unfortunately, and particularly for writers with fragile egos, the “if only” stage can send them right into a spiral of despair of the “I’ll never be good enough” variety. Sadness is a normal, and even healthy, reaction to losing something you value. Make a date with your coping mechanism of choice (alcohol, ice cream, bubble baths, movies that make you cry) and get on with it. But if if you find yourself wallowing in grief, please go talk to somebody who can help you get over it – a friend, a family member, other writers, the dog you kicked in stage 2, or a mental health professional.*

5. Acceptance. There comes a day when you find that while the world is not the place it was, all shiny and full of promise, you have the strength to go on. As for me, I said all along that I was only in the ABNA for the Quarter-finalist prize – the Publishers Weekly review. Which I got. And I got this blog post out of it, too. So really, by my own measure of success, I won.

Although I wouldn’t have turned down the cash.

*A lot of this post has been tongue-in-cheek, but I’m dead serious about this. Depression is an illness caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and long-standing feelings of sadness and worthlessness are among its symptoms. If you have felt this way for a long time, please get checked out.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

25 thoughts on “I Could Have Been a Contender!”

  1. I know just how you felt/feel when I entered my book in the Indie Readers contest. I got a wonderful review out of it (though it was listed as a 3-star review) but it was a recommended read by them on USA Today’s Happy Ever After Blog. So I got a great review and a great recommendation out of the expensive entry fee. 🙂

    Congratulations to you on your victory, Lynne.

  2. Congratulations on getting as far as you did! The PW review was quite good and a good feather in your cap:) And for those of us in the mental health business, thanks for the information on depression.

  3. Terrific post Lynne. The ability to turn disappointment into writing fodder is just the start, the recognising that pattern is huge too. Made me smile, grin nod…and think. Thanks. 🙂

  4. Thanks for this post. The “I’ll never be good enough” variety of despair is a frequent visitor. I’m thinking your idea of a bubble bath might be in order!

  5. And I brag about the fact that Moon Signs was a quarter-finalist in the ABNA a couple of years ago! Of course, I thought, too, that I’d win. Then my brother pointed out that I was in the top such-and-such percent, can’t remember the exact figures, just being a quarter-finalist. I decided at that point that it was something to brag about.

    1. Totally, Helen. The Zon let in 10,000 books this year; by the quarter-finals, the field was whittled to 500. So there’s definitely nothing to be disappointed about. 🙂

  6. Absolutely brilliant post Lynne! I go through all 5 stages every time I check my sales reports. 🙁 But then some lovely reader leaves a review on Amazon and I start believing in myself again.

    Instead of commiserating with you I’m going to congratulate you on reaching the quarterfinals. You a) reached your stated goal and b) accomplished a far better result than possibly thousands of other writers. That is worth a great big pat on the back. Well done!

  7. Thanks for sharing, Lynne. I should imagine most of us can relate in one way or another. When I was very young, like many, alcohol soothed my blues (sort of) but meditation is cheaper, more immediate, less damaging and has no down sides.

    Excellent post, Lynne, and congratulations: you are personable, accomplished, glass half full, winning writer.

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