Meanwhile on the World Wide Web...
A site was hosting a discussion concerning my blog entry from a few days ago, about the writing contest I'm judging. The comments basically said I was being too harsh, dismissing stories for typos or incorrect formatting or too many exclamation points, because if I looked past those, the story might have actually been good.
I agree. It might have been good. Even very good.
But "very good" doesn't win contests, and doesn't get published.
"Great" gets published. "Wonderful" gets published. "Mind Blowing" gets published.
I wasn't being paid to judge each story on its own merits, or to offer detailed critiques on how to make it better.
I was being paid to find winners.
It comes down to the writing. All of the points I'd mentioned were indicators that warned me the writing wouldn't be wonderful. And the indicators were always right.
Consider the agent, going through 300 manuscripts in the slush pile that have accumulated over the last month.
She's not looking to help writers. She's panning for gold. And to do that, you have to sift through dirt.
It might be some very good dirt she's dismissing. But it is still dirt.
Be the gold.
The best way to get published, or to win a contest, is to shine. Don't be mistaken for dirt. Don't do anything that lets them reject you---because they're looking to reject you unless you can show them you're brilliant.
Here's an interesting fact. After slogging through the first thousand stories, I got irritated at several writers. Not at the inept ones--as I said, I could quickly decide if something was no longer worth reading. But I became angry at the ones that held my interest and made me finish them, even though they weren't winners.
Sometimes I knew the story wasn't good enough, but something about the piece made me read it to the end anyway.
Consider that for a moment. I know I need to pick a handful of winners out of a few thousand. I get paid the same amount, no matter how long it takes me. Logic says as soon as I can safely say, "This won't win," I should put the story aside.
But in a few dozen cases, I had to keep reading, just to see where the writer went with it. Even though I knew it wasn't going to win.
I'm sure it is the same with agents and editors. I'm sure they get sumbissions all the time that they know aren't right for them, but they finish reading them anyway.
That's tragedy. That's shooting the game-winning point at the buzzer and missing.
You need to be better than that.
I preach all the time about determination, and hard work, and luck.
And I'm right about all of that. But you still have to write a kick-ass story.
"Very good" stories are read by a few people. "Excellent" stories are published, and read by thousands.