Monday, September 17, 2007

I coulda been a contender...

so I finally got up the nerve to look through the score sheets I received after entering The Unquiet Grave in a novel contest last year. (Okay, to be honest I didn't look at them; I had my husband read them to me from a safe distance.) I did not win this contest or even make the finals; if I had this blog would not be what it is. that's just in case you're curious.

What astounds me about these score sheets is just how varied the responses on them are. One judge graded me relatively high (71 out of 80 points). Another graded me in the middle range (61 out of 80) and the last, who had the task of reading my submission because the other two didn't agree by 10 points graded me very low indeed: a mere 52 out of 80. This, needless to say was rather a blow to my ego as I am used to attaining high writing scores in everything I do without even trying.

But what confounds me the most is the diffference in the comments. One judge says, "I don;t know what the main character is feeling." Another says, "it's perfectly clear how the main character is feeling." One judge says "Your use of detail is your strong point" and another says "you use too much detail; trust the reader more." I mean, how am I supposed to know who to believe here?

That's the bitch of writing for a commercial audience: the subjectivity of the reader. You never know, when you're sitting in your little room writing away, how anyone is going to react to anything. You only have yourself to go by. And in the end you succeed or fail not because of what you've done, but because of how someone judges what you've done. That's hard to take.

Funny story here: about the time I got these score sheets back a woman wrote an article in the newsletter of the writers' organisation I belong to. She got back the critique and package from a contest she failed to make the finals in on the same day she got a call from a publisher saying they were going to buy her book. I mean, is that weird or what? It just depends on who you get that day, I guess.

In the end, I failed to make the finals because of that low score, because it was one point closer to the middle score than the middle score was to the high score, and they add the two closest scores to get your final outcome. Well, to be honest, even if it hadn't been for that low score I wouldn't have made the finals because 71 and 61 don't quite add up to 135, the minimum qualifying score. Why couldn't that middle judge have given me 3 more points??? That's going to haunt me for a long time, especially as some of her comments seemed wishy washy, like she didn't want to go one way or the other, high or low. You know, like that teacher you had in school who never gave out A's just because. It haunts me now especially since I've decided to "submit, submit, submit," rather than publish the dang thing myself and save myself a lot of grief.

I think that low-scoring judge really wanted to be a critic--one of the kinds who doesn't look at the work in front of him but looks for the work as he thinks it should be. And that's frightening to me. What if I get an editor like that? Of course, in the music business I've heard it's good not to be too perfect because producers want something they can leave a stamp on, not something too polished. But is it the same in the writing field? I don't know. All I can think is how it will feel if I get the call. The call saying someone out there has seen the worth of my work and is willing to take a chance on my book.

And then I won;t be saying, "I COULDA been a contender." I'll really be one.

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