"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I have been hemming and hawing about this for a while and this is sort of the last chance to say something about it before it potentially become moot. So here goes. Tomorrow I am planning to get my ass cut from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.
About a month ago I entered my novel in the contest. Up to 10,000 people can enter and there are several rounds of judging. This first round of cuts is based solely on the "pitch" which is three hundred words or less. If you make it past the first round (2,000 entries advance, 400 per category), then the judges read your "excerpt" which is the first 3,000 to 5,000 words of your book (you get to choose exactly how much, mine cuts off mid-chapter just under 5,000 words in). If you make it past that cut (500 entries, 100 per category) the judges read your whole manuscript. Then they are a few more rounds of cuts with more and more people reading the whole thing until, ta-da, there is a winner in each category and finally one of those is the grand prize winner.
Why the hell am I telling you all this? Part of me doesn't know. Why tell anyone except my wife and family that I entered the stupid contest? Why bother saying I entered when the odds are not even remotely in my favor? I wasn't sure I wanted anyone to know if I didn't make it past the pitch. In some ways the pitch is the place where unfairness can creep in. The categories aren't capped so you could be in a category with few entries (perhaps even less than the 400 that move on to the next round) or you could be in one with a huge number (say 5,000). Look at me, trying to rationalize failure before I've even managed to fail.
So why the hell would I tell you? Here's why. If I fail, and no one knows about it, what good does it do anyone? If you are reading this and you think I'm a shitty writer than you will nod and think, she didn't deserve to move on, and, assuming I do fail, you'd be right.
If you sometimes think, "hmm, she's not so bad" and I fail spectacularly, I think that has some value. Failure is part of the game. I fail all the time, at least a jillion time a day. Some times I suck, and I suck big time. But I think, in this case, it would be worse for me to try to hide the fact that I am trying to win this thing (as much as you can win a contest that requires at least some luck, if only to get reviewers who like your style).
I hate the idea of not telling people I am trying something just because I am afraid I might blow it. Believe me, I have gone back and forth on this point. I am not sure I need any more people knowing I wasn't good enough, I'm not sure it's good for the old ego to know the six people who read this blog know I have blown it. But if I pretend I didn't try, if I act like I have never tried and failed, or worse that I just never tried, then jeez that is so much worse than failing. Being unable to admit to trying for fear of falling short feels like a failure of its own.
I have a back-up plan for when I get chucked from this contest, whether it's this Wednesday, a month from now, or a few months from now. I have a second plan. I won't stop trying to make this book better, to find someone to publish it. I'm not going to give up, I'm not going to stop trying. Who knows, maybe knowing that I am trying (and probably failing) helps someone else try, well then any embarrassment is totally worth it.
So here I go, I'm ready to fail. I'm not hiding anything either. You can go here on Wednesday, February 13 (time hasn't been announced) to find out if I made it or not. If my name's there, I move on in the contest, if it's not I move on with my other plans. Either way I move on. Here's to trying.