I somehow didn’t win Nathan Bransford’s first paragraph contest, despite the fact there were only 2650 other entries. Didn’t make the finalists or semi-finalists, either. Absurd! They made up an entire 1% of the entries!

I was genuinely surprised to find myself annoyed about that. When I entered, there were already over 1600 submissions. I was entering the first paragraph of a novel I haven’t submitted in over a year. My thinking was “Well, this is a crapshoot, but it’s a good paragraph, and the prize would be useful. Let’s take a shot.”

Because that is how it works in every part of this game. Extrapolating from Realms of Fantasy‘s old numbers, the top sci-fi magazines accept no more than 1 out of every 200 submissions. A lot of those submissions will be trash, or worse yet, wholly mediocre, but there is going to be some serious talent, too. Even if you can punch with the heavies, how many other great stories are you competing with for that one spot? Three? Ten? In those final rounds of selection, when you’re down to nothing but the works you love, what gets chosen and what gets sent back gets capricious and arbitrary. The only response is to shrug it off 60 seconds later, find a new market, and take a new shot with them.

I’ve learned that, I think. Except when I lose total confidence in a piece (this happens about once every 8-10 stories), I keep my work out there. I keep hammering away at the big markets. Now and then I’m frustrated that I haven’t been rustled from my bed to be awarded a golden crown and a floating bed with “WORLD’S GREATEST WRITER” sheets, but I’m aware that competition at the top is very stiff. I could be doing first-rate work right now and not see the results for years.

To be stung that I didn’t win a contest with over 2500 other entries (odds of winning: 0.038%), then, is downright exasperating. I know it’s not personal, but it’s as if emotions don’t listen to things like logic, those dumbasses. The punchline is I bet that feeling never goes away when you get a “no,” no matter how much success you’ve got. That’ll be something to look forward to in the next 50 years of my life.

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I am a Science Fiction and Fantasy author, based in LA. Read More.
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