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The Fate of “Story of G”

February 24, 2012

A little over a year ago, I was very proud to reveal that my novelette-length short story, here code-named “PFTETD”, had earned an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest.

Then sometime in April of last year I started on my next short story idea, what would eventually become the code-named “Story of G” (the final, actual title: “Resurrection Spell”).  My goal was to try to one-up my performance on “PFTETD”, and maybe make a Silver Honorable Mention, or maybe even a Semi-Finalist. 

I worked hard on “Story of G”, I got some really good feedback, I did some deep revision with a few significant structural changes and quite a bit of polishing.  By the end, I was very proud of it.  The overlap of people who had read both “PFTETD” and “Story of G” is quite small – I believe it consists almost entirely of myself and Dear Wife and maybe one other person – but Dear Wife and I both agreed: “Story of G” was a better story than “PFTETD”.  Not that “PFTETD” is a bad story – far from it, in my humble opinion – but the characters in “Story of G” are more engaging, and the ending more satisfying.

So it was not without a strong sense of hope that I submitted “Story of G” to the Writers of the Future contest. 

I learned the true fate of “Story of G” around the middle of November, but contest results for the 4th Quarter – in which I entered “Story of G”, have only now been made public.  If you click that link, you will notice the curious omission of my name anywhere on the page.  Actually, it’s not all that curious, because “Story of G” did not place nor earn an Honorable Mention in the quarter in which it was submitted.

Needless to say, I was disappointed when I learned that the story had not been well-received by the WotF judges.  My first thought: was I wrong about the comparative quality of “Story of G”?

 The answer, I think, is no.  I wasn’t wrong.  “PFTETD” was a good story, one that no few people would enjoy reading, but “Story of G” was better by almost every measure.

But I came to this realization: the quality of my own submission is not the only relevant factor in determining how well my story performs in the competition.  Indeed, the tastes of the judges are an even more significant factor.  And the quality of the competition is also relevant.  And while I am the one most responsible for the quality of my own stories, I have absolutely no influence on these other two factors which, collectively, are more significant in influencing my story’s performance.

And so, yes: it is disappointing to have not at least earned another HM.  But that disappointment is ameliorated somewhat by my firm conviction that the latter story was better – and further that this is indicative of an increased level of skill on my part.  That means that even if I don’t see external markers of success, I still feel I’m on the right trajectory.

Anyway, there’s next time, right?  Or maybe the time after that?  Or…

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2012 3:20 pm

    I feel disappointed on your behalf. Sorry you didn’t get a mention in the competition — maybe you should look at submitting that story to some short story markets or something like that?

    • February 24, 2012 3:29 pm

      I’ve thought about it. I haven’t come to any firm conclusions, yet, on how I want to go. But there is one significant issue: the length of the story is a limiting factor. There just aren’t many markets (that I know of) that accept submissions of that length. The only one that comes immediately to mind is very difficult to break into (and doesn’t accept electronic submissions, not that that would stop me). I really need to learn the form of somewhat shorter stories. But I definitely appreciate your vicarious sympathy. 🙂

      • February 24, 2012 10:27 pm

        Well, you’re in the honorable company of Henry James, who thought that the novella was, at least for him, the ideal length. But back then, as now, there were fewer commercial outlets.

        One thing I wonder is how many people enter, and whether there might be a mechanism in place to make sure the awards are spread around to different people as much as possible. I’m involved with some awards at work, and that is one factor we take into account.

        In any case, as you point out, if the story is better, if it’s a step forward, that’s what counts.

      • February 27, 2012 9:37 am

        Well, it’s a novelette rather than a novela… at 12K words, too short for book-length tastes and much too long for short story tastes… As for the contest, I can’t say how many enter – anecdotal evidence suggests the number is quite high, but that what that means is anybody’s guess – but the mechanism for awarding winners theoretically doesn’t work that way.

        Manuscripts are separated from personally-identifying information for purposes of judging (a separate coversheet carries the title and author’s name, but the manuscript itself has only the title), and the stories are judged blind. In theory they are judged only on the quality of the individual submissions, since the name of the entrant is stripped.

        Beyond that, I’m not sure what the judging process entails – there are a lot of judges and a lot of entrants so I imagine it gets complicated. I doubt, for instance, that every judge reads every submission, but I can’t say that for certain.

      • February 27, 2012 9:35 pm

        Hang on. Novella and novelette are different now? I thought they were two different names for the same thing (at least that’s what the dictionary says).

        It always feels like they (whoever “they” are) change these things whenever I’m not looking. I still haven’t completely recovered from “novels” being >50,000 words rather than >80,000 words.

        One thing I know is that I could never write a “novelette.” The minute I hear the word I think of the song “Frenchette” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXTdCO2mGMc).

        “I thought my story was a novel, but it was just a novelette.” 🙂

      • February 28, 2012 8:59 am

        Ah, well, in colloquial parlance, the two words are somewhat interchangeable. But as a Fantasy & Sci Fi writer, predominately, I tend to default to the technical distinctions defined by the SFWA. (Links here: http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebula-weekend/other-useful-links/faq/ and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_count) The distinction they draw is that a novelette is under 17,500 words, and a novella under 40,000 words. I have also found that in some colloquial usage the word “novelette” carries a more negative connotation, so I can understand your reluctance to use the term. It doesn’t carry that negative connotation with me because I’ve always used the word in a specific categorical fashion.

  2. February 24, 2012 7:28 pm

    While it’s always a disappointment when people don’t seem to see what you see in your work, I think you’ve got the right attitude. If it’s gotta be either/or, improvement minus proper recognition beats unearned accolades.

    • February 27, 2012 9:29 am

      That’s probably true. But whatever the circumstances… how people view your work is always outside of the author’s hands – whether they love it, hate it or worse are completely indifferent to it. External measures and reactions are good to get an understanding of how one’s skill has improved… but on a subjective question like the quality of a story, they’re not a perfect gauge.

  3. February 25, 2012 1:16 am

    I think your confidence in your own work and the progress you’ve made is the most important thing of all. To know that you did all you could to make this your best story yet…well, that’s gotta count for something. 🙂

  4. February 25, 2012 1:43 am

    Aww shucks. You’re right though, there are more factors involved than the quality of the story. You know it’s better, and that’s progress 😉 It’s hard to measure any other way than what you’ve learned while writing the newest story. Hopefully every new one is better than the last. Unfortunately, just because it’s a good story doesn’t mean it will win, or sell. Though I’ve heard it’s a numbers game, if your stories are really good. 1/30 is a good batting average? (I think, don’t quote me on that though)

    • February 27, 2012 9:44 am

      Oh dear. I promise not to quote you on that… because if that’s the batting average I’m shooting for, I’m already doomed. That would mean, on average, I’d have to write and actively market thirty pieces to sell just one… Ouch. At this rate, I’ll have one foot in the grave before I’ve published 2 pieces… That said… I do think that early in a career success can look something like a startlingly low batting average. (From pro authors I follow, the average seems to go up later in a career simply because those authors are writing fewer and fewer pieces on spec as a proportion of their work.)

  5. February 26, 2012 12:01 pm

    Sorry to hear. Regarding markets. I think you were referencing F&SF. However, there are a bunch of the semi-pro & pro markets I’ve seen publishing at least novelette-length stories (Giganotasaurus, Lightspeed, BCS, Tor.com) (although, I’m not sure the last takes unsolicited manuscripts).

    • February 27, 2012 10:17 am

      I was indeed referring to F&SF. There are pro authors with solid track records who can’t get a story in edgewise there. They do, it seems, occassionally publish new talent, but what tickles their publish-bone doesn’t seem to be easily cracked. Lightspeed might be an ideal market for this particular story (especially now that they’ve combined with their sister mag Fantasy), but their guidelines for original fiction state a maximum length of 7,500 words – which disqualifies this particular story (their guidelines do state they do novella-length reprints… but that wouldn’t include this story which has never before been published). Likewise Beneath Ceaseless Skies has a stated preference for under 10K words, which similarly just edges out “Story of G” (and besides which, “Story of G” is technically Sci Fi, though it’s written to taste like fantasy, which makes it unsuitable for that market). Tor.com, it seems, does accept unsolicited manuscripts… And pays considerably more handsomely than the rest. And it publishes both Sci Fi and Fantasy… and they have a maximum length guideline of 17,500 words and a recommended length of <12,000 words, which puts the story in question right at the upper-bounds of their preferred length. That said… I wouldn't be terribly optimistic that if I couldn’t make it past the WotF judges I can make it past the Tor.com editors. All of those, it seems, actually pay pro-rates, so that’s good. Giganotosaurus, however, I’d never heard of before (and appears to be, as you said, semi-pro in their pay-rate), so thanks for making me aware of them. Based on their submission guidelines, this might be the ideal market for this particular story… but again since they only publish one story a month that’s still tough chances.

      All of that is mostly me making excuses, though. I can’t really know how well I’d do in any given market until I submit. (Given this list… I feel I could submit this story to Tor and Giganotosaurus.) The fact is… I’m just not sure what I want to do next with this story, if anything. I’m probably just afraid of putting my work out there… and in many ways, I’m actually also afraid of being successful if I do so more than I’m afraid of failure. That… I think… warrants its own blog post.

      In the mean time, I’m going to sit on this one just a while before I decide what, if anything, I’m going to do next with it. Soon enough I’ll get started on my next short story – one that I expect will be short enough not to disqualify itself for a majority of the markets here.

Trackbacks

  1. Writing Progress: Week Ending March 3, 2012 « The Undiscovered Author
  2. Alphas & Betas « The Undiscovered Author
  3. Whence Writers of the Future? A Proposal… « The Undiscovered Author
  4. The Mid-Year Progress Report, 2012 « The Undiscovered Author
  5. Writing Progress: Week Ending November 10, 2012 « The Undiscovered Author

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