Tuesday, May 10, 2011

LDStorymakers First Chapter Contest: Publishing Practice

When I was a Theatre Arts major in college, I really wanted to be on the acting track. Acting is fun. You get to be on stage, you get to pretend to be someone else, and you get to hang out with other actors, who are almost universally COOL. So, every semester, I would endure auditions for the next semester's acting classes. Every acting class beyond the most basic required an audition with a certain benchmark score. I can't remember for sure (I think I'm blocking), but it seems that I never made it past the basic classes. Maybe to intermediate? Certainly not onto the acting track. *Sigh*

So, I did directing instead, which was also very cool. (I mention this only because, on Saturday, I ran into Shelly, who acted in one of my first directing projects, a Theatre of the Absurd student-written play called The Dialogues of Il and Elle. Shelley was Elle. She was awesome. Still is--only now she's an awesome writer.)

My point is that I'm absurdly practiced at dealing with rejection. With people telling me that I'm not quite good enough. With picking myself up, dusting myself off, acknowledging the subjective nature of the arts, focusing on the constructive parts of the critique, and moving forward. Rejection is disappointing, but hardly crippling. Shrugging is possible. Tears are highly optional.

In that vein, on behalf of the 130+ First Chapter Contestants who waited until the very last award, hoping that our names would appear on the Grand Prize announcement, only to force a smile, clap enthusiastically, and pretend that we knew all along that our chapters weren't good enough... I present my scores. Two years of scores, actually, since I did this last year, too. I'm hoping they'll be enlightening, and will help us all to understand that, like in publishing, not every reader will like our work. But not everyone will hate it, either.

I'm a bit hesitant to post this, since there has been a lot of advice lately on how to respond to critiques and NONE of it has advocated breaking it down on your blog. (Most good advice is to scream in private / ignore in public.) The difference, of course, is that my book isn't published yet. I'm still editing it, so flaws and mistakes are expected, and most importantly, CAN STILL BE FIXED. Please feel free to assume, as you read the following, that I'm going fix every last mistake. All of them. I'm even going to win over 2010 Judge #5.

Before you read the chart, you should know that, in my humble opinion, my first chapter 2011 was vastly superior to my first chapter 2010. When I re-read the chapter before the 2010 conference, I knew I wasn't going to win. This year, I had hope (as you probably noticed). :)

So, voila the spreadsheet!
GEAS is the title of my book. 5 is the maximum possible points per category. The blank was probably an oversight by 2010 Judge #4, and the score of 31 was calculated with a zero in that category, though I skipped the blank when I calculated the average for that category. Even if 2010#4 had given me a 5 in Pace and Style, my 2010 average would only have gone up to 33.2.
Conclusions and things of note:
  1. I'm improving overall. (Yay!) My average is 1.3 points higher this year from last year. Therefore, in 5 years, I'll have a perfect score! ('Cause it totally works like that.)
  2. Out of 72 scores, I have 25 5's, 35 4's, 8 3's, 3 2's and a no-score. That's 83.3% 4's and 5's, and 16.7% 3-and-under.
  3. For every category, taking in both years, I have at least two judges out of nine giving me perfect scores. Yes, folks, fiction is subjective.
  4. My strength is in mechanics, described as "grammar, spelling, etc." 2011 Judge #2 told me that I needed to format my page #'s differently, and add my name to the header (which was against contest rules). I can't possibly know if the lack of name got me docked a point, or if it was something else. 2011 Judge #3 only commented "good" on mechanics.
  5. My weakness is in Resolution/Read-on prompts. 2010 Judge #5 confessed that s/he didn't like fairy stories, and said "don't take my not liking as a sign that you can't write--you write very very well--I just can't find myself caring. Remember not everyone is going to like my stuff and not everyone is going to like your stuff-tough it out and keep writing to show that jerk judge from Storymakers." It is honestly my favorite comment of the lot. This judge is NOT a jerk. :)
  6. Also on Read-on Prompts, 2011 Judge #2 pointed out that, the way I'm currently ending chapter 1 gives my readers an excuse to put the book down. Though other judges were happy with the premise and the set-up and wanted to read more, s/he's right: it's a natural stopping spot, with no compelling reason to turn the page right now. Few first chapter readers will find themselves on my doorstep, begging for the next page. Gonna have to try to fix that.
  7. If 2010 had only had four judges (and if #5 was the one missing), my 2010 average would have been 34. Which would have meant I'm now getting worse overall. Which means it's completely useless to agonize about what-ifs. (Also, I would have missed out on the awesome things #5 said.)
At the end of the day (and the blog post), I'm happy to have played. I'm thrilled with the feedback and that it seems that most of the professional reviewers really seemed to like the chapter. They might not have judged it to be "better" than another chapter in my (really big) genre group, but most of them said they'd like to read on. That's good enough, right? So long as we can keep our readers turning pages, we've won.

Hopefully, they'll like it enough when I query to make me ineligible next year....


  1. WOW! Thank you for sharing the info! I especially appreciated the spreadsheet.

    PS - Stop by and grab your goodie! :)

  2. Sophie--you're very welcome! I heart spreadsheets! And I love the Stylish award! (And exclamation points!) Thanks!

  3. Very informative, you spreadsheet queen you. I wasn't brave enough to submit, but I can see where it would be informative.

  4. Getting professional crits from several industry professionals is absolutely worth the price--even with the stress of waiting to the end to find out you didn't win. :)

  5. Awesome breakdown. It really is all subjective. The year I won, one of the judges wrote that s/he totally didn't "get" my book. :) You can't please them all. :)

    Way to take the criticism and run with it. I wore my rejections with pride. I owned them. Still do.

    Own those rejections!

  6. Brodi--So right! If we don't revel in them, who will?

  7. Love the spreadsheet, girl. And I'm so glad you got such good crits and suggestions. That makes all the difference.

  8. Thanks, Anita! I make spreadsheets for fun. (True story.) Also, I love crits. Making a spreadsheet about crits? Awesomesauce.

  9. I'd hate making the spreadsheet, but it's be neat to have.

  10. Chris--if you want me to make one for you, I can.... :) (Seriously, all you'd have to do is input your scores.)

  11. This post rocked! It is just what I needed. A little brushing off. A little self evaluation. A really unexpected plug for me ;)
    Robin that spreadsheet is so cool. It took me until I was sitting at lunch to even think, "I should have entered the first chapter contest." It was my first conference and I think I was still trying to get my bearings (Is that how you spell it? Like the animal? Really?) NEXT YEAR! Next year I will TAKE the first chapter contest (or at least enter it ;)

  12. Shelly--it was soo good to see you! And your husband! You should definitely enter the contest next year. Totally worth it (though I suspect you didn't get quite as much practice at rejection in the HFAC as I did...). :P

  13. Thanks for the post! And it was great meeting you at the conference! :)

  14. You're so welcome, Katie! It was great to meet you, too! Thanks for stopping by!

  15. I find it hilarous that you broke it down in a spreadsheet. Don't you know math and writing don't go together. lol
    BTW, I stopped entering contests. Not my thing.

  16. Amber--you obviously haven't seen my awesome writing spreadsheets. I have one for plotting, one for word count, one for characters, one for my MC's class schedule.... Spreadsheets are wonderful because they organize information wonderfully and they do the math FOR you. :)

    I'm still addicted to contests. Good thing I don't mind losing, huh?

  17. Hi, Robin!

    I’ve been a bad blog friend (and blogger) lately. The days seem to be just sweeping by and leaving me trying to keep up. Can’t complain of boredom though, right? :)

    I am loving your posts though! Wow….awards (loved your seven things about you!), plotters and pantsers (I am a cross between the two), an anniversary (CONGRATS!), and queries with Elana (too cool!).

    The LDStorymakers First Chapter Contest sounds amazing! What a great way to get some feedback on your novel. It looks like you did really well. Congratulations! Can’t wait to read your first chapter for myself. :)

  18. Thanks, Kristin! I love that you're reading my back posts! :) Validation! :D