Everyone loves a good competition, what with the collective consciousness of the world currently fixated on the Olympics, and everyone loves a winner. A while back, I entered Daughter of Shadow into the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2, the largest indie fantasy contest in existence (probably). 300 entries were divvied between 10 of the top fantasy blogs, who would be the judges. I pulled Fantasy-Faction for a judge, biggest dog in the junkyard. I was thrilled—a real test. If I could make it with Fantasy-Faction I’d get some real street cred as an author.
Several rounds of eliminations have gone by. My hopes kept elevating each time my name wasn’t listed.
Winning is awesome. The joy, relief, and adrenaline fuelled vindication of besting a worthy opponent is a feeling anyone could get used to. This post is not about winning. Losing sucks. Frustration, self-doubt, and dashed hopes are not fun. Daughter of Shadow has been eliminated from contention.
Here is the review/justification.
“Like Nightfall Gardens, Daughter of Shadow is another book that fell not so much because the team found any issues with it, but because it simply didn’t grab us as much as some of the other books did. These are always the hardest books to say goodbye to, because we’ve moved beyond the more tangible reasons for letting a book go and into the purely subjective.
Perhaps it’s not much consolation, but another team of reviewers might well have preferred this book to some of our final seven. It has a decent prologue (which we found to be a rarity!) and introduces an interesting protagonist in Melea – the team enjoyed the fact that unlike many other fantasy protagonists, she is already powerful when the story begins. We also found the initial battle scene to be well written. In the end, we had to go by our subjective opinion that the writing wasn’t quite as smooth and didn’t have quite as much ‘voice’ as some of the other books – but Daughter of Shadow is certainly worth checking out for anyone who likes the sound of the blurb.”
My first reaction was denial (the initial stage in grieving). It couldn’t be my book, but that cover did look familiar, maybe the title was Daughter in Shadow. But nope. Then came an expletive filled outburst—anger, the next stage. Bargaining soon followed as I mentally schemed some way to get back into the contest. Depression hit in next, a dour moment of “what’s the point in writing?” I needed to get away from the computer.
I took the dog around the block for a walk. The combination of cool night air with the stars peaking through departing rainclouds, and the joy elicited in my dog from a random stick she found on the ground helped to put things back into perspective. I was firmly in the final stage—acceptance. I’d lost. But, the review had actually been mostly positive. The reviewer had even admitted that a different reader may have put DoS into the next round. So close. Thwarted by subjectivity. But everything is subjective!
So how to get more subjective individuals to choose my novel? How to sway the people on the fence, decisions that could go either way, onto the side of recommending DoS? This, my friends, was a new cache of motivation.
I’d temporarily fallen into a trap of unreasonable expectations and the only way to get untangled was to keep moving. Yes, I’d entered the contest to win (why else?), participation is nice and all but the SPFBLO2 is a competition. The reality of beating 299 entries seemed to become more possible as I eagerly watched the cuts happen over these past few months. My expectations ballooned from hopefully sensible to borderline entitled. This phenomena is visible in the actions of parents with children in minor league sports throughout the world. Winning becomes an obsession. Perspective narrows into tunnel-vision.
I’ve witnessed incensed fans/parents attempt to fight the referee in the middle of a hockey game being played by children! I’ve had teammates break equipment and damage property after a loss. I’ve known feuds between friends and family to begin because of a seemingly innocuous sports rivalry. All instances of negative emotions being transitioned into blame directed at others. No acceptance of one’s own actions. Maybe the other team actually was better. Maybe you should practice more. Maybe, just maybe, punching that guy from the other team won’t change the score of the game. Just sayin’.
Maybe the novels chosen to advance by Fantasy-Faction are superior to my own. That’s a tough pill to swallow. But it’s not the end of the story. I’m a self-published author and that means I can alter DoS whenever I want. The sequel to DoS is ready for a date with the editor, but first, I will go back improve. I will make the story better.
To use a baseball analogy: I stepped up to the plate and swung, trying to smack a home run. Well, I didn’t quite knock it out of the park but I got a hit. I’m on base. The game isn’t over and I can still score.
The review and competition has provided motivation to improve the story even more. I’m hopeful that a copy edit will help to smooth out any remaining rough patches. No shortcuts. No excuses. No blame. Just be better.