I’m pleased to be able to announce that–after entering the Writers of the Future contest every three months for about four years–I’ve finally managed to break into the winner’s circle! And not just that, the story I submitted for the 2nd quarter this year (Volume 32) managed to snag first place in the quarter.
If you’ve been following the contest’s blog (or if I have you friended on Facebook), it may seem a bit odd that I’m announcing this on my blog now, about a month behind the official announement.
Part of that delay has just been logistical: I have family visiting, and haven’t had much time to sit down and write anything. Another part, though, is squishy-feelings-related.
In particular, it has to do with the contest’s reason for existence, which is to give “new and amateur writers” a fairly high-profile break-through to pro-writer-dom. Once a person has had four short stories published professionally (i.e. At 6 cents per word and with a high enough circulation—in practical terms, published by an SFWA-qualifying market), they can no longer submit to the contest.
So how do I, who currently have something like 27 stories on my bibliography, still qualify? Heck, I qualify for membership in SFWA, the professioal association of science fiction and fantasy writers. I feel more than a small amount of imposter syndrome at work—if, weirdly enough, in the opposite direction than usual.
The short version is: I didn’t have enough pro-paying short stories published yet to disqualify me.
The long version (quite long!) is below:
A large number of my publications are not at pro rates. Also, the contest does not count flash fiction (1000 words or below) as a short story. Technically, none of the stories on my bibliography are disqualifying, so far as the contest is concerned. This is because of the other fine-print style detail in the rules: the word “published.”
I do have two sales on my bibliography that would count against me: “Fugue in a Minor Key” to Galaxy’s Edge and “Behind the First Years” in a reprint sale to Flametree Publishing’s Gothic Fantasy: Science Fiction anthology.
However, neither of these has actually been published yet, so they don’t count against me as far as Writers of the Future is concerned. Since none of my actually published pro-paying works are longer than flash-length, they don’t either.
But that (to me) feels weird. I like flash fiction, and it’s most of what I write and publish, so I decided to count flash fiction as short stories even if it meant disqualifying myself before I was actually disqualified. (Micro-fiction and other super-short stuff, I didn’t count.)
When I sumitted in April, I had the following three pro-paying pieces of flash fiction published:
“Oubliette,” at Flash Fiction Online (April 2014)
“Little More than Shadows,” at Daily Science Fiction (November 2014)
“Configuring Your Quantum Disambiguator,” at Nature (February 2015)
One below the four publications required by the contest (flash notwithstanding).
After submitting my last entry, I published another two pro-paying pieces of flash in August and September:
“Concerning Your Recent Creation of Sentient Horse-things on the Next Planet Over” at Flash Fiction Online (August 2015)
“Love and Relativity” at Nature Physics (September 2015)
That would put me at five publications at pro rates (but still zero short stories—so far!), over my personal comfort level and what I feel is the spirit of the rules, if not the letter. (Of course, now that I’ve won the thing, I can’t enter again anyway, but even if I’d gotten a form rejection I would have stopped submitting.)
It does make me feel better to know I’m not alone in this. Friend and former winner Martin Shoemaker voiced similar sentiments in a Facebook post recently, and Anaea Lay (ditto friend and former winner) also talks about the weirdness of “backwards imposter syndrome.” (Although in my case, I’m more surprised than having feelings of being too worthy to be worthy.)
I’m in good company, in other words.
Once I’m all the way over the weirdness of reverse-imposter syndrome, I’ll be pretty excited about this win. I’ve been entering the contest for a long time, and even though I’ve proven to myself via other publications that this isn’t a fluke, I definitely appreciate the boost to morale that my fiction is winner-quality. And I’m sure that on a practical level, I’ll learn a lot at the workshop which is part of the prize. I still have more misses than hits, when it comes to submissions-to-sales ratio. Anything that can help with that will definitely be appreciated.