Monday, February 21, 2011

In Which I am Naive...

Sometimes, success is about talent. And sometimes it's not.

As I've mentioned, I am participating in a particular short story contest. In this contest, writers post their entries and voting is opened to the public for two weeks. In the first round, voters can vote once for their three favorite stories. The ten entries with the most votes go on to the final judging, with editors choosing the finalist for inclusion in the anthology.

I worked hard on my entry and allowed myself to think that perhaps, just maybe, enough people would read it and like it enough to vote for it and put me in the top ten.

Twelve hours after the contest opened for voting, they posted the voting stats. And I was stunned to see that a bunch of entries had 30, 40, and even 50 votes. The majority, however, had 2-10 votes.

I was absolutely stunned. Could these high numbers really be the result of people who had read all the entries and chosen their favorites? After all, half of the 88 entries went up on the last day. A brief Google search suggested that maybe the high numbers were a result of promotion -- sending out pleas via email, Facebook, Twitter and blogs to go vote for the writer's story. That's not to say those stories weren't well written (most of them are great -- I know because I've read most of them) but I find it hard to believe that that many people had a chance to read that many 5000-word stories in the first hours of voting.

When I saw those numbers, I panicked. I hadn't told anyone about the voting yet. I only had two votes (but in truth, this made me feel good deep down because these were anonymous readers who read and liked my story enough to vote for it.) But in order to have a shot at the top ten, I knew I'd better start selling myself, and hard. So I did.... here, FB, emails, friends and neighbors, and so on.

And it makes me feel terrible. I would rather it be about the writing. I'd like to be in the top ten because my story is one of the best, not because I have the most friends and followers. I know I'm naive. I know that this is representative of the industry -- and society -- in general these days. We all know promoting yourself is key.

Think ABNA. Think American Idol. Popular votes are everywhere. When you open things up to the popular vote, it becomes a popularity contest and may or may not have anything to do with talent. Wonderfully talented people sometimes go unnoticed because they don't have the presence.

But for all my ranting, I am realistic. I still need votes. (But thank heavens they've taken the vote count down, otherwise I'd be watching that they way I watch my comments and followers count!)

If you haven't voted yet, I'd appreciate it if you could head over here, read a few stories and cast your vote by Feb 28. You do not need to register on the site to vote and you can read as few or as many stories as you like. My story is "Intent and Intensity" (#74) and is a modern take on Sense and Sensibility. I really appreciate it. And if you've voted already, a great big thank you.

But I'd also like to know what you think. Do you have any thoughts on popular votes in contests, whether in writing or singing or anything else? Are they a fair way of assessing talent?


  1. I voted! And these contests are in no way an assessment of talent. I participated in a similar thing a while back - the first phase was a popularity contest, the second phase was based on merit.

    As cringe-worthy as asking for votes can be (and I'm an Elected Official, so I'm pretty comfortable asking for votes!), there are several ways to look at this: 1) voting gives people who love and want to support you and your writing a way to do it, before you are published and they can buy your book (and after!). 2)It's free, all you're asking for is a vote of confidence, not their money. 3)From the publisher's viewpoint, they are also trying to sell anthologies/books or raise their profile among readers. This is how they stay in business and continue to publish! All good. So, it is a benefit to them to publish people that can bring their own audience to the publication. 4)Eventually it will be based on merit. And the slush pile and other routes to publication are still excruciatingly merit based. :)

    Good luck!!

  2. I'm sorry to hear that, honey. Stuffing the ballot box sux, but word of mouth is a huge mover. Best of luck to you w/your stories and talent is what *stays*~ <3

  3. Success is not all dependent on talent to begin with, butI think it's a strond indiction ofstaying power.

    You just carry on working on your craft because talent will always win and there's no diminishing it! :o)

  4. They may not be a fair way of assessing talent, but they may be a fair way of predicting success (at least in terms of sales, etc.) Fandom is not always (and some might argue rarely) dependent on talent alone. But a long-lasting fan base is dependent on talent, I would argue.

  5. Yeah I get what you mean. SO many things are about self-promotion. That's why it's cool when novels gain popularity through word of mouth b/c the writing or story is great, ya know? Good luck!

  6. I voted! You're right...sometimes it's more about who you know (or how many you know) than what you can do. But the great thing is understanding the rules of the game and playing it for what it's worth. Here you are learning the most efficient methods of selling yourself. Everything has a value!

  7. I think writing competitions that are voted upon by an independent counsel (an agent, an editor, the staff sponsoring the contest) are the most fair. Otherwise, like American Idol and other contests, it's a popularity-over-talent issue. But I don't see the harm in entering, as long as you keep a healthy perspective. That said, good luck to you. (and I cast my vote your way) :)

  8. Thanks everyone for the comments (and the votes!) It's been a sharp lesson but an inevitable one. To be honest, I'll be glad when its all over.

  9. I've been down this road before myself...and had the same realization as you did. I think what got to me even more was that the contest seemed to be a promotion for the magazine. Even the magazine didn't care much about the writing. They just wanted to increase hits to the site. But I think that in the end, even though this ended up being more of a popularity contest, the cream rises to the top. And your story was definitely cream!

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  11. I'll head over and do some voting after a read enough to get a good sample. i admire your approach.

  12. I saw another writer FB about it, and finally got over there to take a peek. Your entry was head and shoulders above so many others. Would it help if someone else tooted your horn? I'd be glad to.