There are eight days remaining in the first round of the Court TV Search for the Next Great Crime Writer Contest on gather.com, and I will be glad to see the end of it. It’s not just the time it’s taking from more important things like writing this blog, it’s that the thing turned sour. I thought it was bad that contestants were leaving overblown compliments on work that was less than stellar, but what’s even worse is that now some of them are spewing poison. That I have not been a victim of these unproductive remarks is immaterial.
Interestingly enough, the hate spewers are not good writers, though they think they are. I understand how hard it is to accept that readers don’t like your work, but in the end, aren’t readers always the final judges? They vote with their money, with their praise or denigration, with their recommendations. From that standpoint, this is a good experience. We can’t fight with every single reader who ventures an opinion with which we don’t agree.
There is also a lot of bitterness among the contestants because some of the entries at the top are atrocious. So the ones at the top learned early on that the contest is about gaining votes, not about good writing; more power to them. At least they were paying attention to the unwritten rules. As someone who has often been oblivious to unwritten rules, I am proud that for once I understood them. And, as I mentioned before, the days where a writer can sit back and wait for the royalties to come in are long gone. It is up to the author to participate in the process, and this contest is no different. The winner will be one who has participated and who will continue to participate in the marketing of the book.
Not that I think one of the top runners will win; the contest is all laid out in the written rules, and gather has control of it all the way. There is no way a bad novel will prevail in the end.
So what wisdom can I impart to help you in your quest for publication? Enter contests, but be aware that the true value comes from what you learn about yourself and your writing, not the prize. Listen when readers offer their comments even if you don’t agree with them. It’s one thing to be rejected by an agent or editor — you can always justify it by saying your novel does not meet their needs — but when a reader says it’s a little slow or hard to understand, pay attention.
In the end, whether published or unpublished, whether published by a publishing house or self-published, it all comes down to readership. And believe me, there are a heck of lot more writers than there are readers.