Sunday, April 28, 2013

Getting Lucky Revisited

Getting Lucky Revisited. (New Writer 2003)

My first thing-in-print was an article called Get Lucky (The New Writer). Years later I responded to an unhappy punter and revisited that same field.

Getting Lucky Revisited.

I was interested in Alan’s letter, as my name came up more than once.

First, the notion of a near-miss (and how improving writers spin comments). Alan scored 108 on my grid, placing his story 32nd of 110.

His near-miss was missing becoming a finalist and there were exactly 30 stories in the final, all scoring 111 or more, 110 being the cut-off point in my decision whether to send stories through to a hard-pressed judge.

  Eight of those 30 finalists were from writers who paid for feedback and then rewrote their stories, improving their marks between 1 and 14 points.


Everything Must Go
In Shadow
The Activist
Mounted Torso
Mickey Mouse Slippers
Jack's Bolt Hole
Happy Families

What’s interesting and praiseworthy is that all bar one of these writers was already over the 110-point cut-off, yet took the advice that a little work could improve their story.

  None eventually placed in that particular competition but Everything Must Go was a First Prize Winner at World Wide Writers (but I heard with an older draft!) and Mickey Mouse Slippers did well at Buzzwords. I don’t know the fate of the other stories. Winner was Jim Nichols who has since published a collection in the US. Second was Monica Ali, a Boot Camper, recently selected by Granta as one of the best twenty authors under 35

Incidentally, the position of Alan’s story was 71.2%, remarkably close to the 72% from elsewhere!

  My critique of his story would have involved a two-page, nine element breakdown (Opening, Character, Dialogue, Plot, Theme, Seduction/Drama, Language, Pace and Ending) plus detailed comments on the manuscript. Also this:

The Right Numbers (108)

This was a fun-to-read, quite well-narrated story about one man’s come-uppance but just missed the cut for a few reasons.

  First on plot. I found the practical joke on the fax not to be believable. The idea that the character wouldn’t know the quality of his own report seems highly unlikely. (b) What if the character had gone back to the customer or to the main’s boss? (c) Don’t faxes show where they’ve come from? Though this wasn’t badly-written it felt plot-driven and not allowing for human nature (which, incidentally is what happens later in the story).

  I had similar misgivings over the immigration story. Well-written but not QUITE believable.
But the lottery situation was even more so… a good idea but not “tested”. First lottery numbers are drawn on Wednesday and Saturday either at 8PM or 8:50PM. Second, if you think you’ve won £5,000,000 you don’t rely on someone’s scribbled-down numbers (what if they are wrong?)… If the story had shown him checking the stuff (say for example they had arranged for an amateur dramatics group to fake a lottery draw?) (dark-screen for famous presenter’s voice etc, then up come the numbers – this would be OK if he did the same numbers each week because his secretary would know them)…
But what followed is classic plot-driving-character-action not the other way around. Suddenly the character does exactly what the author wants in a false and melodramatic way. As I say the delivery isn’t bad, the narrative and dialogue aren’t bad, but the feeling of plot overcoming humanity is strong.

  The mark of 108 is very close to the final (officially 110 but may be raised a few points if the quality of the deadline entrants is good).

  You can look to resolve these points and re-enter (£5) if you wish (by end of June) but if you choose not to, I’d recommend World Wide Writers who seem to enjoy less-literary stories like this one.

         Good Luck

         Alex Keegan

Stories arriving near the deadline and requiring critiques (like yours) WILL be allowed to re-write and re-enter after the deadline. We hope to return all critiques by mid-June and accept rewrites to the end of June. Any stories requiring critiques we receive AFTER the deadline will be critiqued but the critique will be sent out after the competition has closed. In future competitions we will allow for this unforeseen problem.

As you can see, Alan was encouraged to rewrite and immediately re-enter. He did not. But eight writers who did rewrite made the 30-story final and some, for certain went on to successes.

Alan goes on to make unsubstantiated statements such as “short stories are essentially a separate discipline (like physics & chemistry) and that they can become a distraction for those who are novelists first and foremost.”

Go back to a very old issue of ACCLAIM, Vol 2 #9 and there you will find an article by “Ron Jones”, none other than Alex Keegan. At that point I had still never sold a short-story but I had managed to sell a crime novel and get a three-book deal with Headline. Guess what AK said?

  “…a writer may be a great novelist” (I was thinking of me!) “and still not write a decent message in 2,000 words”.

Then a “successful novelist” of course I went around saying that novels were my forte and short-stories were another discipline. And it was poppycock!

  The fact is, short-story writing is far harder than writing novels and it takes a while to learn how to do it. 99% of novels are baggy monsters when compared to quality short stories. In novels you get away with murder. Shorts are without doubt a higher art form than the novel.

  I’ve seen Alan’s argument before, and once I researched and produced a list of over 1,000 novelists who had also published short-stories. Very, very few novelists have not written and published shorts.

  Alan says (a) I am more committed to writing short-stories and (b) I’m more successful. Well, for one, I’m not a “publish at all costs” person. I write with my heart and soul and gut and when I’m done, I think about placing what I’ve written.

  But when we consider commitment, sheer work-rate, and so-called “luck” I suggest you re-read my article “Get Lucky”.

Second, Alan says “32 submissions in three-an-a-half-years.” That’s not submitting, that’s playing. Between October 13th 2002 and today’s date (three MONTHS) I have submitted 88 times, a total of 113 items. That is, in 7% of the time I have send out 4 times as many submissions, a submission-rate of a mere 4,943% of Alan’s (50 times the send-out rate).

  I get awfully “lucky” because of that. I place in well over half of the competitions I enter, and win plenty. Why? For one, it’s through hard-earned, hard-learned craft, some God-given talent, but it’s also due to massive persistence and planning. For example I usually enter three stories in any competition I enter!

  Personally I don’t think we have to believe that much of placement is luck. I see the same names appearing time after time, because they are solid writers and (probably) because they work hard at getting their work out!

  This is the essential plan with Boot Campers. They work very hard (and some can’t hack it) and they are expected as a minimum to average a sub a week. Does it work? The current Boot Camp (2003) has 17 members, but three are away. Since January 1st we have managed 51 submissions. We get rejections (10) but we get sales too (4) and already this year (January 12th) we have had five print publications.

So? Work hard. Don’t just listen to feedback, act upon it. Re-submit and re-enter competitions, have all your work out seeking an outlet. If you are serious about your fiction, you should be submitting something every week.

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