I've recently started looking for competitions where I also have the option to pay for feedback. Last month (last month? possibly June...you get the picture) I entered Vanda Inman's writespace competition, theme, The Lie, guest judge Della Galton (who is all over the fiction section in the women's magazines). My story didn't place, but the feedback was heartening. She said it was a great story, gave me some good advice about some of the words I'd chosen and suggested changing the viewpoint and strengthening the end. She also said that I'd created a sympathetic character, which was skilled considering the subject matter (he was a paedophile).
I was very happy with this. Deep down, I know that sometimes my success is going to be tempered by my subject matter. Not everyone wants to read sad stories with uncomfortable characters, and ultimately, it was a good result. I've taken the feedback onboard and am re-drafting with this in mind.
Last week, I entered the Writers Forum competition and today received my feedback. Again, the feedback was good. I was Highly Commended (I'm assuming that because it said it on the feedback, it's true of the magazine too..?) and the points that they gave me were a) good b) silly. They let me know what was working, which was great. They were also quite specific about what wasn't quite as clear, which was also great - one of those points had been raised in my writing group, but you know what it's like with feedback, some bits you take on board, some bits you put to one side. Now I've been told twice, I think I'll agree to disagree and change it. The rest of it was about my grammar and layout. And this is the silly bit. Because it's all stuff that I should know. Stuff that I do know. Stuff that I should be doing. Stuff that I should have caught on one of my many, many edits.
So I'm quite annoyed with myself. I know that Highly Commended is super awesome. I know that for the amount of stories I've sent off in the last year, to have been Strongly Considered, Highly Commended, Shortlisted and Published is fab. I should be tap-dancing. It should be champagne and party poppers time. So why aren't I smiling?
I'm so close. I keep just missing out. And yes, some of this is personal preference of the judge, and that's absolutely their call. The lady who won The Lie competition, for example, wrote a lovely story involving a grandmother and her long-lost grandson. It was really good and she deserved to win. And stories that deal with elderly sexual predators being released from prison are not everyone's cup of tea. I totally get that. Coming up with a story the judges will love is half the battle, and something that is often impossible to predict and something that I'm prepared to take my chances with. Losing out because of stupid grammatical errors, and punctuation, and layout?
I need to up my game. Or get an editor. Or something.