>No, of course it isn’t. I just wanted to get your attention! I’m very happy with my published status, because I know how hard I’ve had to work to achieve it. It’s helped me get to know some fab people. It’s also bought me my beautiful summerhouse.
But events today have made me wonder about the attitude of some unpublished writers towards published writers (I say some because I’m friends with lots of lovely unpublished writers). Mills and Boon have asked for suggestions for their next New Voices competition, and a lot of the commenters have said they’d rather published writers didn’t enter. (Last year’s comp ended in acrimony when it was found that the winner had had ten novels published previously. To be honest, I felt really sorry for the winner.)
This was a question that was raised several time during the course of the competition, even though the rules clearly stated that entrants could have been published, as long as they don’t have an agent or have had a full novel published by either Mills and Boon or any other publisher. Had the rules been different, saying that writers couldn’t have been published at all, I wouldn’t have entered. Given that writing comps are my speciality - I write a monthly column on them for Writers Forum magazine - I’m hardly likely to break the rules. Despite that, I also double-checked with Mills and Boon on Twitter that I was eligible, as I’d had novellas published. They assured me that I was. They also reiterated that on the New Voices site during the comp. My writing credits are listed on this blog and my website for all to see, so I wasn’t trying to pretend to be something I wasn’t (and I noticed those pages got a lot of visits during the comp). That really should have been the end of that.
So I can’t really understand why other entrants, having (presumably) read the same rules, then started questioning those rules when they realised there were published writers amongst them. Yes, the comp was for ‘New Voices’ but there are many short story/novella writers, including myself, of whom no one has ever heard, so in terms of finally making the grade with Mills and Boon, they would be a New Voice.
I wasn’t the only published writer. I know several other people who’d been published. And do you know what? It didn’t help us one bit. None of us were placed, though one of my published friends made the call back list. Being previously published gave most of us no advantage at all when it came to picking the shortlist and call back list. So I think the argument that without published writers there’d be a ‘level playing field’ is an erroneous one.
It’s also nigh on impossible for someone who’s been totally unpublished – a completely new writer - to sit down and write something absolutely perfect and award winning. I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m sure someone will come forward with examples. But for most of us it takes many many years of writing, getting it wrong, getting it right, getting it wrong again, before we finally produce work that someone wants to publish. Then we can still get it wrong. And the fact is, you’ll never know that if you don’t send your work out to editors and have some sort of affirmation of your work, or get feedback that tells you where you’re going wrong. Your friends and family can tell you you’re fabulous, but that’s not the same as writing to the standard that a publisher like Mills and Boon require.
But for me it’s the attitude towards published writers that mystifies me. As we all start off wanting to be published, it amazes me that unpublished writers then seem to resent those of us a bit further along the writing road. I’ve seen it happen to friends. I know of one fabulously kind and helpful writer who has been treated terribly on writing forums. To balance this up, I’ve also seen published writers who make the grade, then pull up the ladder, afraid that someone else might follow them and take a chunk of their market. But I’m not that sort of writer. I support everyone, regardless of whether they’ve been writing fifty years, or whether they just decided to pick up a pen this morning.
I think much of it is the misconception of what being published means. To most of us starting out, it is the Holy Grail. We think that once we’ve had one thing published, we’ve made it. So if, when we start out, we see others with more publications, we assume they’ve really made it. But that’s not necessarily true. I sold my first story, then sold nothing at all for two years. One year (2007) I earned the grand total of £10 for a readers’ letter. Even now I don’t earn a fortune, not even a living wage. I’m a bit further along the road than other writers, but I’m nowhere near to where I want to be. And I don’t mean in terms of money earned either, though that’s nice. I mean in terms of skill, reputation, and having had a full, mainstream novel published which can be bought in a bogof offer in Waterstones and Tescos.
Maybe I’m being a bit oversensitive about this. I know I have that tendency, and I’m pretty certain that none of those who commented about published writers not being allowed to enter were intending to offend me or other published writers. But I would ask them if, when they’ve had a few things published and have realised they haven’t got the Holy Grail, they’ll consider whether they still feel the same way.
I’ll also end by saying that I have absolutely no problem with competitions that ask for unpublished writers only and if Mills and Boon go this way I shall respect their right to include an ‘unpublished’ rule. As I’ve said in an Ask Sally due to go out in January, comps can have any rules they want. But I also pointed out that entering a competition implies acceptance of the rules. So it’s no good complaining, after you’ve entered, if you don’t like one of them.
Writing Competitions Calendar