Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Notes From Underground" Pre-Announcement Ramble

Last night, rather too late, I finished reading the last of the entries for our “Notes From Underground” contest. Domey and Michelle finished hours before I did, and cheered me on through the last of the reading. It was like coming in last at a marathon with the runners who came in first waiting at the finish line. Which was nice. My co-hosts are nice. I heart them. And, of course, I digress.

Last night I finished reading the last of the “Notes From Underground” entries. There were 59 of them. The majority of entries were in the form of text, but some of them included image files, music files, movie files and possibly other sorts of files I can’t recall just now. So it was very interesting for me as a reader, and I’m sure Domey and Michelle would agree that this has been a fascinating experiment.

I don’t actually know how all the votes tally just now. Mostly that’s because the hated Microsoft “live” mail program isn’t working and I have no way of communicating with my co-hosts. I’m sure Michelle at least has a good idea of which 25 entrants will be part of the anthology, but I don’t, so I can’t say anything intelligent about that and besides, we will be announcing those results tomorrow, my impatient writer BFFs. But I’ll tell you how we judged this contest.

Last year the three of us discussed the stories, gave detailed comments about each one, weighed the merits and all voted on every story that went into the Genre Wars anthology. That took a lot of time. I will admit that I didn’t want to spend all those hours resolving the results of this contest (especially since a lot of that email discussion would have to take place during work hours when I should be working), and I also realized it wasn’t necessary. Each of us pretty much knew which entries we liked a lot, which ones we didn’t like as much, and which entries we were not decided about. Discussion wasn’t really going to change our minds. So I suggested that we read each entry—multiple times if we had the time—and vote yes/no/maybe on each. Any entry with more than one “yes” vote automatically gets in. If those entries are less than 25 in number, we divide the difference by 3 and each get to pick whichever of our remaining “yes” vote entries we like to make up the difference and get to a total of 25 writers who will bless us with their work in our anthology. Thanks in advance, writers who will bless us! So it’s a simple and quick selection process we used.

The two big questions on the mind of each entrant are, I suppose, Did you select mine? and How did you decide which entries got a “yes” vote?

To the first question I can only say that I don’t know. This contest was anonymous, thanks to the efforts of the tireless Becca. I don’t know who wrote what, and I’m going to try and keep it none of my business. I will say, however, that I know how weird and disorienting the free-form nature of the entry process was for many of you, and I also know that it’s scary to submit your work to anyone, even to a contest run by an obscure website like ours. Everyone who submitted to the contest is very brave—braver than I probably am—and I am impressed by all of you. Thanks so much for participating this year. Seeing what you’re all up to, and getting you to be part of the experiments here, are the best things about this blogging experience for me. So, like I said, thanks to all of you.

To the second question, the answer is going to vary from entry to entry. I can’t really say much about the “no” votes I gave, except that they weren’t things I’d vote “yes” for. That’s very subjective. Domey and Michelle would be able to tell you that I am a very harsh and unforgiving critic. Yes, even a bit of an ass when it comes to writing. But I was looking for things to which I could give a “yes” vote. That’s what my judging philosophy was. “Let me vote for you,” I prayed at the beginning of each entry. I was looking first of all for something that I liked, something that made me want to keep reading. Genre didn’t matter. Stylistic and verbal virtuosity were not my primary concerns. I just wanted something that made me want to read it all the way through. As well as that, I looked for the “wow” factor. I wanted to read something I wish I had been clever enough to write. Sometimes that was no more than a well-turned phrase, a metaphor that surprised me, or really just anything that pleasantly surprised me. After that was something that Domey calls “movement,” which to me (if I interpret his use of the word correctly) means that the writing went somewhere, there was a progression of ideas or events. I will digress a moment and say that I noticed some pieces start with a bang, and go on strongly for a couple hundred or a thousand words, and then sort of fizzle out or don’t go anywhere from the starting point. Some of them circle around, some run in place, some stand still and a lot go to sleep. My advice to you is that if you have a really strong idea and you can’t go someplace from it, you should make that strong idea the endpoint and try working toward it instead. The results, I predict, will surprise and charm you.

Anyway, I was looking for things that kickstarted the right bits of my brain and made me sit up and read. A lot of the entries I did not vote for were well-written and imaginative, but they didn’t have that “wow” factor, which is I realize one of those annoying things that agents and editors say and nobody knows what the hell they’re talking about. But there it is nonetheless. We like what we like and I’m a difficult audience. But one thing I do want to say before I beazle on any longer is this: There were only 25 places available in the anthology (for a variety of reasons I’m not going to defend), and there were 59 entries. So while not everyone could get in, I do not want those of you who didn’t to think that you have, in any way at all, “lost” this contest. Because, dear writer, you have not. I have had my share of rejections from publications for my brilliant stories and each of those rejections wounded me more than is reasonable and I assume the news that your work was not selected will wound you and I regret that deeply. But Domey, Michelle and I invited you and your work into our lives because we value the experience of reading your work, we wanted you to send it to us, and we are grateful that you did. I don’t like the idea of winners and losers, especially in art. I reject that idea outright. You’re all brave, talented and wonderful people, and I am impressed with everyone who entered. You’ve done something difficult, and there is no way that isn’t a victory for you. So congratulations to you, and thanks for playing.


  1. An erudite and lovely post describing the selection process. After reading this, I won't mind "losing" at all! :)

  2. Thanks for this post, Scott. :) I did a post over on my blog about the "ugliness of losing", and quite frankly, I don't think there should be any ugliness in losing because, in the end, we shouldn't look at it as losing at all. I like to think of it as a matter of perspective, and I hope those who don't make it into the contest can look at the fact their just ENTERING the contest is a huge victory in its own right.

    Anyway, no matter how many contests I judge for, I'll never get over the sadness I feel at passing some entries up while putting others ahead. It's a strange, complex, and odd feeling. It's what I imagine agents deal with about hundreds of times a day. I can't even imagine.

  3. And thank you for giving us the chance to play (and taking the time to read and go through everything)!

  4. Scott, thanks for putting this all up. You said a lot of things I would have as well. I wouldn't make this a big point in other selection processes, but in this case I would also strongly repeat that no one really loses. The key point is that this was very experimental, and our selection process became very experimental too. Often I didn't know what to look for, and I just went with my gut, mostly because a lot of people mentioned that these were rough drafts. What do you judge from a rough draft? Ideas, perhaps, or glimpses of something that excited me.

  5. Thank you so much for this blog about this entry to this contest... it is good to know a bit how it works and such. And like Judy says it won't be as hard to loose if not passing by the so famous neddle in the haystack....

  6. What I loved about this contest and also what made it a challenge was the divorce (or partial divorce) between the product entry submission and product we would actually have in anthology. That added an extra layer of interest and challenge but since I went with a complete divorce it also left me thinking, "Hmm, if they liked it I hope they still like what actually goes in the anthology, and if they didn't like it, well, dang, it wasn't even what I was going to do for the anthology."


    Weird feeling.

    Like auditioning for a play with a random monologue of your own choice. Always a weird feeling to me. ("But, but, but, that's now I'll play Hamlet, because this is from Death of a Salesman.")

  7. Thanks for this post, Scott. The main part of the process for me was getting up the guts to send in something, to give it a try instead of hiding. So thank you for that. It was great practice.

  8. Nevets, I think one key thing to keep in mind is that, were you to get in, you SHOULDN'T necessarily care what we think of that final product. That part's yours. We've decided that we are excited about you as a writer, and we're coming to the show to see what you do with your talent.

  9. Thank you for your lovely words. And this isn't nearly so hard when I know, that in the end, I am NOT a loser.

  10. Domey, that's one of the things which is also two-sided. hahaha Because for the winners, that freedom is mind-blowing. But, I for one, would still feel a sense of not wanting to let the judges the down and make them regret their choices.

    But I operate internally with a lot of guilt and obligation, so maybe that's just me. lol

  11. Wow, 59 entrants! That's great. I'm glad so many entered, because I'm sure it means the final product will be excellent. Also, I will feel extremely flattered if I get in, and not so bad if I don't. This blog attracts a nice pool of writers.

  12. Scott, this is what is called the hook at the end of a chapter that makes us want to turn the page and read the next chapter. Now I am waiting with bated breath for that page to finish turning.

  13. I'm just grateful for the chance to do something like this. So thank you for the opportunity

  14. No matter what, this was an interesting challenge for my writing experience.

    I got a lot out of it; so you are all forgiven if I don't make the cut.

    I like your judging process Scott, and I'm sure Domey and Michelle's were similar. I am confident you gave the submissions as much respect and consideration as you do your readers here.

    Thanks for the explanation of the process, and the reminder to be back tomorrow. I love a good mystery, but I'll be glad to have this one resolved.


  15. I hope I make sense (I've had another major setback and the fever is doing most of my talking today) but I wanted to chime in the day before the announcement to thank you all again for the time and love you've invested in this contest- and thereby, in us and our work.

    If not for this contest I wouldn't have found out about The Literary Lab and become a small part of such a wonderful vibrant community. So in my view I am already a winner.

    I've learned so much from the three of you (and the regulars here through their blogs) since I've been here- another win.

    With this contest (I loathe that word for some reason- I prefer 'experiment') you gave us the complete freedom to send in anything- absolutely anything we wanted.

    Because of that, I spent a long time pondering, a long while writing and editing, and in the end, I sent in the best possible entry I believe I'm capable of at this point in my journey as a writer. I really liked the thing in the end, and that's rare for me. Another victory.

    I knew when I hit 'send' that I'd not had to subscribe to anyone's rules for what I could do- this was all mine- and I determined my own fate without a rulebook dictating the content so whatever happens, happens.

    I can't imagine how hard it must have been on you all judging this- because even though the entries were presented to you anonymously, you know most of us who entered are regulars here and so being the thoughtful people that you are you have to be worried who is going to feel the sting when they see they didn't get in.

    Thing to remember is that for awhile you weren't sure you'd have enough entries to have to pick from- and we rallied as a community to spread the word, and basically doubled the entry count from which you then had to struggle to pick. I'd say that's another victory right there. And I can't wait to congratulate those who are chosen.

    I'd better stop my rambling now or I could go on all night. You know I loved the concept of this from the get-go and I will love it when I see my writerly buddies here from the Lab and the blogosphere get in and when I pick up the anthology when it comes out.

    There are names I definitely hope to see on that list tomorrow so much more than I ever wanted to see my own.

    Hugs to you all, and thanks again.


    PS You think the last few days were hard on you guys though- you should try waiting a month for the results of a contest *laugh*. Glad I was basically unconscious for most of it the past week has been long!

  16. Oh! Sorry, one more thing.

    Have to thank Becca, who, at least once, had to answer silly questions from me.

    Thanks for all your hard work on the contest, Becca! We appreciate you.


  17. Becca is teh roxor. Hey, Becca!

    I am calling my next band Hey, Becca!

  18. Becca deserves much credit. MUCH credit, and not just for Lit Lab stuff. She puts up with me, and that's saying something. Haha.

  19. Beautifully said, Mr. Bailey, especially your last paragraph. If I don't get in I shall try not to let it wound me, at least not more than is reasonable.


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