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Ask the Agony Editor: on pursuing feedback from prize juries

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Feedback ain’t cheap. But sometimes paying for it can pay off

Brian-Francis-FinalDear Agony Editor,

As an aspiring writer, I enter a number of Canadian literary competitions. I’m in love with my stories and poems, but none of them ever make the longlists, let alone win. None of the competitions provide any insight into how my story was received by the jury. How am I to learn what I’m doing wrong if I can’t get any feedback? Should I confront jury members to ask why my story wasn’t picked? Or should I write to complain to the admin­istrators of the prize?

Signed,
#notwinning

 

Dear #notwinning,
Since you’re an aspiring writer, there are two things y’all need to hear. First, never fall in love with your stories and poems. They’ll only end up leaving you for someone with sexier similes.

Second, never “confront” anyone on any jury. Most of them know jiu jitsu.

And don’t write to prize administrators. Avoid turning into one of those writers who spends more time complaining than writing. Having said that, I get your frustration. You’re stepping up to bat time and time again and never hitting a home run.

Is asking for a little feedback out of the question? Unfortunately, in the world of literary prizes, the answer is yes. Most jury members aren’t paid – or obligated – to provide feedback on every single submission.

Nor do administrators have the time to answer queries. One I spoke to said he typically received upward of 2,000 entries per competition. Do you have that kind of time? Because I sure don’t.

If you’re serious about your writing, I suggest hiring a freelance editor to give your work some undivided attention. Good editors aren’t cheap, but they can offer thoughtful, professional feedback that should go a long way in helping you understand what you’re doing right – and what you’re doing wrong.

One final piece of advice: if the value you place on your writing is determined by three strangers on a jury, you’re in the wrong business.

 

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.