Two years ago, I wrote a story entitled, “The Women in the Club.” It was about the family of a man who committed a heinous crime. The story felt a bit edgier than what I normally write, but I believed the topic was worth talking about. My writing group loved it.
I began to send it out both as a regular submission and a contest entry. Every time it was rejected, I edited again to see if I could make it just a bit tighter, sharper, clearer.
The story placed as a finalist in three contests. On one of these occasions, the person who advised me of the story’s achievement said, “This story was so timely and powerful. I was both disturbed and moved at the same time.” I was delighted that she’d actually read it since I always assumed that the person tasked with notifying people that they didn’t win would be an admin who had no idea what the stories were about.
Back in March of this year, I sent out a batch of submissions to contests listed in Poets & Writers Magazine. I barely even paid attention to where I was sending it. By this time, I was losing faith in my story.
And then, in mid-August, as I was fixing dinner on a Saturday night, my landline rang. I didn’t recognize the name, so I ignored the call. Moments later, my cellphone rang. Not many people have both numbers. Still, I figured it could have been a scam, so I let it go.
Then, I heard the chime that meant the person had left a voicemail. Curious, I abandoned dinner and played back the voicemail from one David Bright, editor of Gemini Magazine. He was calling to tell me that “The Women in the Club” had taken first place in their short story contest—and I would receive a prize of $1,000.
First. First place. As in, the story won. And I’d get a thousand frigging dollars. Which was far and away more than I had ever been paid for a story.
I called him back immediately. We talked, and he confirmed again that my story had won. We discussed the details, such as when the story would be published and how payment would be made. After we hung up, I called my mother to tell her the news. I assume I eventually finished making dinner, but I honestly don’t remember.
Later that night, a thought struck. I went to my submission spreadsheet and counted.
The submission to the Gemini Magazine contest was this story’s twenty-fourth time being sent out.
The contest results were announced on the Gemini Magazine home page a few days later. The story was published earlier this week. The payment arrived the day after publication. And I’m still slightly stunned.
What if I’d given up on the story after the tenth submission, or the twentieth? What if I’d decided that finalist was the best it could do and I’d set it aside? What if I hadn’t kept trying?
The what ifs are endless. Sometimes a story should be set aside. Sometimes it just isn’t good enough to go out into the world. Maybe it needs work, or maybe its premise is flawed. Having edited it again after each rejection, I now have no way of knowing if the story might have performed better if the finally-edited version had been sent out two years ago.
The last time one of my stories won a contest, it triumphed on its seventeenth submission. This time, it took twenty-four tries. It’s anybody’s guess how many times the next one will need to be sent out before it finds the right home.
All I know is this: it’s never an easy road. The only choices are to give up or keep trying.
And if you keep trying long enough, you may just win.
In case you need proof, here’s “The Women in the Club.”