Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Losing a Contest While Learning So Much

I entered the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition in 2010, having read that submissions should have appealing Jewish content and be a work of fiction for children 8 to 11 years.  The writer should have no published work of fiction, as this was designed as an incentive for beginning authors.  The prize was $1000 and the judges were members of The Association of Jewish Libraries.

The name of the contest attracted my attention.  Sydney Taylor was author of the All-of-a-Kind Family books about a Jewish family living on New York's lower East Side. My daughter had loved those books.  I believe she organized a dramatization of the story in her early elementary school classroom.  

What made this competition priceless for me was that the judges sent to entrants their observations about the stories--the strengths and the weaknesses.  The first opinion I read: "Bad title."  Since the title at that time was The Chicken-Cheater, Duck Disasters  (2), and the Rocky Road to Freedom, I couldn't disagree.

Then someone wrote: "Both boys and girls should like this but it might be too old-fashioned."  

"Would like to see more creative chapter-titles." I need chapter titles? was my reaction to that and out they went!  Someone else thought a glossary for Yiddish terms was needed, which was definitely a good idea.  I added one.

The compliments kept me from giving up on this book:

  • "Writing is simple, clear, well-organized."
  • "Writing is superior."
  • "Characters are realistic and appealing."
  • "Sweet simple story about a family settling in America.  Subject matter is very creative."
  • "The Jewish content, while present, is not dominant in this story.  [the reviewer] has some reservations about giving the award to this book when other entrants of equal caliber present stronger Jewish themes." [This comment is a mixture of positive and negative but conveys that I was a contender, which made me very happy.]
  • "Nice storyline with different problems and great solutions.  Author did a great job integrating the themes of immigration, making friendships and dealing with being different, as well as the farm story."
Not winning truly didn't bother me.  I hadn't expected to.  The experience was as valuable as a semester's course--perhaps more, as it was specific to this work.

As one judge noted, the story was old-fashioned.  More than one editor replied to my submission of this story something like: "strong writing but not for our list."  I guessed that their list would welcome a dystopian young adult series that would sell a ton of copies.  Duck Dreams wasn't that which is what made me turn to self-publishing.  Never made a better decision, I think.