Yesterday, I got rejected by the New Yorker. It was the best thing that had happened to me all day.
Sounds weird, right? It definitely sounded weird to the friends and family that I told this to. Who wants to be rejected?
The thing is that the New Yorker was a long shot. I never expected them to publish me. They publish Alice Munro, Haruki Murakami, and Junot Diaz. Why should they look twice at someone with three published stories to her name? Besides, it had a fantasy/sci-fi edge to it. Not really the New Yorker’s style.
I submitted it because they sometimes publish unknown writers, and they sometimes publish sci-fi. Both are rare, but I was confident in the story and I thought, why the heck not? The worst thing they can do is not respond to me.
They did respond. Here it is:
Dear Anna Lindwasser,
We regret that we are unable to use the enclosed material. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider it.Sincerely,The Editors
Today, I finished writing a short story that I intend to enter in a contest. The contest costs $10. Thankfully, $10 is something that I can afford right now. Because this hasn’t always been the case, I find myself thinking about what else I could do with the money.
$10 could buy me four Metro Card fares with a dollar left over.
$10 could buy me between one and two packages of good tea, or between two and four packages of okay tea.
$10 could pay for lunch for two days.
$10 could get me two pints of ice cream.
$10 could contribute to my Pokemon Black 2 fund.
$10 could get me another turtleneck at Uniqlo.
$10 could get me ten books at Book-Off, and one book off of Amazon.
$10 could buy me a CD off of iTunes.
$10 could buy 10 Luna Bars
$10 could buy me a movie ticket if I went for a matinee.
$10 is what it will probably cost me to print and mail the story in the first place.
So there are a lot of things I could do with this $10. My inner cheapskate is screaming at me for considering spending it on a gamble. And that’s what a contest is. You pour your heart and soul into an entry, you do the very best job that you possibly can…and then you don’t win because someone else did the same thing and did it better.
I go into these things with the mindset that I will lose. Sure, I indulge in fantasies of literary glory, but I don’t count on anything. If I do, I’m bound to be disappointed. Sometimes, this attitude helps me. If I’m not afraid of rejection, there’s no harm in putting myself out there. But if I’m expecting to lose, and I’m writing a check, it can feel like a huge waste of money. I can rationalize this by saying that I’m supporting literary institutions. I care about that.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to priorities. I may not win the contest, but I care about my writing. I care about my potential writing career. I’m paying thousands of dollars to attend graduate school, which does not guarantee me a job, so why not spend $10 to potentially further myself as a writer? I’m talented, and I deserve to give myself chances to prove that. My basic needs are still covered whether I spend $10 or not, and my creative work is more important than ice cream.
So, those $10 are going toward my entry fee. If you’re trying to decide whether to spend money on a contest, think about what you’d use that money for otherwise, and think about whether that’s more important than a chance to prove yourself as a writer. If you can’t pay your rent without it, pay your rent, but if it’s going to trivial things, it may be worth the sacrifice.