Why all writing competitions should publish their longlists

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This has been a big rejection year for me. In fact, since December I’ve received nothing else. To be fair, I’ve been concentrating on a large project, so it hasn’t been a big submission year either. The odds haven’t been in my favour. Most of the time polite form rejections slide by relatively painlessly, but occasionally one will really sting, especially when I put my heart and soul into an application and hoped to be in with a chance.

I haven’t always received form rejections. In fact, after missing out on a Varuna Publisher Introduction Fellowship with my very first competition submission, I received a lovely email notifying me that I made the longlist. At the time I was so clueless I wasn’t aware how competitive these fellowships are. Or how rare it is to be told you almost made it. Today I would be eternally grateful to know I just missed a shortlist.

Most people write because they feel compelled to, for internal reasons rather than external validation. In fact, I’ve blogged previously about the importance of reflecting on your own journey, rather than comparing yourself to others. But sooner or later if you want to be published you do need to get your words out there, being judged. Building a successful career as a writer calls for superhuman determination and perseverance as well as bucketloads of resilience. We all know that, but most people can only tolerate being kicked in the guts so many times before they say enough is enough and find another less soul-destroying pursuit, like macrame or preserving.

Of all the short-story and unpublished-manuscript competitions I’ve entered over the years, I could count on one hand the number of times a longlist has been published. In fact, the Ampersand Prize last year didn’t even publish a shortlist, although they had promised to do so. They only announced the winner. Large, prestigious competitions for published novels routinely promote a longlist leading up to the shortlist announcement. Why isn’t this done in smaller competitions? I would argue that new writers need the validation of making a longlist more than those who’ve already published a book or two.

Consider this an open request to everyone running writing competitions, from short-story competitions to award fellowships and mentorships. I understand how many submissions you have to wade through and don’t expect individual feedback (although of course that would be awesome). However, on behalf of all the self-critical writers out there wrestling with imposter syndrome, could you please put us out of our misery and make your longlists public?

Now back to interminable editing of the manuscript which will hopefully finally crack a shortlist…

7 thoughts on “Why all writing competitions should publish their longlists

  1. Don’t do macrame or preserving. You know in your heart you can write (and we all know, we’ve read your work).
    It’s just a test of your perseverance, and you’re passing the test so far, keep going! I’ve had soooo many rejections and continue to do so. Even though it hurts, I still consider it all part of the writing apprenticeship. And many rejections come down to matters such as genre, personal taste of judges, stage of development of project etc – many rejections aren’t a reflection on the quality of the work.
    Take a break if you need to and come back to your manuscript renewed. But don’t give up!
    Hope you have a lovely Easter Lisa x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Fiona. I’m definitely in this for the long haul, and am for the most part fine with rejections. I have, however, thought for a while that it wouldn’t hurt comps to release the names of those who just missed out, otherwise it’s hard to tell if you’re almost there or way off the mark.

    Liked by 1 person

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