Perfectionism and Competitiveness: Are You a Winner or a Loser?

winningHas perfectionism or competitiveness ever strangled the joy out of your muse? Both traits can be creative suicide for a writer—or, at the very least, they can rob you of a much needed desktop Snoopy Dance.

Example: Today, I received an email from Jessica Strawser, editor of Writer’s Digest. I felt a flutter of excitement and knew it had something to do with the results of the competition I entered back in May. The subject line “Your Self Published Book Entry” was a pretty solid clue I was right. My muse whispered, “Get ready to dance. It must be good news or you wouldn’t have gotten an email.”

So, I opened the email and read: “One of my most enjoyable tasks as editor of Writer’s Digest is passing along good news to writers. This is one of those fun occasions. It is my pleasure to tell you that your book, The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir in the Life Stories category, has been chosen as an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest 17th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards. Your book will be promoted in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest. In addition, you will receive a letter, a Notable Award Certificate and $50 worth of Writer’s Digest Books.”

When I read the words “honorable mention,” my heart sank. It felt like I’d received a thanks-for-participating ribbon like the ones handed out in grade school. Instead of elation, I immediately told my muse she would have to work harder next time. Write a better book. Tell a more compelling story. Something. Something to make it win. It didn’t matter to me that there were probably hundreds of writers who didn’t receive an email at all. It mattered that my book wasn’t good enough to win.

Yes, I am self-aware enough to understand that my reaction is self-flagellation. My perfectionism and competitiveness are the same personality traits that made me hound my university English professor about why I received an A- in one of her classes and an A in the other. Why the A- grade? What could I have done differently? Better?

I know I’m tough on myself and I’m competitive. I believe there is always room for improvement—in anything and everything I do. But today, I realized how much joy I lose when I let those tendencies run roughshod over the moments I should be celebrating: the milestones, the acknowledgments, the good reviews, etc.

So, I’ve decided that when I receive my March/April issue, I’m going to frame the magazine page my book title appears on as a reminder to be joyful and grateful for my accomplishments. And I’m looking forward to expanding my writing craft library with my $50 worth of WD books!

Ok, dear readers, I showed you mine, so what are your writer demons?

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Book Award Contests Take the Money and Run

cute-duckling-scamI was emailing back and forth with a new writer friend who passed on a link to me for an upcoming awards contest for self-published books. She loved my book, The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, and thought I should enter the contest.

Now, she’s fairly new to the publishing game, so I tried to put myself back into a pair of shiny newbie shoes and see the excitement of it from her perspective—instead of looking at it through the eyes of my crusty, well-worn cynicism.

Then I thought: “Hey, wait a minute!” This snarky ol’ broad (me) has learned a thing or two by taking quite a few tricycle trips around the publishing block. So, I decided I need to warn the newbies: keep them from falling into the open manhole (er…personhole?) of wasting money and hope on award contests that don’t deliver the gift-wrapped manna from the publishing gods that they often promise.

I went to the link she provided and decided to read the contest FAQs to see what this “opportunity” was all about. Ok, I’ll be honest, I went there to gather good fodder for a blog post. And I knew I’d find it. One claim I came across made me choke on my own spit. (Don’t try to pretend you’ve never done that before.) I thought this particular claim was either wonderfully egocentric and naive, or insidiously misleading for a clueless newbie who may not know any better:

“What makes _________ Book Awards so special?
The ________ Book Awards is the only awards program of its kind because cash prizes and/or awards and maximum exposure (even possible representation) with a leading New York literary agent are given to the top 70 books entered.”

I won’t even talk about how much of a hot mess that sentence is. But, seriously? Claiming it’s the ONLY awards program of its kind?! Um…no. Not gonna fly.

The top self-pub awards: ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year (11 years); The IPPYs (13 years); Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards (17 years), and The Nautilus Book Awards* (10 years). These awards programs are actually worth entering. Long-standing proof of excellence? Yep. Respected judging panels? Got it. Industry-wide recognition? Check.

Newbies, grab a Q-tip. Clean out your wet-behind-the-ears ears and listen closely: If the awards contest you plan to enter DOES NOT have these qualities—step away from the PayPal button and go make a cup of tea. My favorite is Zen Mango with honey. Pour me a cup while you’re at it.

Here’s the deal, there are soooo many book “awards” sites that are all primed to take your money. They may be legitimate awards contests: Yes—you pay the entry fee and have the chance to win some prize money and you get a medal/trophy/ribbon or gold-plated mouse pad. And maybe a literary agent will look at your book (or maybe not, you’ll never actually know). But, no one in the industry takes those awards seriously. And while you are crossing your fingers and toes, hoping to win, the person hosting the contest is laughing all the way to the bank with your money and the money from hundreds (maybe thousands) of hopeful author/publishers just like you.

Don’t be the author who helps fund his first-class ticket to Barbados.


*Editor’s note: Thanks go out to a reader for catching my oversight in mentioning the Nautilus Awards in my original post. The Nautilus recognizes books that inspire spiritual growth, conscious living, and positive social change. And I can’t think of a better reason for a book award!

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