Lessons Learned From Not Winning

Well, I did not make third place in the fiction contest. New Year’s Day I popped open ye olde laptop to see my story at sixth. Part of me wished I’d done a bigger last-minute self-promotion piece, but frankly, I was on an airplane for seven of the last hours of 2012, and once I landed I thought, who is voting for stories at ten o’clock on New Year’s Eve? No one, that’s who.

I expected to feel more disappointed, but I don’t. The contest was a very cool experiment, but it was also, as promised, in the beta stage. My submission wasn’t perfect, either. So I chalk up the experience to having learned a few things. Here they are:

  • It’s important to have a great title. “Shunyata” becomes very evocative after you read the story, but it’s probably meaningless to 98% of readers, initially.
  • If everyone else is posting an image, post an image! Even if you can’t figure out how to do it (ahem: I should have asked). Mine was the only story in the top ten that didn’t have an image.
  • Consider length. I submitted a 15-page story. The story in the #1 slot was more like six.
  • Contests are sometimes based on popularity, and sometimes you just aren’t the most popular. Medium’s contest was exciting, technologically-forward, a great premise. But at the end of the day reaching the top three had a lot to do with how Twitter-savvy one was and how much support one could garner using social media. I’m not a dinosaur, but I opened my Twitter account just for the contest, and have barely used it. I might not have been the ideal entrant. I keep wondering whether all the entrants around me were under 25, but maybe now I’m just being paranoid.

Thank you so much to everyone who voted. I know the format was not ideal–you clicked “recommend,” you never knew if your vote went through, you had to have Twitter. These were not great circumstances for everyone, but I appreciate the support nonetheless. Onward!

Happy New Year.



Readers! I made a bit of a tactical error way back when, by creating a mailing list AND a blog with its own separate...


  1. Katie

    I fucking loved that story; thought it was brilliant. It’s still with me, and I never would have seen it if you hadn’t put it in that contest. So, thanks.

    You’ll get ’em next time, Susie Meserve.

  2. Adrienne Spangler

    I also thought your story was amazing! I am still thinking about it too. I appreciate you listing all your lessons learned– I think many of them apply to lots of things we writing do (and will do) so thanks for sharing.Onward, indeed!

    • Susie Meserve

      Hey, thanks. The outpouring of good will from this experience has been really lovely for me. Almost as good as the $2K would have been (ha ha). I’m approaching 2013 in a “what can I learn, how can I be better?” sort of a way, and that feels great. Onward to you, my friend.


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