Heads You Win; Tails You Learn

QUOTE: “My learning curve keeps getting curvier.” — j.s.lamb

What I learned from not winning a Writer’s Digest contest

Sometimes you share the pain; sometimes you don’t. I’m sharing it because (who knows) it may help somebody, somewhere, somehow.

Here’s the bottom line: I was not selected as a winner in the “3rd annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards” contest — though I do not consider myself a loser. Why? Because I gave it a shot. And learned a bunch.

First, some background.

Way back when (1967–71), I served in the world’s largest and cleanest nuclear Navy: Four days short of four years. I hated it most of the time, but ultimately realized it was a positive experience. For one thing, I grew up — and, at the time, I had a lot of growing up to do. For another, I met some of the finest people on God’s green earth — as well as some of the worst. Finally, and most important, the funniest stories I’ve ever told were based on what happened to me in the USN. Beyond that, I was able to go back to school on the G.I. Bill and get my degrees (Mass Comm and Poly Sci).

Just an FYI: My Navy stories were not knee-slap, guffaw funny. They were modestly humorous, occasionally poignant, once-in-a-while sad. A friend of mine, Sam Harris, said I should write down these tiny tales. He pestered me for years. (“Thanks,” Sam.)

When I retired, I bought a thick notebook and began jotting down bits and pieces of what I could remember. (It was like re-creating a puzzle from memory. Not an easy task.) Eventually I filled up the notebook, transcribed the notes and printed them out. Then I scribbled on the printout, deciding which items could be turned into stories and which could not.

That’s when the writing began.

With the help of my son Jesse (“The Lawyer”) I published “Orange Socks & Other Colorful Tales” as an eBook about a year ago, on April 1, 2015. (No accident, that date.) The book sold moderately well. Covered its cost. Brought me a little notoriety, a few interviews and enabled me to add the word “author” to my bio.

Last summer, I submitted “Orange Socks” as an entry in a contest: “Third annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards.” It did not win — but I did get a personal evaluation, which I’m sharing. Here are some highlights, based on WD’s 1–5 scale:

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 3

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 4

Plot and Story Appeal: 3

Character Appeal and Development: 4

Voice and Writing Style: 4

I’m most pleased with the 5 out of 5 in the “Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar” category. As a former newspaper copy desk editor, I could accept no less. (In the interest of transparency, I did have several journalist friends read the manuscript. Then I paid a professional copy editor to give it a final look-see.)

Scoring a 4 on “Production Quality and Cover Design” was a thrill. My son did the formatting; I personally designed the cover. (See why, here.)

Scoring just 3s on “Structure, Organization, and Pacing” and “Plot and Story Appeal” was deserved. When I finished “Orange Socks,” it was more a compilation than a true memoir. I slapped on a prologue and an epilogue after the fact, and I’m sure it read that way. Kudos to Judge #82 for his/her insightful assessment.

Getting a 4 both in “Character Appeal and Development” and “Voice and Writing Style” was, for me, a big deal. Why? It gets to the nub of what we scribes do: Put words on paper.

Here’s what Judge #82 said:

“The writing is smooth and interesting. It’s like listening to the boy next door, with a dash of humor. Great for this genre.”

That’s about it. Hope ya’ll found this useful. I’ll close by paraphrasing Matthew McConaughey:

“All write, all write, all write.”

Jim Lamb is a retired journalist and author of “Orange Socks & Other Colorful Tales,” the story of how he survived Vietnam and kept his sense of humor. Sometimes he tells people he was “The Fifth Beatle.” For more about Jim, visit www.jslstories.com.

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