On disappointment and not winning publishing contests, specifically BIG ONES like Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award.


Five months ago I was doing scatty, haphazard internet research on ways to promote my novel Love and Muddy Puddles for free, ‘cos, you know, I'm a cash-strapped, indie writer andhave no budget for publicity. On my merry hop, step and jump from rock to website rock across the vast and gushing river that is the internet, I discovered that Amazon – yes, *the* Amazon.com – had a novel contest.

“Hmm. Competition. Oh, look at that. Money as a prize. I’ll bet it costs, like, fifty bucks to enter. Wait, what? It’s free?” 

It was an easy decision. No entry fee meant I would enter both books. I put in Invisible first and then went back to enter Muddy Puddles, but I was too late. And I hadn’t read the rules properly. ‘Oh, I see. Only one book per author. Darn it. Missed out there.’ 

I went on my way and didn’t think a thing more about it until a month later when I got an email. “Your novel has made the first cut.”

Huh, I thought. But I forgot about it two minutes later, until another month went by and another email popped up. “Your novel is a quarter finalist.”

It was at that point that I went back to read the rules properly. Turns out the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is quite a big deal.  And there are quite a few prizes involved. And the prizes are pretty significant. I’m talking a publishing deal with Amazon books and some serious bucks… US$15,000 to be exact.

‘Oh well,’ I thought. ‘Invisible has always been knocked out of the other contests I’ve put it in. I know it’s not really good enough to win this sort of thing. This is probably where it will end.’

Um, no.

Another email arrived in my in-box, another month later. Now, it seemed, Invisible was a semi-finalist in the contest, one of five other entries in the Young Adult genre, one of the top 25 entries of 10,000 novels.

I can’t lie. I totally jumped up and down like a little kid for two days. For two nights I had serious trouble sleeping. Yes, I was spending the money. Yes, I was signing contracts in my head. Yes, I was telling the world that I HAD WON ABNA, PEOPLE!

You see, I made a decision. I thought to myself, ‘I will allow myself to truly hope that I am the winner. I will really want this, on the outside as well as the inside.’

Too many times in my life, I’ve wanted something but hidden my feelings behind ‘it doesn’t really matter; it’s enough to be shortlisted’ and all the other things that serious, balanced people say, mostly because we don’t like disappointment and we know that the pain would be too much if it didn’t come to pass. This time I decided to not pretend that I didn’t really, honestly, truleeee want to be Mrs Winner Of ABNA, with my face out there on the Amazon website for all to see. Because I really, honestly, truleeee did.

The month went by excruciatingly slowly. The final three days were agony. I was short, snippy and tense. I checked my email approximately 276 times an hour. 


Finally, desperately, I sent an email to the lovely lady who had told me I’d made it to semifinals. 

“Please, would you just tell me I didn’t make it? I can’t bear it.”

Her answer was swift, and polite. 

“The competition was tough, and your novel won’t be going through to the finals. Sorry.”

I’ll just say this: try not to wait for results of a really important contest while you’re on holidays, and especially not while you’re tired and have non-stop children around you, wanting attention and for you to ‘play, mummy, play’. 

Perhaps it was because they felt my misery, or perhaps it was just because they were all having a crummy day, but in the next hour, one son had a major meltdown, the other whinged because his brother was wrecking his day and the non-stop chatting pre-schooler stayed true to form and didn’t stop talking. At all.

And I cried.

You see, that also was part of the deal. I gave myself permission to be really happy about the contest, and to be able to say that I wanted to win more than anything, knowing that I would also give myself permission to feel every dagger and every spear of disappointment if I didn’t get it.

I haven’t always done this. Many of my disappointments have been bravely covered up in, ‘Oh well, it’s an honour to get as far as I did,’ and, ‘At least I tried my best,’ and, ‘Well, it’s not the end of the world, right?’ Because, COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS, Cecily.

All of those are true, of course. None of them are trite or fake. But they come off trite and fake when you say them first, before you cry. Or, even, instead of crying. Their rightful place is second, after the mourning and the sadness and the disappointment. They don’t get first place, because when they do, the daggers and the spears of misery burrow down into your heart, into your stomach where their metal tips rust and dissolve and turn into bitterness that spreads into depression and a seeping, weeping sickness of ingratitude. 

I learned this, from the ABNA contest: you have to cry. You have to express all the sadness, all the pain, all the dashed hopes. You have to spend the time doing it. You have to mourn and hug and let the water drip out of your eyes. 

Because when you do, and do it for long enough, it really is over. It took me seven hours, with a couple of big spurts of sobbing. (Also a rather ‘poor me’ Facebook post, but that was for virtual hugs, which were definitely helpful. The other thing that helped was knowing that my husband, my daughter and my parents were also sad. Empathy. It’s a beautiful thing.) 

And then it was over. I got up the next morning with a plan for Invisible and the sequel I’m writing, and with a new energy to get on and do the editing job I’ve got on at the moment. (If I can’t get $15,000 in my lap in one lump sum, I’ll just have to earn it, bit by bit, job by job, right?)

A week later, I’m not bitter about not winning. (This has not always been the case with me…) I’m also delighted that my little book got so far, in such good company, and earned itself such a great review from Publishers Weekly.

I’m happy, not sad, that I’ve been an ABNA semi-finalist, and my disappointment has dissolved.