Sunday, February 20, 2011

How Do You Measure Your Achievements?

Last week, I received the results of the RWA Emily contest. For those who don't know, you submit the first 7,000 words or about 20 pages of your novel, no synopsis. Three first round trained judges score the entries. Finalists are judged by professionals in the industry. It is a competitive contest, where making the finals is a big deal. Out of 63 entries in the paranormal category, both KINDRED OF THE FALLEN and PARADOX tied for third place. When I told my husband, he promptly congratulated me. My response, “Why am I not happy about it?” After a sympathetic hug, he simply said, “Because you’re an overachiever.” It’s true, overachievers live by the motto that second place is first place loser. Finishing third is … well, you get it.

At first I entered contests for feedback and to garner some wins for the credentials paragraph of a query letter. Then I set out hoping to entice an editor to request the full. This would open the door to potential publication through an editor and it would give me another line to add in a query letter to attract agents. Blocks checked. Now, I am going through the query process slowly, in small batches. So what could I possibly hope to achieve from this contest that would make me happy? At the time I entered back in September, I only had one win and no requests from editors yet. While waiting for the results of the Emily, the answer to my question eluded me. Then something unexpected happened.

I found out one of the final judges who is a bookseller ranked KINDRED OF THE FALLEN number 1 out 63. This is what he had to say:

“I’m impressed. The writing is evocative and descriptive, and the storyline compelling. The storytelling drew me in, and it makes me want to read the whole manuscript.
Assuming the remainder of the book is as well done, I would stock it in my store, hand-sell it, and bring the author in for an event. There is a very strong market right now for this type of fantasy/real-world crossover.
• The naming is excellent. Even details fit perfectly.
• This was the only contest entry I read where there wasn’t a single spelling error or grammatical inconsistency to distract me from the story. Or maybe it was there and the storytelling was so good I missed it. It works either way!
• I like the way the first page sets the genre. Clearly, we’re set in the modern world, but her “gift” makes it clear that the story will be paranormal.”

Touching someone who works in the next frontier, beyond the land of agents and editors, a bookseller and an avid reader, brought a new kind of joy and sense of achievement. Perhaps getting #1 in there somewhere also helped.

Being an overachiever means we strive to do the best in all of our endeavors. It also means the yardstick by which we measure our achievements is long and harsh. My yardstick is clearly a product of my childhood. I remember bringing home a test in a tough subject, 98 written across the top with a smiley face from the teacher, floating in a bubble of pride. I did not receive a “good job” or the classic attaboy one might expect. Instead I received, “What happened to the other two points?”

I’m not blaming my family for who I am today. I take full responsibility for lacking the personal insight required as an adult to modify my yardstick. I’m not looking to change it by much, just enough to find more joy in my accomplishments.
Did you know there is a formula for achievement? Where A=achievement, I=intelligence, and M=motivation, the formula reads A=I*M. I didn’t come up with it.

I’m more interested in the formula showing how our perceived level of achievement correlates to happiness. I ask all of you, how do you measure your achievements and how happy are you with them?