Dealing with writing contest disappointment

Last week calls went out to a few dozen special romance writers – finalists in the RITA and Golden Heart contests, put on every year by the Romance Writers of America.

I didn’t get a call.

Broken heart

Rejection is always difficult to accept. When a creative project you’ve spent months – or years – working on is rejected, it’s agonizing.

I love the day the RITA and Golden Heart calls go out. For a romance writer, it’s the most exciting day of the year, even more so than the night when the winners are announced. Everyone starts the day full of excitement, and there are massive amounts of congratulations across Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

But as the day goes on, people begin to lose heart. At least, that’s how I feel. I see my category filling up with finalists, and I check my phone for missed calls. I cheer for my friends and for complete strangers, but inside I die a little.

So how do you deal with contest disappointment? Here’s what I do.

1. Remind yourself that the contest isn’t your actual goal.

The Golden Heart is amazing. Thrilling. And it can be really tempting to think it’s the ultimate goal since it’s so much fun. But my goal is to be published. The Golden Heart would be one step on that path, but it’s not the only way to get there. And it’s not my end goal.

2. See how you can improve.

What makes the Golden Heart particularly hard is the fact that you don’t get feedback – other than some scores from anonymous judges – so it’s difficult to know what you can improve.

With other contests, it’s important to read through the feedback and decide what makes sense to you. I’ve had some amazingly helpful critiques by contest judges who helped me see problems I didn’t realize existed in my stories. This kind of feedback is invaluable.

3. Don’t settle for cliches. 

This will piss some people off. I’m sorry.

Before calls even went out, there were lots of people trying to console those who wouldn’t final. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.

But there are a few cliches that really bug me as a professional writer who’s working hard to make a career as a novelist, especially this one: “You should be proud that you even finished writing a novel.”

Okay, yes. That’s something to be proud of. But I think it’s dangerous to console yourself with this if your goal is to become published. If you want to be a published novelist, finishing a novel is the very least you should expect of yourself. When I see this cliche, it makes me feel like someone’s actually saying, “Hey, you didn’t finish the marathon, but you put your running shorts on and that’s what really counts.”

4. Get on with your work.

In order to distract myself from the fact my phone wasn’t ringing, I set to editing one of my novels. I had a tough section of the book to work on, so it took a lot of concentration.

In between shouting out to friends who’d heard good news and checking my phone, I managed to edit around 50 pages. By the end of the day, my disappointment in not being a finalist was tempered with pride and satisfaction that I’d done so much.

How do you deal with disappointment in your career, or in writing contests?


By Kat

Kat Latham writes sexy contemporary romance, including the London Legends rugby series. With degrees in English lit and human rights, she loves stories that reflect the depth, humor and emotion of real life. She's a California girl living in the Netherlands with her baby girl and British husband.


  1. Hi Katrina – I think one of the things you left off here is that there are a lot of really good books that aren’t chosen to win. The competition is fierce. Also, you can’t know who got your book to read. Maybe your topic just didn’t work for one judge but the rest loved it (you won’t know until you get your scores). So, although you didn’t final, it doesn’t mean you suck. 🙂

  2. Hi Kat!

    Thanks for a great post. I know this feeling all too well. I try to tell myself that every rejection or lost contest means I’m one step closer to the submission that will be accepted, or the contest that my story will win. If that fails, I console myself by reading about how many successful writers have faced rejection, and remind myself that being rejected means I’m submitting, which means I’m writing, which is the most important thing.

    It does suck though, and it’s okay to feel bad about it, at least for a day or two 🙂 Keep writing! I for one cannot wait to read one of your novels.


  3. Hwy Kat,

    I know the feeling. My ms never made it into the top 25%, and yet went on–unchanged–to win a RITA two years later. It’s all totally subjective. And it’s definitely NOT about you. I also think that because there are no crits given with the GH, it’s easier for judges to count off for picky things that really have little bearing on the work itself. I’ve judged in many contrests, and I’ve found that it’s often the unpubbed judge who gives the harshest criticism–probably because as unpubbed we try so hard to get it right, we sometimes get caught up on the little stuff. But, I agree, the disappointment is hard. But you’ll get there. I know. I’ve read your stuff, remember.

  4. I know how disappointing that is but I think you handled it well by immersing yourself in work. And you are building something far more valuable than contest wins–connections and an audience. I know I won’t be the only one waiting to buy your books when they get published. 🙂

  5. Yeah, I agree with you. Rejection is one of the fact that we could not accept but being rejected makes you to inspire to do better and better. I understand what you feel because I also experienced so many rejections in my life even in my family.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that, Marnie. Rejection sucks, but like you say, it can inspire you to be better.

      Here’s wishing you lots of success in life!

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