The gist of the letter read: "We are finalizing the details, notifying winners and arranging the top stories for publication in Monday Escapes. Since you emailed me I will tell you, your story was chosen as one of our top stories and we would like to publish it--however, it didn't win."
When the words "your story was chosen" popped out, the heart started racing. I won? I'm a winner? Me? When the words, "you didn't win" slapped me, the old heart stopped racing and slunk back into place. Then it started jumping again.
I did win. Sure, maybe it wasn't a prize or money, but this was an international contest. I was up against writers from all over the world, and my story made it into the top stories. That is an accomplishment. It would be published. That is an accomplishment! I was so excited I could barely contain it.
Who could I call? Who could I tell? Well, at 2:30 in the morning--nobody. Rats!
I didn't sleep at all for the excitement. As soon as my daughter stumbled to the bathroom I grabbed her, showing her the letter from the editor. "That's great, mom", she mumbled as she staggered back to bed.
Finally, the light in our bedroom came on. 30 minutes later, Frank swaggered through to his favorite chair.
"Guess what, honey? I entered a writing contest, you remember?, for a chance to win travel certificates. Well, I didn't win, but my story was one of the top stories! They are going to publish it on their website in the 'Monday Escapes'! And...It was an INTERNATIONAL contest. I was up against writers from all over the world!" I bobbed up and down as I told him this.
He scratched his belly, sat down, and took a long drink of Cheerwine. "So, you aren't getting paid for your story? They probably didn't give out any prizes, just told everyone they made the 'top stories' and they would publish them, for free."
Psssszzzzt! You could hear the air squeezing out of my balloon.
Never mind the honor of being published. Never mind that it was an international contest. Never mind that thousands would read my work online. Heck! It could've been Pulitzer Prize material. But...without pay, what was it?
It was free writing.
The first thing you learn as a writer, while dreaming of fame and recognition, is to have thick skin. Editors are sometimes brutal. Learn from your critics but don't let them crush you. Writing is subjective. You will be rejected.
Doesn't stop you from dreaming of contracts and loads of money and book signings on tropical islands. Doesn't make you long for the day when someone will say, "Hey, aren't you that author? Oh, I love your work!" It would be easy, in that position, to get the big-head, to start thinking, Man! I'm really somebody!
But that is why God gave me Frank. To keep me humble. To keep things in perspective.
To say: "So, it's free work?"
To keep me striving for the day when I can say, 'Keep your Pulitzer, just give the check to my husband.'