Long lists, what are they good for? Absolutely nothing...
This was the rather tongue-in-cheek comment I made as part of The Writing Competition Entrants' Manifesto, a plea to writing competition organisers to make entering their competitions just a little less stressful for us poor writers. It was a throw-away comment, just putting it out there that I don't like long lists. Little did I know that it would be the part of the Manifesto that attracted most debate.
There are two types of long list: those that appear before the final results are announced, and those that appear after. To be clear, it is the first that I really object to. Waiting for results of competitions can be stressful. Some people get positively obsessed, checking their email, stalking the organisers on Twitter and Facebook. Personally, I like to enter a competition and, as much as possible, forget about it. It helps that I enter a lot of competitions, so there is always the next one to think about. I keep a spreadsheet to track entries and make a note on there when the results are expected, just so I can double check. But generally I try not to think about it too much.
However, if I find out a few weeks before the results come out that I am on the long list, it's so much harder to forget about it. Knowing I've crossed that first hurdle makes it all but impossible not to indulge in those little daydreams where I am the awards ceremony, designer be-frocked, perfectly coiffed and shod, on the arm of Ryan Gosling - oh, sorry, that's my Oscar ceremony fantasy. Moving on...
I find the disappointment of not making the short list or the winner's enclosure worse if I know I'm on the long list. The punch feels a little harder. This may not be entirely logical, but it's the way it feels to me. And the agony of waiting is ratcheted up, another tightening of the ropes on the rack.
For media-savvy competition organisers, publishing a long list before the final results is a great way to get people talking. It's a smart move, even if it does add to the agony of those waiting. The inaugural Bath Short Story Award has been notable for its great use of Twitter. Friendly, approachable, happy to answer random writerly questions, they have ensured that people are talking about them for the right reasons. And with their long list due to be published in a few days time, they have got us all talking about it, even me, a long list refusenik. So the pre-results long list is here to stay. I just have to find a way of dealing with it.
Finding myself on the other sort of long list, the one that is published after all the winners, runners-up etc have been announced, is a different experience altogether. In the past, I've regarded it as a consolation prize. I've had the burn of disappointment, but there is the balm. I recently found myself on the long list for the Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Prize 2013. Fish are famed for their looooong long lists. In this case, it was a list of 348. I was pleased to be there, of course, but when lovely writerly tweeps tweeted to congratulate me, I was a bit dismissive. It's such a long list, where's the achievement in that?
As it turns out, getting on the long list, any long list, is a bigger achievement than I ever realised. Writers who have been on the other side of the judging table tweeted to tell me that the cut from the entire field to the long list is the hardest for judges, and any story that ends up on the long list is a potential winner. As Tracey Upchurch recounts on her blog, she used to think being long listed was like being called someone's 'third favourite girlfriend', but Tania Hershman put her right, pointing out that the long list separates the great stories from the not-so-great. Who wouldn't want to be on a list like that? According to Vanessa Gebbie, getting on the long list means a story 'has legs', one of the most encouraging things you can hear about your work.
So the next time I find myself on a long list, I won't look on it as a consolation prize. Being on the list means that someone, somewhere, read my story amongst many, many others and thought it might possibly be a winner. That's quite an achievement.