Naming names (and titles).

I'm a nosy person, and I like information. I'm also really competitive. So personally, I like it when publishers post the semifinalists and finalists for contests. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that I relish reading the lists and comparing them with other lists.

However, as an editor I'm not sure that publicly naming names (and titles) is the best thing to do. I absolutely think the authors should know, but at some point does the "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" syndrome affect a manuscript's confidence and viability? It really shouldn't. It doesn't change the work at all, and if it's good, it should be recognized, even if it isn't the final pick. But I still wonder.

When a former incarnation of my first book was a finalist at a bunch of places, it was a finalist with other finalists it had hung out on other lists with for other contests. In order for it to go all the way I had to write a bunch of new poems and give it a new name. I didn't opt, as many folks do, to tell publishers about my near misses, and if I did I made sure I mentioned it was a former version of the book. It's funny to replace this practice with poems. The enclosed submission has received encouraging rejections from Ploughshares and Pleiades, and a smiley face from Mid-American Review. We probably wouldn't do that.

How do you feel about publicly naming names (and titles)? Is it good publicity, or potentially problematic?


Justin Evans said…
While I would be thrilled on a personal level that I was names a finalist, I am not sure I would like it advertised. I certainly would never state that in a submission cover letter.

As a writer, I would like to know what company I am in when I submit to a contest (only after everything has been said and done) but I ma with you on this. I would only like the other submitters and myself to know about who came close or closest. It really does feel like personal information.

In the Nevada Arts Grant system, notes are given back to those who submit, and only the cash recipients are listed for the public. I know it's not possible for the contests to run that way, but I like the mix of public and private the Nevada Arts Council offers.

As for my book: It is what it is, and I don't really see my changing it. If I don't get some positive feedback for this year of submitting it t contests, I am going to be taking it off the market and printing it myself. I need to move on to other projects that aren't almost as old as my oldest son.
Adam Deutsch said…
Name of the writer, yes. Name of the manuscript, no.

I'm having a hard time trying to think of how to explain why. It's something like this: by naming the poet, you're naming someone who has and does write poems. By naming the manuscript that may or may not get made into a book, it's like naming a possibility.

Just seems to up the ante on heartbreak.
Publicly naming names and poems somehow seems so uncomfortable. I think there are great ways to acknowledge really stand-out work--thoughtful feedback on the rejected MS and some thoughts on what made it come so close to winning but held it back, for instance--but publicly posting willy nilly for all of the insecurities of this world to nibble away at is an awkward, awkward thing.

And I would never tell people about my "encouraging" rejections. Or about the smiley faces on my rejections from MAR. I love that journal and would love to see my work there someday, but still after 5 years of encouraging rejections and nice words and smiley faces, I keep on getting encouraging rejections and nice words and smiley faces.

I am more likely, however, to point out that 1. I am an incoming PhD student in creative writing, 2. my department's CRW fellow, 3. that I have work forthcoming in Barn Owl Review and Subtropics--even if these are my only two "bites" in the last few years!, and 4. a couple of places that published my poems, even if that happend (what feels like...) a very long time ago. I want to celebrate the good, as it's far more testimony to me as a writer and me as someone who other writers--and editors--have belief in. The bad--or, at least, the rejection--is sort of a given which, to some extent, any writer just needs to accept, write off as a reality, and keep on keepin' on.
jeannine said…
So, as someone trying out to figure out a publisher's taste, listing names and titles is very helpful - because sometimes I've never heard of the winner, but I'll know five of the finalists. The titles can also give you a feeling for the publisher - for instance, if five of the finalist's titles have to do with pop culture or prairie dust, you have a feeling for the flavor of the press.
Anne said…
I like knowing names for the same reasons others have mentioned -- gives me a sense of the publisher's taste (or a better sense, if I already knew something about it), and sometimes it makes me feel better. (like "OMG, I've heard of every one of those finalists and I've read some of their books and they were really really good, so maybe it's OK that they beat me out" kind of thing.)

I like lists of titles because I just plain like reading lists of titles. I go to bookstores and libraries and just stare at titles. There might be a twelve-step program for that.
Jay Robinson said…
I'm not a fan of letting everyone know who came close but didn't win.It's sort of like back in high school when Aaron Keck told us Lauren Krueze (clearly out of Aaron's league) would THINK about going to prom with him. He was pretty excited. The rest of us didn't have anything to say. And while that's a flawed analogy, what rings true is that it's nice to come close to winning, but it doesn't mean anything in the end. You're just going to have to go back to square one if you want to get your manuscript published. Besides, I want to know who won, not who finished second, third, fourth, etc....
Nin Andrews said…
I guess I'm an all or nothing person. I hated being told I was a finalist --esp before the results were in. I just hated it. But after the fact--it made me feel as if I'd been read and maybe I was on the right track. But I'm not sure I like having the world know. So I think that's fair. The process is so hard on the writers AND the judges. Anything to ease the process . . .

I love the analogy of having someone tell you they ALMOST considered you for the prom. I actually had some asshole say that once, and I thought it was so condescending, I had to answer well, it sure is nice that I didn't ALMOST have to tell you no.

A big party for the winner is the best thing. And for the readers and judge. I think.
Naming finalists is good for about a dozen reasons, not least of which is transparency in contests.
P. J. said…
If it's good enough for Elia Kazan, it's good enough for me.
John Gallaher said…
Well, a smiley-face from MAR, that surely should go on any submission!

I like long lists of finalists and semi-finalists. The one from Cleveland a couple weeks ago is a great example. I like seeing what people are up to. It's like a newspaper.

Being a finalist is important. I don't personally believe in the finalist jinx. But maybe I will later this evening.