The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an “honorable mention” as “a distinction conferred (as in a contest or exhibition) on works or persons of exceptional merit but not deserving of top honors”.
They are not participation trophies. I repeat, they are not participation trophies!
So what do writing contests have in common with reality TV competitions like “America’s Got Talent”, “The Voice” and “American Idol”? The answer is not crazy judges (or at least, not necessarily). Instead, both of these contests operate in similar fashion – by slowly whittling down the eligible entries over the course of several cuts, until only the finalists are left. Those entries which survive a cut or two but don’t make it to the semi-finals are usually conferred with some sort of “honorable mention” depending on their overall ranking. Thus, they aren’t given to everyone who enters – just to those who make it past the first cut.
How many writers eliminated per cut depends on the size of the contest, but it could be anywhere from thirty to seventy percent. Just ten percent of the submissions to the high-profile “Writers of the Future” contest receive some kind of “honorable mention” in a contest of hundreds if not thousands of entries. While it might not carry the cash or the publication of higher rankings in the contest, “honorable mention” is still nothing to sneeze at.
Why does all of this matter? Because writers need to celebrate their victories, even if they aren’t as big as they would like. Unfortunately, in a time of Millennial bashing, some confuse “honorable mention” with a “participation trophy” everyone receives. This just isn’t the case (nor would it be very helpful even if it was the case).
An unexpected victory, no matter how small, can fuel a writer’s passion for months to come. Whether it’s a kind word during a critique, a personalized rejection letter, or yes, even an honorable mention, a win is still a win. Writing is a solitary and often silent endeavor, making counting our wins all the more crucial. But there’s also plenty of negativity out there – so don’t let take your victory into the jaws of defeatism. Tune out the noise and focus on what you’ve accomplished – and where you are going next.