Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Contests-A Bitter Friend? by Cheryl Wyatt

By Cheryl Wyatt

The first five contests I entered, I came in dead last. I'm talking the kind of last where the losing entry above mine scored 154 points out of 300 possible...and I didn't break 40! LOL!

Why did I torture myself? Most feedback was helpful, plain and simple. But the main reason is I felt strongly that's where God wanted me to focus my time, effort and money for those three or so years I ran the contest circuit.

With difficult comments, I nursed my wounds, then got to work fixing that manuscript. I especially paid attention when more than one judge pointed out something.

After a year of entering, revising, entering, revising and doing this consistently, I started placing consistently. In an 18 month span, I had 7 manuscripts place 1st or 2nd in 12 RWA contests. In addition, I won First Place in ACFW's Noble Theme 2005 (Contemporary Romance Category), and First Place in ACFW’s 2006 Genesis (Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Category) with a different manuscript.

Days after winning that award, I sold my first book to Steeple Hill. My second sold shortly after.

Looking back on the journey, I realize why God veered me toward the contest circuit. In addition to equipping me to hear hard things about my writing, contests smoothed my transition of learning how to work with an editor. In contests, you have to format according to rules set forth in the contest. In publishing, you have to submit per house guidelines. In both, there are deadlines.

Contest feedback, though raw and hard to swallow at times, prepared me for what it's like to get editorial revision letters. You realize a book is a team effort. It takes a tribe to get the book shelf-ready. From marketing, to art, to each stage of editing, the professional responsible for getting your book as salable as possible, has ideas about how to make things better.

This requires teachability, flexibility and ability to roll with changes while trusting that your editor (think: contest judge) has your best interest at heart, and only wants to make your book the best it can be.

Are contests worth it?

In my opinion, absolutely. They not only strengthen your craft, they positively challenge your character to learn how to respond and act professionally. You grow. Your work grows.

Even if you lose, if you respond rightly, ultimately, it’s a win-win situation.



Jess said...

Ohhhhhhh, so that's the trick. You gotta respond RIGHTLY. LOL

Honestly, that is the trick, Cheryl. When I first look at my feedback, I never quite get it. I have to put scores and comments away and go back to them to get anything out of them at all. I'm sort of a 'last word' kind of person. Gotta have it. I imagine there are judges out there who hate me because of my stilted thank-you notes.

At conference I looked into every face and if that person didn't smile, I thought "ohhhhh, you judged me, didn't you? And you got one of my crisp thank-yous." Is that guilt? Or just good old paranoia? HA!

Cheryl sums it up nicely: Respond rightly.

P.S. So good seeing you at conference, Cheryl. You smiled at me! :)

Julie Lessman said...

Beautifully put, Cheryl! Respond rightly. I guess that means not harassing the contest coordinator, doesn't it? Gotta go ... I have some repenting to do.

Pam Hillman said...

Funny how some of these posts are bringing memories to the surface that I had completely forgotten about. I entered my first contest in 1995 or it might have been 1996….Back then, FHL had the only game in town for inspirationals with the Touched By Love contest.

About that time, I determined that I would not query a publishing house until I had finalled in a contest. I don’t know why I made this little rule for myself, but it was probably because I had no clue how subjective contests really are. The other reason was that I had queried an editor right out of the starting gate (in ‘94 I think) and received a request. In the meantime, I met my first group of writers who red-lined my stuff, and I realized how awful my writing really was. Thankfully, said editor changed publishing houses about that time and I never did submit to her. This is a good thing, Ruthy, trust me. I might still have an open door with her…otherwise…eeek!

The editor? Karen Ball.

I treasure that letter to this day! In Karen’s defense, she didn’t actually see any of my writing, just a poorly worded query letter, typos and all. She probably read between the lines and saw how green I was and had pity on me.

Jess said...

Julie, you don't look like you'd harass anyone. :) I'm the one who needs to repent. Not for anything nasty, just my tone of voice. The judges might not hear it, but God does. And from the abundance of the heart. . . yikes, scary, huh?

Pam, I remember when Touched by Love was the only game in town. Isn't it amazing how things have changed... and are still changing?

Honestly, ladies, the feedback I receive when I enter contests is for the most part really helpful. And I do appreciate the judges and their time. I'm not mean... I promise. I've judged for years and it's sure not an easy job.

And this blog is making me want to get out the checkbook and enter contest after contest, but I don't think my dh would appreciate that.

Mary Connealy said...

Jess, I don't think Cheryl meant respond with a nice thank you note. :)
Although this is bringing something back...did we by chance MEET through one of your thank you notes???
Anyway it must have been okay because we've been talking ever since. AND I don't put my name on EVERYONEs entry. So if that was how we met, I must have liked your work a lot.
Anyway, what I think Cheryl meant...and isn't THAT just like writing...everyone taking something different away from the same words...
Is; Respond rightly as far as revising your work.
Lots of great stuff comes from contest judges.
Honestly if you fully understand all the judge's comments you're not getting much help.
I mean...who knows what POV means just in their regular life? That's a writer-only term.
What does it really mean to Use the Five Sense. Set the Scene. What's RUE, what's GMC?
This is all techno-writer babble and of course you don't know what it means at first. It's all part of learning and it's way, way better to learn this from a contest judge, powerless, equipped only with experience and her own battle scars from the world of publishing, then from an editor who may not give you a chance the next time.

Jess said...

Hi Mary, first - no, we didn't meet because of one of my thank-you notes. LOL We met on The Writer's View, remember? You were my 'mentor' according to Chip's little project. We traded a couple of mss for awhile. :) You absolutely HAVE to remember!!!

I got what Cheryl meant. But what jumped out at me (a message from God?) was my thank-you notes and how they really might not sound appreciative. That made me feel like I wasn't responding RIGHTLY. I sort of feel like my notes are 'critiquing' the judges comments. LOL I'm thinking of one judge in particular. And feeling bad.

I never really know what to say to a judge when she makes an obvious error... an assumption that is totally wrong. That's what I mean when I say I have to have the last word. It really shouldn't matter to me. Having the last word is never a good thing.

Okay, I promise I won't post again today. I'm taking up space. Don't any of you comment to know how I am about 'the last word.'

Mary Connealy said...

AHHH that's right. The Paul Timothy Barnabas thing... or whatever it was.
He talked about that some more at the conference.
I didn't know who Chip MacGregor was back then when he teamed us up.
I also don't remember who my Paul was.
Don't respond if you can stop yourself. :)
This is me saying only...
"You're right."

Tina M. Radcliffe said...

Wow, great post, Cheryl. Speaking of contests; did you all see the Carly Phillips, Sealed With a Kiss Contest on EHarlequin??

Mary Connealy said...

And again, the dates were clear, Cheryl, did this odyssy of trail, defeat, failure and try again last how long? Was it two or three excrusiating years.
We won't talk about my first words going on the computer when my baby went to kindergarten and the published book landing in my hands two months before she GRADUATED.

Debby Giusti said...

No wonder I love you, Mary! We both were at it for a long, long time!

Cheryl, loved how you won two biggies and then got "The Call." I'm posting tomorrow and will talk about my contest wins that led to publication.

Contests will soon be back in my life . . . yours too, Mary! Since our books have a 2007 copyright, we're eligible to submit to contests next year! (Okay, Mary, I know you're aware of that little detail, but I mentioned it so others could be clued in.) Not sure I'm ready to jump into the circuit again. Laying low for a couple years has been nice. :)

ScrollSquirrel said...

Jess, it was great meeting you too. I can't imagine anyone not smiling at you.

Thanks for supporting our Seeker blog with your readership!


ScrollSquirrel said...

Julie, I know what you mean about the need to repent...though I think you were probably kidding. LOL!

I didn't say I respond rightly AT FIRST. LOL! I got mad as heck most times.

But after a few days of abolishing the comments to a dungeon...errr..I mean a drawer...I see things in a differetn light, especially after prayer.

Doesn't hurt to kick a few cabinets at first though. LOL!


ScrollSquirrel said...

LOL, Pam about the letter Karen Ball read.

A sense of humor is a good thing to have in those cases. LOL! Good thing Karen does. It probably makes her more gracious than grumpy when a submission is green. LOL!

And I had no idea just how subjective this industry is. Wowza.


ScrollSquirrel said...

Yeah, Mary....I didn't mean Thank You notes.

In fact...that's another thing I need to repent over....bring on the dust and ashes.

I've been SOOO bad about mailing thank you's. you think it would be tacky to just mail the judge my January release instead?

I don't mean that in a mean way...

He he he.


ScrollSquirrel said...

Tina, I hadn't heard of that contest. I'll have to check it out.


ScrollSquirrel said...

EEEEK! Debby,

I thought once you gals sold, I wouldn't have to go up against you anymore. LOL! day, prayerfully SOON, all Seekers will, once again, go head to head in PUBLISHED contests!.

Dang....means I'll probably come in dead last AGAIN. LOL!


Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Cheryl, What great insight. It is true that after working with critique groups and contest feedback, working with an editor is a piece of cake. It helps to get your name out there too. I remember when you won those awards and how exciting it was. Great job Miss Author.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, Cheryl-Squirly, you've taken a step back in time and brought up some great memories.

I had the honor of being one of Cheryl's first judges. I'm not going to reveal how many ms's she entered in the Barclay, but let it suffice to say I thought she was a 'plant', one of those people who scam a contest to see if the manuscripts REALLY get read, then if the contest blows it, they blast you online with hoots and jeers. That was happening a few years back, kind of like the whole Publish America thing, and it wasn't pretty.

Seriously. Cheryl had these great intros, then lost her timeline, her thread, and possibly her mind...

All the while I was scratching my head (no fleas, thank you) and saying, "What on earth is she doing????"

It was so obvious that she was talented, but also obvious that something was drastically (and I mean that in the most sincere way, honey-bunch) wrong. Like, really, really wrong. Bi-polarism crossed my mind. Manic schizophrenia. You name it, I considered it. At one point, on one manuscript where the wrath of God had rained upon these poor people for page after page, I remember writing something like, "Honey, let 'em up for air, why don't you? Doesn't anything nice happen in this story? Ever?"

Mind you it was a 55 page entry...

I found out later that Cheryl had no idea how to cut, paste and delete in those early days so she just kind of ... um.... hacked. Which meant she was inserting things that weren't exactly timely, not deleting others.... Hysterical.

Cheryl, I'll probably put this precious memory in one of my posts (just to embarrass you because, yes, it is THAT much fun) but also to show others how important it is to stick with it. Your talent shone through the mechanical errors, and I do remember noting that on each entry.

And to this day I'm glad you weren't a scam artist, LOL!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, and Cheryl, great picture! Isn't it wonderful what they can do without invasive surgery these days?????? Who knew?

Ducking back under my rock,


Julie Lessman said...

LOL, Cheryl. what a line! " you think it would be tacky to just mail the judge my January release instead?"

Oh, do it, do it! I just might. I guess that means we BOTH have to send a book to Ms. Ruth Logan Herne with a note that says, "Take that, "Misjudge." :)

By the way, Cheryl, forgot to mention your glam photo--awesome!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Hey, hey, hey, Ms. Jules, author extraordinaire....

I seem to remember being the judge that said something to you like:

"Honey, should the dog and the housemaid and the horse all have their own pov's? Think we could drop a few, hmmm????"

And: "Wow, this is actually a delightful read, but it's not a romance. Definitely more of an Irish family saga, Maeve Binchy style..."

And, um, not for nothin', but just HOW did Revell describe your book?

Let's see, oh, that's right, something about Maeve Binchy? And that it was an Irish family saga, spiritually based.

Uh, huh. I rest my case.

And I do love both you pictures. I'm just wondering if my Blue Choice covers a portion of the cost?

Just thinking out loud.

Ruthy (who drove into town to buy a cheap pumpkin spice cappuccino for strength before sending out a contest entry.... Well worth it, I might add.)

Pam Hillman said...

A free book is much more thoughtful than a thank you note...however, I don't think publishers give out that many author copies. lol

Missy Tippens said...

Okay, no time to repsond to everyone. Suffice it to say that you all crack me up! :)


ScrollSquirrel said...

He he he, Ruthy!

Okay, now I get to tell a story on you....

So I get these Barclay comments back...cry my eyes out...then (as Ruthy says..put my big girl panties back on) and got to work fixing stuff and applying most if not all of what Ruthy said in her comments.

Guess what happened next?

I beat her butt in a contest! LOL!

That's what she gets for being such a great teacher. He he he he.

And yes, I circulated 7 (count them) 7 manuscripts in contests that year because I was trying to see which ones to move forward with and which ones to dump.

How tacky that people would try to discredit a contest. Sheesh.