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.