Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Contests--a valuable tool

In 1997, as green as a gourd in spring, I joined Romance Writers of America and immediately entered my first book in a contest. When the entry came back, I ranked 38th out of 40. I was shocked. I’d expected to win. LOL I could fill a page with the problems the judges saw in that chapter. Some quotes: “Very long and, I’m sorry to say, boring chapter.” Ouch. “Back story dump.” What? “Start the book here.” Ah. “Dialogue is stiff and formal.” Sigh. “POV switches.” What? No doubt those judges pulled out huge hanks of hair as they read my chapter, but they also found something positive to say. I clung to their encouraging words and revised.

I’m not admitting all this because I’m proud, at least not of the work. But looking back I am proud of me. I found out POV stood for point of view and learned what that meant. I learned to sprinkle in back story and leave the reader guessing. I learned to read dialogue aloud. I learned the importance of conflict. I reworked that book for a year, but it never did final. The lesson—move on. Write another book.

Then enter that book. Not that I agreed with every judge on every point, but I always found a valuable nugget or two. As I got savvier, I entered contests with editor judges I wanted to target. In 2001, I placed first in Windy City’s The Four Seasons and won overall with the contest’s highest score. In 2005, I was a finalist in RWA’s Golden Heart, which gives no feedback, but the recognition was thrilling. In 2006, I was an American Christian Fiction Writers’ Genesis finalist and a once again a Golden Heart finalist. I didn’t know it at the time, but these were to be my last unpublished contests. I sold my book in 2006, nine years after I wrote the first one.

Nine long years of ups and downs, of rejection. But the contests I did well in kept the process exciting. Those I tanked in toughened up my hide. I now have that rhino hide Mary Connealy talked about in an earlier post, a definite plus for a writer. Even after selling.

I still have contest fever. As soon as my debut novel, Courting Miss Adelaide, a Steeple Hill Love Inspired historical is released in September 2008, I’ll enter it in contests for published authors. There’s the Rita, Peoples’ Choice Award, Booksellers’ Best... A gal’s got to reach for the stars.

So live your dream. Enter those contests. Find a critique partner. Open yourself to criticism. The rewards far outweigh the cost.


  1. Janet, Maybe we should have named this blog Rhino Hideville instead of Seekerville. :)
    All those things you said they told you in the first contest, now of course we know what that means, POV, Backstory Dump, Where to start the book...
    We know what that means...because a contest judge told us.
    I've always thought I was a good storyteller. But there are mechanics to writing that are just NOT automatic.
    And you can't succeed without trying and you can't try without failing.
    So get tough. Enter a contest.
    My only concern...do you think entering is like...an addiction? Because I just entered the Rita and there are a zillion published author contests out there, calling to me, enter...enter...enter...

  2. Mary, with a blog named Rhino Hideville, we'd probably receive oodles of tips for skin care. Hmm, that's not a bad idea!

    I'm sure entering contests is addictive. At least it's not illegal or fattening. LOL

  3. Thanks, Tina!

    Tina is a contest Diva. Any idea how many you've entered?

  4. Janet, I can’t imagine you being green at anything…unless it’s your beautiful green eyes. They are green, aren’t they? For some reason, they just FEEL green!

    Contests are definitely an addition. The GH deadline is coming up. I've got the shakes just thinking about it.

  5. So, I told you guys I was going to enter the Rita. The books are due January 2nd or so. Do you think I'd look like an over eager dunderhead if I sent the books now? --- And yes, Ruthy I mean even MORE of a dunderhead than usual.
    I keep thinking of Cheryl and Camy and the books and manuscript chapter entries piling up on their tables. Do I want to be part of this avalanche in someone else's home this early?
    Any thoughts?

  6. Janet, words of wisdom!

    And Mary, you're not a dunderhead. Of course the coordinators want you to send in your entries in time for their pre-holiday celebrations. Who doesn't need something else to shift off tables????

    You go, girl!

    Grinning in upstate NY,


  7. Um, well, I have entered contests 119 times with a total of 9 or 10 manuscripts.

    I could give you the statistics but I am out of Pepto Bismal and I really have a lot of writing to do today. Sounds like another blog to me.

  8. Pam, My eyes are green. I used to say hazel, but they've changed. I'm glad. What kind of a color is hazel anyway?

    Mary, send your Rita entry whenever you want...unless there's a penalty for early. Now what's the deal about copyright dates? You have to enter the book the same year it's released so if it's a 2007 book, but you don't send it until January 2008, that's still okay because you registered in 2007. Right?

    Tina, entering 119 contests is awesome!!! You definitely have a topic for another blog. I should count up. I'm guessing I'm close to you, minus the 100.

  9. Send them in, Mary. They'll appreciate your eagerness. Maybe.

    I love entering contests. It's exciting to me to get my scores back. Of course, I usually get annoyed that I got the wrong judges AGAIN. (Kidding!)
    Does anyone know a website that has a list of contests? I've been compiling my own list, but most of them require membership in RWA, and the $100 membership fee is too steep for me right now.

  10. Hi Melanie. Good to see you! Yeah, RWA non-member contest fees are steep. I've only entered RWA or ACFW contests so I'm not much help. Tina said Stephie Smith had contest info on her Web site. I'll try to dig up more info.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. oops, forgot to put the link for Associated Content..sorry.


  13. Tina knows EVERYTHING, Melanie. You must listen to her. :) Thanks for stopping by our blog. Turns out that, between all of us Seekers we've entered and won every contest on earth...uh...lost about ten times that many, too.

  14. And some of us ran a few contests, too. I coordinated Northeast Indiana Romance Authors' The Opening Gambit for two years. Lots of work, but very gratifying, especially when I got to call the winners.

  15. Hi, Tina sent me a note to tell me you mentioned my contest chart (Thanks, Tina!). I do try to put under the eligibility column if you have to be a member of RWA.

    Since part of the URL was cut off, it's www.stephiesmith.com/contests.html

  16. And she went to the trouble of giving us a hot link. What a gal.

    Thanks, Stephie!!! Your site is awesome. A contest addict's dream come true. Thanks for the hard work.

  17. Stephanie, what a great resource. Thank you so much for sharing that link.

  18. Janet, it's SO much fun hearing your contest war stories!! But, gosh, if I listed all the "constructive" comments I got from judges, I'd run out of blog space.

    And I love, love, LOVE the idea of garnering tips on skincare (re: your response to Mary's post)! I'll take all the help I can get.

  19. Thanks for all the great info and links! You guys are the best. :-)

  20. Melanie, I love your postive take on the contests: You just got the wrong judges! :) LOVE IT!

    I'll have to dig out my old sheet of paper that lists all the contests I've entered. I think I have it entered on my old computer, too. I know, though, that it won't be anywhere near Tina's number! I'd guess I'm somewhere around 20.


  21. I can't wait for your book to come out, Janet!!

    And man, oh man...how does one grow rhino hide? LOLOL! When someone figures it out...let me know.

    I think it helps to know helpful contest feedback will prepare you for your first revision letter. He he he.