Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Contest Road ~ Part #1

I started entering contests almost as soon as I got my first book finished and I credit contests with leading me to publication.

There are a countless number of writer’s contests, did you know that? I did well, placed third in the first contest I entered. I was encouraged and I kept doing better as the years went by. The contests are critiqued by the judges and I learned a lot from those critiques. Also if you are a finalist, you get judged again. This time, by editors and agents. So this is a chance to get your work in front of people who might buy your book or sign you as a client. There came a time when I expected to final in any contest I entered. If you Google Mary Connealy Contest Diva there’s a website with a list of people who’ve won a lot of contests and I’m on it. I kept track for the last two or three years before I got a contract and I’d finalled in eleven contests with five different books.

I entered my manuscript Petticoat Ranch in ACFW’s Noble Theme contest in 2004. I was a double finalist, another book of mine, China Doll, was in the running, too. When I heard I was a finalist, I decided to attend the 2004 conference. A member of my online critique group said I could room with her. I had never been on a plane before and I had never gone on vacation without my husband, Ivan, before.

I don’t know if you can imagine the guts it took for me to go. Ivan, my husband, was great about it when I told him I wanted to go, spend all that money on my writing.

When you think about it. Me, saying to Ivan, “Honey, I want to fly to Denver and spend three days in a hotel with someone I met on the internet…” Well, he was a pretty good sport about it.


  1. I love your first conference story, Mary. Getting on that plane and rooming with a stranger did take guts. Exactly what this writerly life takes! Entering contests takes courage too. We all want to final or win, but that wasn't the case when I entered my first contest. More on that later. :-)

  2. Ah Mary, you are a true inspiration. You jumped off the cliff of uncertainly in attending a conference, flew through the whirlwind of The Call and publication, and are now the poster child for hard work and faith earning the rewards set out for you. Very, very proud of you kiddo!!

  3. Jumped off a cliff is about right.
    I've got a speech I call something like.

    Where I kept concentrating on writing the best book I could NO MATTER WHAT,
    Then added the ingredient of connecting to other writers. For a long time through contests then through eloops and critique groups, and at last conferences.
    And there, at the conference, inspired by the sessions and speeches, committed my work more fully to the Lord.
    I think they're all key ingredients to publication.

  4. I can imagine perfectly the guts it took. I was facing the same thing for the 2007 conference, until it didn't work out for me to go. I've never been on a plane, and for a while it looked like the very first time would be without my husband.

    Now next year's conference is in my home state. I won't have to fly.

  5. You're from Minnesota? Tina? That's practically next door to me in Nebraska.
    It was the bravest thing I'd ever done honestly. I mean, I didn't have a choice about labor and delivery, you know.
    Well, until I decided to go ahead and have three more kids...so I've been brave.

  6. LOL! Poor Ivan. Didn't know what his wife was getting into meeting all of us....


    Cheryl Wyatt

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  8. janet dean said...Getting on that plane and rooming with a stranger did take guts.

    I take offense. It wasn't that I was that much of a stranger--it took guts for her to room with me because she knew me so well from our online critique group. bwah, ha ha ha

    BTW, I was the category head when Mary sent in Petticoat Ranch for the Noble Theme (before she joined ACFW). When I realized she hadn't formatted her entry correctly because she didn't have internet access (yes, I had to contact her by FAX!), I gave her the heads up, sent her the formatting rules, and let her re-enter her submission.

    THEN, she ends up being put in my crit group when she joins ACFW! Tell me God doesn't work in mysterious ways. I bawled like a proud momma when Mary and another of our crit partners were announced winners at the Noble Theme that year.

    Makes me tear up just thinkin' 'bout it. Durn my hide.

    P.S. I deleted the previous post because I found a typo and I didn't want to shake Mary's faith in me. :-)

  9. You erased the comment? I figured someone moderated you, Darlin'.
    Suzanne taught me everything I know about being sassy.

    And she didn't just room with me. She kept dragging me out from behind couches and potted plants and making me say hello to people.

    I hope you're planning on coming to Minneapolis for the next conference.

  10. Maybe I'm premature on asking this, but ... does anyone else find that their comments as a finalist are harder to take (for many reasons, LOL) than first round??

  11. I was considering a blog post later on this Shannon, but I know that I judge a lot of contests, and when I have a beginner entry, I usually am very gentle with them and give them broad comments,

    'you need to set this scene better'

    'it's been too long with internal thoughts, break this up with action and dialogue.'

    General things like that. And lots of encouragement.

    'I can see a solid story here, don't give up on telling it to the best of your ability.'

    When someone did very well, and I see real developed skill and an author who I think is on the verge of publication, I get more specific, you might even say nitpicky. Mostly because an experienced novelist can take it better because they'd done it more.
    (Right? Please?)

    I can't know if your comments were overly harsh, but I do think a lot of times, you should take targeted, lengthy specific critiques as a compliment from a judge who is trying...maybe not in the very best way, but trying...to boost you up to a higher level in your writing.

    And as ALWAYS, Shannon, only make the changes that ring true to you. It's YOUR WORK.

    If two judges agree then take that more seriously, but ultimately it's your baby, your decision.

  12. Wow, I reread that and I sound kind of like Dear Abby or someone who isn't dead.....

    I just read the end of a book I'm revising...that I hadn't had out for a long time and I'm feeling kind of sappy.

    Hope that 'advice column' post helped. :)

  13. Mary, it's hard to imagine you nervous about anything because you've been so fun and open online. But I guess by the time I finally got to meet you at ACFW in 2005, you were a pro at flying and hanging out without Ivan. :)


  14. LOL, Mary! That was wonderful ... very insightful. Thanks so much!

    The paradox of being pushed harder because you're stronger and more experienced and better able to handle it, well ... let's just say that seems to sum up the whole last year and more, writing wise, for me. :-)

    I think what's hard for me to remember is that even when it seems a judge totally doesn't get some aspect of my work, that still gives me valuable feedback. It's a reader response, y'know? Is there something I can make more clear? Or is it something I have to just go on and trust the Lord on? (Something that published authors have to deal with all the time.)

    And you didn't sound sappy. :-) It helps, too, to be reassured that sometimes I do know best for my own work ... no matter whose opinion I get to the contrary. :-)

  15. Shannon you are the first to recognize my wisdom, but eventually everyone will.

    And Missy, surely you remember Ruthy Herne holding my arm in a death grip every time I tried to slink away and sneak in a 'nap' at the 2005 conference. She wasn't THAT subtle.

  16. Shannon, how nice to have you on board! And the fact that you've dealt with Mary up close and personal wins you kudos and probably commiseration among the ranks. Bless you, my child.


    I'm with Mary on this, that as an entry improves, I'm tougher but still complimentary, wanting to see the contestant nudged over that line to publication. But when they get to that point, sooooo close, they need good, hard tightening info. The old steel hand in a velvet glove routine, you know?


  17. Tina, thanks for stopping in! So much fun to 'see' (euphemistically speaking...) you guys.

    And it's very cool that the conference has been moved to the Twin Cities next year. I have a daughter there who has found herself a midwestern boy... Something about north woods, bears and moose... who knows? So we're welcoming midwestern boy into the family next July and it will be nice to have people to visit in Minneapolis/St.Paul.

    And thanks for thinking Mary's got guts. We usually call it other things, but glad she's got you fooled.

    Good job, Mare.

    Back to my rock.