Monday, October 15, 2007

Grab the Kleenex, You've Entered a Contest!

The land of Seekerville got its start because of contests, so it seems only fitting that we Seekers blog about what brought us together.

You know the drill. You work, you submit, you get rejected, whine, cry, edit, improvise, learn, edit some more, watch and learn, listen and learn, enter a contest, get some good feedback, change things up a bit, enter again and BLAM!

You final. Yippee! Yowza!!! Kowabungas! At last: Pay dirt. Well, okay, there is no pay for the most part, but your name gets around, people start to notice, you end up on some pretty significant desks and wait for that possible call for a ‘full’ or the ultimate first sale.

That’s how we came to be. Contest divas, working hard, taking advice, drying our tears, pulling up our big girl panties and chugging ahead despite the odds. For us more stubborn types, maybe defying the odds would be more accurate. We kept bumping heads in contests, placing, winning, crashing and burning, you name it, we did it. And we took our share of slap-downs, but we bandied around enough to know that we would be a formidable group if we worked together, helping one another, encouraging one another, and praying for each other.

Ya gotta be tough if you’re going to play the contest game. I mean that. Tough, succinct, strong, and persevering. And since I don’t have a ‘sugar daddy’, my contest entry fees came from working a second job. Still do. (For those of you scratching your head and wondering: Why would anyone DO that?, I’ll tell you: A new career is an investment of time and money. Education is an investment of time and money. Authors get educated by four things: experience and practice, practice, practice.)

I’m a big believer in hard work. That it pays off in the end and only quitters quit. Now, this ain’t no Declaration of Independence, Sugar-beans. Not all contests are created equal. Contest judging is subjective, but then, so is readership. Think everyone that reads your masterpiece is going to love, love, love it?

Think again. If nothing else, contests prepare you for the best and worst of readership. The ones who extol your virtues, your talents and your work and the ones who totally don’t ‘get it’ and write really bad reviews on Amazon and B&N, etc.

Contests toughen you. That’s not a bad thing. As a long-time soccer coach, my biggest goal wasn’t winning games, but strengthening my players. As a result, we won lots of games.

Be strong. Be tough. Go for the gold.

And may God hold you in the palm of His hand.


Mary Connealy said...

Well, Ruthy, if Tina is the Queen of Seekerville, you would have to be our benevolent dictator.
The contests are absolutely legitimate for the simple reason that someone who doesn't know you AT ALL reads your book. That is always a legitimate test. If they're not reacting to your writing like you want, yes it could be them, but with a reader it's always THEM.
A neutral third party, hopefully neutral :), reacting to your words.
They get to have an opinion. Winning is fun. Losing is good experience for future rejections from publishers. It's all good.

Tina M. Radcliffe said...

For unpubs it is the same thing. A cold read is a priceless commodity. And if you can't handle the comments of a contest judge, how are you going to handle the comments of a...READER???

Mary Connealy said...

I've thought about doing something on this for a blog post later, but the thing I've learned (and I promise I take hits and let them knock me down sometimes, but STILL) I've learned that when someone is telling you their reaction to your book, you need to be VERY CONSCIOUS of your OWN reaction.
Are you sitting there defending yourself?
Are you saying, "Well, you just didn't get it. When I wrote that I meant...."
Stop that. Sit there and listen. Ask questions. Figure out, if they misunderstood something WHY they misunderstood. Their reaction is legitimate. They don't know what you MEANT to say, they only know what is on that paper and it's a chance to learn what they got, even if they got it all wrong.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary, that's a great point. Our reaction to people dismissing or not loving our work is kind of like 'dissing' my kid...


But you're right, what's understood in our brain as we write is not always depicted through our words and a contest is a good proving ground for that.

Ruthy, the benevolent dictatorial tyrant

Dineen A. Miller said...

Hey Ruthy,
Great post! Contests do stretch you, that's for sure, but for a beginning or intermediate writer, it's a great way to get feed back. I got the most usable stuff last year in the Genesis from my lowest score. And I mean it was a low one, but it helped me immensely despite the initial sting.

This past year I entered to get a ms in front of a particular editor and it paid off.

Lots of benefits to them. You just have to have realistic expectations.

Andrea said...


What a great topic! Everything you said is absolutely true, and it takes a lot of courage to keep at it. But if you do, the payoff is awesome. I sold my first novel Fearless to Alicia Condon of Dorchester because she judged the Marlene Contest that year and liked my entry enough to request the full.

So, dreams can come true. As long as you keep pushing them along :)

Andrea Wilder

Michael Ehret said...

Best line, bar none:

"Pulling up our big girl panties..."

You still got it, Ruthy.

So THIS year I final again with the same piece, although "improved" based on last year's suggestions, and end up scoring EVEN LOWER than the previous year.

Yeah, you gotta love contests. Love 'em or end up with a meat cleaver in your hands and a complete lack of memory from the past two hours...

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Dineen, isn't it amazing how we can often get the most from the least?

I've had that happen as well, and it's often the most thought-out critique of all. And super congrats for getting on that desk!!!!


Thanks so much for stopping by. (The check's in the mail...)


Ruthy (The benevolent tyrannical dictator)

Mary Connealy said...

Andrea be very, very careful with things like, "Ruthy everything you say is absolutely true."
All Seekers have committed to keeping her humble and it's no small task, let me tell you.
How's that going, Ruthy?

The contest emotions always reminds me of my daughter when she went through sorority rush week. Their slogan, "It's not Rush if you don't Cry."
So, I think of contests, in fact all of publishing a bit like that.
"It's not publishing if you don't cry."
Or maybe No Pain, No Gain.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Andrea, hey, welcome aboard!

I remember that well, and I've used your success story in writing classes and to shore up my buds when they're wondering what on earth they're doing entering contests.

And I loved Fearless. Loved it. Can't wait to see what else comes out of the Wilder homestead, and I worked with Alicia on the Barclay. Wonderful gal. Hope to meet her and others at RWA next year.

Gotta get together soon. Miss you!


Ruth Logan Herne said...


Hush, you!

Andrea understands my innate wisdom and superego...

It's definitely not limited to Seekerville, LOL!

And she was one of my earliest inspirations, when I head-hopped everywhere, wrote in present tense and, in general, mucked things up totally.

God love a patient woman, but I figured it was because she had little kids then and I was just another one.

With gray hair.

Under the L'Oreal, that is!!!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, Mike!!!!!!

That's so funny, (well, to me, anyway) and soooo true.

One person's improvements are another person's shoddy offerings, kind of like pink flamingos in the front yard.

Not everyone appreciates the effort.

But since you're a talented, smart, savvy and wonderful guy with a great wife (who helped him get his contest stuff together last year when I was helping with Genesis), I figure you're well on your way.

And isn't this a fun spot to meet? Grab some coffee?

Thanks for droppin' in, Bud. Bless you.

And I promise, I'll pay you. Just as soon as I get some money.


Michael Ehret said...

I'll take the puppy.

Pam Hillman said...

Naw, you wouldn't, Mike, Not after what he's been doing to the floor.

Yep, contests are great training on the way to becoming published. Maybe they're not for everyone, but when I first started writing, I thought I'd write it, become published, and the rest, as they say, would be history.

I've learned a few things since then...patience...lots and lots of that. I think I'm still working on that thick skin.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Isn't the puppy adorable?

There are three of them, actually. Two young females and a male I found in Minnesota (waving to all my midwestern buds, love the midwest, the cheese, the trees, the farmland, the people. Especially the people. I did notice that they tend to drive a bit slower than we New Yorkers...)

We'll breed them next year and sell the pups to help pay my contest fees, LOL!!!!!!!!


By then I might just owe you enough to hand over a pup! We'll talk.

Ruthy (the pup I'm holding in that picture is Maddy, short for Hearthside's Madison O'Malley. Pretty little thing. Almost five months old now and H-U-G-E...

But so sweet and eager to please. Except when they're chewing on my laundry.)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

When I talk with Pam about contests, I am actually truly humbled. She and Tina have put together an amazing array of wins, places and shows. Wonderful girls, great work ethics and beautiful work. Only a matter of time before they get snagged and contracted.

But patience, yeah, a big component in this business. And perseverance. Didn't Nora Roberts give a talk on that at RWA a few years back? How talent is wonderful, but it's perseverance that signs the check.

When things get tough, when we get knocked around, pubbed or aspiring, there's the rest of the group waiting and willing to help out...

To a point. Then we remind each other to suck it up and move on.

In as nurturing a way as humanly possible and still make the point!


Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Ruthie, You all have to know that Ruthie started us out because she emailed all of us who placed and said, "Hurry up and get published so we have a chance." So we have been working at it. She's a great encourager (taskmaster actually but I'm trying to be nice.) Thanks Ruthie Sandra Leesmith

a janas said...

It's nice to see other people share the same experiences as me. Not only in writing but in life. It's so important to take these lessons to heart. Perseverence is definitely the key to success. But the support of those around you is vital to enduring. It's great to see this group is there to support each other and inspire each other to push on to another contest. It's only through life's challenges that we learn exactly how far we can go. Keep it up!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Amanda! So nice to see you back at work.

Yeah, I don't mean to beat the subject to death, but I'm a big fan of seeing things all the way through, and having a positive support group (who really understand) is a good component for that. If your friends and colleagues let you wallow, maybe they aren't as interested in your success as they might seem...


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Hey, Sandy!

Being called a taskmaster is WAY nicer than Mary's benevolent dictatorial tyrant stuff. We all know I only pretend to be a tyrant. Mostly I'm teddy bear soft...

Okay, I am a tyrant but it's ingrained. At least I'm a humorous tyrant, and a loving one as long as everything goes my way 100% of the time!

Only half kidding.

A couple of things I never kid about:

God: Love Him. Love His Son. Find the gift of the Holy Spirit absolutely amazing. Blessings abound all around this woman who grew from a little girl born in poverty, and I knew they would if I could hang on long enough. Be strong enough.

Chocolate: God made women and thus created a need for chocolate and then provided for that need. End of science lesson, if "P" then "Q".... Simple in its factuality.

Derek Jeter: Are ya' kiddin' me??? If you don't know who Jeter is, Google the guy. NY Yankees shortstop with green eyes to die for. So serious. Good thing I'm married to a die-hard Yankees fan who understands that I love Jeter for his amazing baseball abilities...


Friendship: A gift from God to be treasured and nurtured, and if you forget to nurture it, a true friend still loves ya' and understands that life sometimes gets in the way.


Janet Dean said...

Loved your post, Ruthy! Bottom line for me, contests not only teach us plenty, they prepare us emotionally for submitting to editors. Very few writers sell with that first book or second or third or... So we must hang on to our goal, share the pain with those who understand the pain--other writers--and ask God for His help. After all He gave us the talent.

Pam Hillman said...

And she's not kidding about Jeter.... With Ruthy as a fan, the man doesn't need anybody else! I learned everything I know about Jeter from Ruthy.

ScrollSquirrel said...




Missy Tippens said...

Amen on Derek Jeter! ;)

Great post, Ruthy. I can't tell you how many contests have made me cry! And a couple almost made me quit writing. Seriously. But God had other ideas and gave me enouragment from different places just when I needed it. Thank you, Lord!


Beth said...

I love The Seekers! Even the name of your close-knit group hits the nail on the head. Isn't that what we're all doing? Seeking? Wandering around and wondering where God wants us to go next, whom He wants us to meet, and what He wants us to do? That seems to be my daily prayer. Why am I here and what would you like me to do?

I am not involved in the writing/publishing world, but I think your trials and perseverance correlate to real, everyday life.

I loved your post, Ruthy and I would love to see you get published whenever God feels the time is right. In the meantime, keep striving for your dreams and know that you are all in my prayers.

Beth Blodgett

Beth said...

As for the Derek Jeter comments - right on! Having been a Yankees fan all of my life (possibly even in the womb), I have definitely enjoyed the years of watching Jeter and my Yankees tear it up on the baseball field. Unfortunately, I recently moved from New York to Minnesota where the YES (Yankees Entertainment and Sports) Network does not exist. So sad...