Thursday, October 25, 2007

Savvy Submission Strategy

"Finish the book before you submit," editors say over and over again.

When I started out on my writing journey, I thought the same rule applied to contest submissions. I'd complete the manuscript before I submitted to contests only to find the story didn't work -- saggy middle, unrealistic premise, limp conflict -- according to the feedback from the judges. Of course, I'd wasted time trying to perfect something that had started out flawed.

Then I had a Eureka Moment! I heard a multi-published author say she grew weary of writing complete manuscripts and having them rejected by the editors. Being a daringly adventurous person, she decided to write three chapters and a synopsis and submit the partial to publishing houses, hoping she could complete the manuscript in a timely manner if she received a request. Her strategy paid off and got me thinking. Why not use the same approach with contests?

From then on while I was completing one manuscript, I'd pull together the beginning chapters and synopsis for a new story and send it out on the contest circuit. In a relatively short time, I'd have feedback from knowledgeable judges, which helped me gauge whether the beginning hook drew the reader into the story, whether the plot was well-defined and could sustain a full-length manuscript and whether the characters were compelling. Using the judges' comments and suggestions, I eventually shaped the story into a polished manuscript.

Eventually, I submitted to contests where the final round judge was an editor in a house where I felt my story could find a home. I had always written suspense, but when Steeple Hill senior editor Krista Stroever came to my Georgia Romance Writers chapter and talked about expanding the Love Inspired Suspense line, I decided to weave an inspirational thread through a manuscript I had originally targeted for Harlequin Intrigue. Almost immediately after including a faith element, I knew I'd found my niche. But I still had to catch the editor's eye.

Using my Savvy Submission Strategy, I entered three contests judged by three different Steeple Hill editors, including Krista Stroever and executive editor Joan Marlow Golan. I won the contests and received requests from the judges. Not long after that, Krista called to tell me Steeple Hill wanted to publish one of the winning manuscripts. My debut novel, NOWHERE TO HIDE, was released in May 2007, and the other winning story, SCARED TO DEATH, came out in August.

Did contests help me along the road to publication? You bet! The feedback from judges allowed me to identify problems and their suggestions often provided solutions that turned weaknesses into strengths. For me, the road to publication was paved with contests.

I hope my Savvy Submission Strategy helps you on your writing journey!

Wishing you abundant blessings!
Debby Giusti


Tina M. Radcliffe said...

That is a very smart idea. Keeps the merchandise circulating and keeps you from being frustrated. I wish I thought of it. But I am going to borrow it.

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Tina,
It worked for me. And you're so, so close! I know how frustrating that can be. I was close for a long time and even got to a point where I stopped pushing forward. I call it the "plateau" -- you're winning contests and doing everything right, but still no sale! And that's the time, unfortunately, when most folks give up. Contests help . . . the positive feedback, the finals, the wins . . . they encourage us to keep going! We have to believe in ourselves and in our work!

Julie Lessman said...

Hey Deb, great post! Having a strategy for entering contests is so, so smart and so, so cost-effective. When I first started entering contests, I shot my money and gold-plated binder clips all over the map, giving me heart failure at tax time when I realized just HOW much I had spent. Then, like you (DUH ... albeit not as quickly), I started targeting my entries to contests that had editor-judges I was gunning for or those contests that would look good on a resume. Suddenly, my costs went down, but my success went up.

So when entering contests, it's wise to have a "Savvy Submission Strategy" like Debbie says. Research contests, communicate with other writers about contests, pinpoint those contests worth going after, and PRAY, PRAY, PRAY! One way or the other, success is at the end of the line--either in contract form, a better manuscript, or in the most important way of all ... LOTS of amazing friends!!

Julie Lessman said...

Deb, can't believe I forgot to say the FIRST thing that came to mind when I saw your post ... awesome picture, you fox! :)

Mary Connealy said...

Savvy Submission Strategy.
Debby! I think I see a book in that title.
Targeting finalist judges is the next step in contest entries when you're starting to have success. I don't know if it's as important at first when you aren't among the finalists.
But I got there too.
Okay, don't enter that one, I've already been R.J.'s but that editor, waste of money.
Whatever you did, I know that about ten seconds after we started The Seekers, you got a contract. You conveniently lefted own finaling in the Golden Heart. Wasn't that the year Pam was a double finalist???
Yeah! A Seekers sweep.

Debby Giusti said...

Mary, my dear, thanks for thinking I may have been a GH finalist, but not so . . . that would have been Pam, as you mentioned, Janet (twice, I believe), Tina, and Myra, a two-time finalist and winner of the coveted award. Any other GH finalists out there?

Debby Giusti said...

Julie, thanks for your great comments. Yes, prayer is an important part of the submission process. I'm convinced God allowed me to get published because he was tired of hearing me beg! :)

And Julie, no wonder your contest tab was high. Gold-plated binder clips?

Janet Dean said...

Debby, It took me a while to see the light, but I also used contests to see if I was on the right track with a new story. And if not, what needed fixing.

You're proof that entering contests with judges you're targeting is an excellent strategy!

Melanie Dickerson said...

I guess I was savvy and didn't know it. I'm too impulsive and impatient to wait until I complete a ms. to start sending it out to contests!

Mary Connealy said...

You shouldn't have told me you weren't a Golden Heart finalist, Debby. I am so sure you were.
And honestly, who are you going to believe, yourself or me???
Anyway, assuming you're remember correctly, just know that in my heart I've always considered you one.

Julie Lessman said...

"Me! Me! Me," Julie says, jumping up and down in Missouri, "don't leave me out of the "Golden Girls"! I dished out WAY too many contest fees to remain silent on my one claim to fame--a GH finalist along with Myra, Janet and Tina. We called ourselves "The Golden Girls," and it was one of the best times of my life. Bet you can't guess who was Blanche?

Patricia W. said...

Intriguing approach. I like it. I'm about to enter my first contest but I finished the manuscript first. Because I had to know that I could and about what it might take for me to get there. It still needs a lot of work but at least I know I can.

This gives me something to think about for 2008.

Mary Connealy said...

Good for you, Patricia, for finishing that manuscript.
You know I heard a statistic once about the percentage of people who call themselves authors and of them how many acutally finish a book. I can't remember the exact number but it was like one zillionth of one percent.
So that puts you in pretty rare company.
Good job!!!!!!!!!!!

Missy Tippens said...

Yay, Patricia! I think you were smart to finish that first one, just to prove to yourself you can do it. Now when the editor requests it, you'll have it ready to send! :)

Debby, great strategy. I wish I had been half as organized as you!


Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Debby, What a beautiful picture. Is that your yard in the background? I really like your strategy. I've been doing that myself lately and saves a lot when you hear that an idea isn't really going to work. You can change it before taking all that time to write it. I can see why your books won contests because they are great reads. Loved them. Blessings, Sandra

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Deb, the picture rocks!

And I love your strategy. Great advice.

Also, if Mary wants to think you're a GH finalist in another realm, let's let it slide. The medication has some strange after-effects and we don't want her shrugging off her meds. Dangerous, you know?


And Patricia!!! Awesome job finishing that manuscript. Wonderful. That shows such follow through and persistence. You've now got a leg up on over 98% of the rest of the writing world. You completed a manuscript. Yee haw!

So, kiddo, get it out there. See what people say, what they think. And you know where to come if you get knocked around a little. We're here for you.


Debby Giusti said...

Hi Everyone,
Seems lots of you live on the West Coast! I had to say night-night about 10:30 PM, and y'all kept chatting. Thanks for all the comments.

Julie, how could I have forgotten you!!! I'M SO SORRY!!! Forgive me, please?

Melanie, you are SAVVY!!! You go, girl! Be sure to keep us posted on your writing . . . and your contest entries!

Patricia, great seeing you in Seekerville. Patricia and I have been having fun at Steeple Hill's Harvest Festival. Today's the last day to get all the yummy recipes folks have been posting. I've gained weight just reading them. Here's the URL:

Congrats, Patricia, on finishing the book! That's a HUGH accomplishment. Pat yourself on the back and do something nice for yourself! You deserve it!

Pam Hillman said...

Another idea for those of us who go into a year-long blue funk over less than stellar contest results or a rejection (ahem), have several things out there at all times. There's a LOT to be said for having hope in the mail, or email as the case may be.

Pam Hillman said...

I agree with the comment above. That's a GREAT pic, Debby. Very friendly and inviting. Luv it!

Debby Giusti said...

Glad you like the pic. Yes, Sandra, I was on my deck. We live on a lovely lake that now is drying up because of the lack of rain. Breaks my heart! Pray for rain in the South, and God's mercy on all the folks in CA who have lost their homes.

God bless all the firefighters across the country! They're heroes in my book!

ScrollSquirrel said...

Dev! Thanks for the pointers!!!

Your picture is GORGEOUS by the way!

And, well it should be since you are!

I love that pic and the background too.

Cheryl Wyatt