Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Work those finals...nicely, of course!

In 2001, I finalled in the Golden Heart. While absolutely thrilled, I didn’t use this final like I should have. It didn’t occur to me to contact some of the 20 or so agents and editors who had already rejected my manuscript based on a query....so a lot of opportunity for networking was lost, but that’s okay. My goof-up just gave me the opportunity to encourage others to be proactive when they’re riding the GH high. If you’re a GH finalist, get out there and beat the bushes. Contact every agent and editor you’re interested in while you’re a GH finalist. Set up meetings at conferences you’re both attending if possible. Work it!

Fast forward to 2004. I was at home the morning of March 2004 when the Golden Heart calls went out. I had entered every year since my final in 2001, but had not made the cut again. So I was hopeful. A little after 9 am the phone rang. It was a woman. I KNEW who it was immediately and my heart starting pounding. I WISH I could remember who called me. I think I’ve got it written down somewhere ... oh well. She told me that Marrying Mariah had finalled in the GH. We squealed and yelled and did all the “I can’t believe it” things, etc. etc.

Then...I was already thinking of getting off the phone, calling my husband, emailing buddies, etc ... and ... she said... “and there’s more.”

What could possibly be more in the Golden Heart than if you enter more than one ms. and both final?

My heart really plummeted this time. I squeaked, “More?”

She informed me that The Missionary and the Mercenary had also finalled. This I couldn’t believe! I think I muttered “I can’t believe this” 50 thousand times the rest of the day. I was truly in shock over it ... a good happy shock, mind you, but shocked.

I learned my lesson with the GH the first time around, so I queried several agents and editors who were scheduled to be at the RWA convention and suggested that I would love to meet with them. I didn’t sell a book nor sign with an agent that year, but I made several contacts because of the final.

What are some ways you’ve worked a contest final? What works, and what seems to backfire?


  1. Pam, excellent advice to Golden Heart finalists! You're the gal to give it as a double finalist. What a thrill that would be!!

    I contacted a couple of agents the first time I was a GH finalist, but didn't succeed in finding an agent or editor. But the second time around, the three agents I contacted asked to see the manuscript. From those three, I signed with Kelly Mortimer and retracted the manuscript from the other two. Though it's not a guarantee, I think finaling in the Golden Heart impresses agents and editors and the manuscript gets a faster read.

  2. Dead on, Pam!! When you get that final, ya gotta work it like a souped-up stairmaster! Although I have actually had someone in the publishing biz tell me that contests don't mean a lot to a publisher, I refuse to believe that. I know for a fact that my editor was impressed with my contest resume (of course, I only showed her the modest number of wins, not the TON of misses :)).

    When I finaled in the Golden Heart in 2005, I worked it as only a hyperactive Queen of Anality can--I sent out 25 queries to agents and 10 or 15 to publishers, all nicely emblazoned with a pretty, scripty label that alerted them that this envelope was from a "2005 Golden Heart Finalist." I mean, after all, this was a window of opportunity I was not about to pass up.

    The results? Out of 35-40 queries, I got a lot of "no"s, but one very important "yes" -- from my agent extraodinaire, Natasha Kern, who sold me six months later. Were all those queries and rejections worth it? You bet, if only to assure me that I had done everything I could to take advantage of an incredible opportunity. After all, it only takes one "yes."

  3. Great post, Pam.
    What Julie says about working the contest success is exactly right, just because then you know you've done all you can.
    When I won the 2004 ACFW Genesis contest and I was at the conference when it was announced I just made SURE editor and agent I had an appointment with knew, "Hey, that was me!"

    And, I emailed my most serious agent prospect FROM the conference, using a computer set up in the gift shop, just to tell him about it. I also let him know I'd gotten a lot of requests. Something like fifteen requests for five different books. (Okay, those numbers might go up every time I tell this story...still, it was a LOT!)
    I signed with him soon after.
    The conventional wisdom is; Don't pester agents and editors after you submit. Give them time. That's correct BUT pestering is like...hi, have you decided yet? (one week later) Hi, have you decided yet? (one week later) Hi, have you decided yet?

    That is, to me, completely different than writing to say, "Just an update, I came in first in the Genesis contest just today and I've got sixteen requests for seven different books." (oops, increased again)

  4. Kelly's my agent too, Janet. We couldn't ask for a better representative, could we?

    Contest finals, especially the GH, does impress them. As a matter of fact, I suspect there are some agents and editors who will agree to look at submissions from almost every GH finalist who queries them. And in the inspirational market, the Genesis contest is making editors and agents sit up and take notice as well.

  5. And Jules, do you happen to remember who told you to get out there and beat the bushes? lol

    I personally like to take credit for you landing Natasha as an agent. (Pam smugly buffing nails.)

  6. I agree, Mary, there is a difference in the way someone needs to follow-up with agents and editors.

    A short email in the form of a press release might be okay, or even a letter if someone is uncomfortable emailing the editor or agent.

    It's according to what your relationship is with the professional, so think carefully on how you want to contact them.

    I remember once (only once, mind you!) going a little overboard with an agent. I had a ms. under serious consideration with a major publishing house. In my haste and excitement, I called an agent who had the ms. to let her know. Got her voice mail and left a blubbering message that made me sound...well, like a blubbering idiot! lol

    Eventually the sale and the prospect with the agent fell through. In hindsight, a short little email to the agent would probably have been better. We didn't have a close enough relationship for me to call her.

  7. I am taking notes, Pam.

    I admit that I am awful at this self promotion stuff.

  8. Pam your advice is great. I have included that a submission won or placed when I send the partial or submit a query. Whether it helps, I don't know. I do think they take a more serious look at my work. Contest wins haven't landed me a contract yet, but it has placed the work in front of editors. They remember names and hopefully will read something they like and know that I'm a serious writer because they have seen me before.

  9. Oh, me too, Tina. You know how much I worry about offending people. I remember this one editor who got a terrified look on her face every time she saw me. Once she literally turned and went the other way. Did she think I was going to accost her? Probably! lol

    Seriously, I think it was all in my head. She's very friendly to me now when I see her. And part of that is that we've met several times in various situations, and I've made it a point to talk about something other than my writing.

    But this "slight thawing" didn't happen overnight. It was from meeting them several times in casual situations (standing in line to go to dinner, etc.) and asking how they are, how their flight went, or if their feeling better from an illness, etc.

  10. Sandra, they definitely DO remember names.

    (Boy, this is fun. I get to name drop without it sounding presumptious!)

    One year at the meet and greet reception at the ACFW conference, people were arriving at the hotel, getting settled in and then coming down to the reception as they were able.

    I headed for the door to go get my camera and came face-to-face with Anne Goldsmith. She smiled a big smile and said, "I know you."

    You could have knocked me over with a feather. I grinned and asked about how her flight or something. At least the shock of hearing her say that she knew me kept me from blurting out my pitch right there on the spot! Hmmm, maybe she was on to me the whole time!

  11. "OMIGOSH, yes, Pammers," says the woman upon whom ginkgo biloba has NO effect!! I completely forgot that you were the one who nudged the crowbar under my butt at that time. And, yes, your valuable input helped prepare me for my pivotal meeting with Natasha at RWA. Gosh, girl, I think I owe you a drink at the next ACFW Conference ... that is, if you think you can stop working long enough to take a breath ...

    And, Tina, move over. I'm right there with you. In my humble opinion, promotion sucks pondwater. Oh, that we could be satisfied with writing prose for our eyes alone!!!

  12. Pam, your story was so neat to read. How exhilerating to have double-finaled in GH!!!!

    I haven't worked any of my contest finals...so I'm taking copious notes here. LOL!

    I bombed in the GH. Sigh. LOL!

    Cheryl Wyatt

  13. But you sold, Cheryl. That's way more gratifying than finalling and winning umpteem dozen contests.

    In 2004, a huge number of finalists sold before the GH winners were announced in July. Some won in their category and some didn't.

    Now, which do you think I'd rather be? The one who won or the one who sold?

    To do both would be awesome, but if I had to chose just one ... well, you know the answer to that, I'm sure. lol

  14. Steeple Hill is impressed with Golden Heart and Rita finalists. The treat the latter like royalty.

  15. When I was a finalist in RWA- Heat Up Your Winter Nights contest (Alaska); I bought an announcement page on Publishers Marketplace and it paid off with a lot of hits on my website. I also use the information about being a finalist in my signature tag line.

    My goal is not only to get published but to get my name out there.

  16. Pam, you made some great points about working those finals, and a GH final is serious stuff.

    And it doesn't surprise me at all that Jules lit the fuse under your, um....

    you know.

    She's a total firecracker. Part of why we love her.


  17. Jamie,

    What a neat idea to purchase advertising space for contest finals. And if someone felt they couldn't afford to do something like that by themselves, they could team up with others to do it.

    Also, thans for reminding us to advertise contest finals in our Signature lines. Sometimes we're a little shy of promoting ourselves that way, but it does get noticed, and generates traffic.

    What's the rule of thumb...Consumers need to see your name at least 3 times for them to start remembering it? The more you get your name out there NOW, the more people will know your name when it counts.

  18. That signiture line thing was always hard for me, too. I never did put any of my contest stuff under my name. But you better believe I got on the ball and put my sale under my name as soon as I could! LOL I'm getting a little better at promotion as I go.

    Now if only I could put Rita Finalist under my name someday... (sigh)