Thursday, November 1, 2007

Regional Flare Via Contests


Your wonderful story about love and loss and love re-found is the darling of the WhatchamaCallit contest. There, in the sleepy little town of Writer's Hope, Oregon, population 309 (where old Mrs. Delbet passed away late yesterday, but Minnie Drexler gave birth to twins, so the population actually grew in spite of the Delbet's bad news...), your manuscript is the one to beat.

Now that's awesome news. Celebratory news. Wonderfully, magically, marvelous news.

But what fits the bill in northern Oregon might not pass muster in the Big Apple. Or Peachtree, Georgia. Or Decatur, Nebraska.

And what about L.A.? D.C.? Tallahassee?

Tucking your beloved manuscript into various (and hopefully competitive) regional contests gives you a better sense of where your story fits or doesn't fit.

Word use varies regionally. The Coke I buy in Western NY isn't the same stuff they sell on the streets, and doesn't even resemble the orange soda they're grabbing in Mississippi, although both are referred to as 'coke'.

Unless, of course, they're calling it 'soda' or 'pop'.

Or sody-pop.

Word use reflects regionality and accuracy, and contests are a great way of measuring whether or not your manuscript reads as flawlessly in the Northeast, Midwest, Outer Banks, or the Deep South.


Whole 'nother ball game.

When you choose a contest to enter, look carefully at those final judges and check for local appeal. Until you're a known name, there's nothing wrong with assessing the marketplace using contests as your measure stick.

For the price, you can't beat the results.

When your work finally makes it to that editor's desk, you want the cleanest, sharpest, savviest piece of work you can produce, right?

So send it out, get a feel for the market, measure your appeal. For thirty bucks and some postage, it's not a bad deal.



  1. Ruthy you are so right. One of my contest entries was set on a remote island in the San Juan Straits of the Pacific Northwest. Little Miss New York editor who judged the entry (because it finaled) nixed the whole thing because she insisted there was no such thing as a propane refrigerator. Well of course there are, but I'm not there at her desk to argue the point. You better believe I took out the reference to any kind of refrigerator. LOL That comment was very helpful and enlightening.

  2. You know, I'm going to make a concerted effort to start calling pop ... sody pop. Just to see the reactions.
    I'm betting mostly annoyance, but who knows.

  3. Just popping in to say . . . Sody pop? What's that? LOL

    My daughter sold a short story years ago, and she had the teens sitting at a table ordering their drinks which was--in her head-- colas and water, but the editor changed it soda pops. My daughter went balistic (sp) when she got her copies. Of course, when I say "way to go" she always asks what that means exactly. :)

    I just want a coke. No matter what I reach in the cooler at the 7-11 and pull out, I want a coke. I have started using the phrase "soft drink."

  4. Good post, Ruthy. I'm always telling my writer friends around here to look at the final judges. One of them never does. She enters everything... and usually places. Had lunch with her yesterday and she'd won 180 bucks entering, winning and placing in a writer's contest. I asked how she heard about it and she said I sent it to her. LOL Why didn't I enter? :-D

    Now I have a question. How long should we keep entering our same ms. in a contest... and placing or winning? I mean do we reach a point where we look like contest groupies? Lose our credibility somehow? Do editors look at our list of 'contest credentials' and wonder why we haven't sold?

    I'm asking on behalf of my little group of buds who seem to have made a habit of entering contests -- chalking up lots of wins but no sales.

    Comments or advice?

  5. I agree with Jess--great post, Ruthy. And great use of white space--can you teach me how to do it? :)

    Jess, here's my two cents on your question about "How long should we keep entering our same ms. in a contest?" I kept entering until I placed or won consistently enough to A.) Build my confidence B.) Improve my story through judge's comments C.) Get my name and story noticed by ANYONE and D.) Keep me occupied while I awaited those sinister #10 self-addressed envelopes in the mail.

    As far as reaching a point where we look like contest groupies--so what? Good publicity is better than no publicity and quite frankly, it's the constant submission to contests that made me aware of 14 incredible writers who I am now privileged to call Seeker sisters and friends. Those were the names I kept bumping into in contests, and I personally wanted to know who each and every one of them were! So, until you run out of money, patience or time, I'd stick with the contest circuit because if nothing else, you will build up your name recognition on Google if you final or win!! :)

  6. Sandra, I remember that refrigeration scene! I didn't know about propane refrigeration either, until they started doing those cute propane vs. electricity commercials...

    See what we learn as we go!

    Connealy, I first heard 'sody pop' in a Cherry Ames book when I was like eleven or twelve.

    Oh, that Wade... (Cherry's doctor boyfriend/friend) What a heart-throb! I could never see what Cherry might have seen in Les or whatever his name was when Wade was so obviously the one for her, but I digress...

    Like always!

    Anyway, sody pop is a colloquialism that's used sometimes in the Midwest or South. And old timer's slang expression. Think old cowboy, kind of grizzled and gruff, or a sweet Southern Mammy.... Go dialect....

    Jess! I can sooooooo relate to those changes in your daughter's manuscript. Depending on the area, pop's called many different things. So typical. So American.

    And yeah, Jess, why didn't you enter??? Silly girl. 'Course if you'd lost to your girl bud, you'd probably be a little green-eyed and all that, but you might have gotten lunch out of the deal!

    Or a Starbucks card.

    Your question is a good one, Jess. And if the manuscript that your entering is the only manuscript you have, my answer is simple:

    WRITE MORE....

    See how easy that is???

    You should never rest on your laurels hoping for one script to be 'the one', because more than likely it's not.

    And if it is, you've got a nice backlog of totally awesome stuff to dazzle your new editor with, right?

    So while that one is being entered in contests, write more. Enter others. Use Deb's trick of not waiting until they're done and polished. See if that opening is the grabber you think it is while you're writing something else.

    I rarely have just one project going on at a time. Some would blame my dementia but the pills seem to be doing wonders. Really.

    But it's fun to have several irons in the pot. A good 'smithie' is ready to shoe whatever kind of horse comes his way, and if an RS sells first, I will become a wonderful RS author.

    If it's a straight inspirational romance, I'm there. And I like traditional romance too, with strong Single Title elements.

    If it's fun romance with a light inspirational bent, I could be their new best friend.

    Now I'm sure there are some differing opinions out there about this, and that's okay. Since my work is still relegated to my hard drive, I don't push the issue, but then I see people like our Julie get grabbed for her wonderful Irish family saga with strong romantic elements, and I know that what it comes down to is this:

    The right editor, the right time, the right manuscript.

    Good to see you, Jess!


  7. Jules, I love compliments, even if I got them by stealing Glynna's time!!!!!!!!!!

    And you're right about the gifts of the Spirit as well as the gifts of finaling, winning, contracting.

    We found a network of friends, confidantes, goofs, goons and cronies.

    Sisters of the heart, sister in Christ.

    And do fifteen independent, sharp-toothed women (kind of like T-Rex's in high heels) always agree???

    Of course we do!

    (See, I'm Catholic and I get to go to confession if I tell a little white lie. Such a great reprieve!)

    The Seekers were and are a gift, one to the other.

    Even the silly ones.


    (Don't ask, I won't tell who's silly and who's not.

    Unless you offer me a Starbucks card or a large sack of M&M's, plain, peanut or almond)

  8. Now, for our guests, don't let Ruthy's post confuse you. She's not suggesting you try to write like those news anchormen that they really don't sound like they're from anywhere in particular.

    It's okay to use regional words, dialect, and phrases. The key is to use them is such a way that your reader (even if she IS from NY) will understand what you mean.

    If you've got a few words that keeps confusing ALL your judges, then maybe you might re-think those.

    Down here in Mississippi it's common to call a truck a "pickup". There are a few country songs that are making an effort to educate the masses that a pickup is indeed a truck, preferrably a 4x4 with an 8" lift-kit and tires as big as your washing machine, but a few years ago, there were areas that wouldn't have know what to make of someone asking, "Man, y'all sure do have a lot of pickups 'round here?"

    You want Coke with that?

  9. Oh Jess, I don't think I'm the one to answer this. Some of my mss have won...well...a LOT of contests.

    Let's see, pretty much the answer is when you post to a loop of secular writers (all good friends, and wonderful women, but NOT the Seekers) about your latest contest win, and someone posts back,

    "Would you quit entering contests already and sell the #@%& thing!"

    That is a direct... well, ALMOST
    ... direct quote. And I didn't take it the wrong way, but I did retire the ms from the contest circuit not long after. lol

    And...those same women busted some eardrums at the RWA convention screaming and hollering when I won the GH.

    Does that help?

  10. Jess, I think there's a limit for just broadcasting a contest entry. It sounds like you're doing it right by being more choosy. Selecting contests with editors who have either 1) not rejected you already
    or 2) you know work for a publishing house that metches the book.
    This seems wise to me.
    And I'm a good judge of wise, thanks to knowing Ruthy all these years.
    I'll go ahead and let you decide what I mean by that. :)

  11. Wonderful post, Ruthy. Thanks for the question Jess. Once I'd entered enough to polish the manuscript and final, if the judging editor I was targeting didn't request, I stopped sending it to contests. Instead I'd send the first chapter of the wip and start the whole process again.

  12. Great post, Ruth!

    Thought I'd add a bit of soda pop trivia... y'all know where the home of Coke is, don't you? Of course, Atlanta. Everyone in Atlanta drinks Coke. Okay, almost everyone. There are a few Pepsi drinkers.

    Jess, your question brought to mind a friend who's been extremely successful with her work. She was introduced at a recent conference and the gal who introduced my friend said her book--a Rita win, I might add--had taken first place in like a zillion contests (only she used a number, probably around nine). You know, I had to think my friend had been pretty smart to keep entering and winning so she'd have such a great intro. Something to think about . . .

  13. Lots of great points here. Pam, you're right, keeping a manuscript distinct and regional is half the fun, but ya gotta make sure the reader understands the inferences.

    And because I'm pretty sure I was mistakenly placed in the windswept tundra land of western New York when I should have been a Dixie baby (except for the whole heat thing.... How do you girls stand it??? Just askin'....) I love throwing in some Midwest twang, or some down home sayings, and having characters that don't do English good.

    I think it's just a measure of when it's too much, or when it's confusing.

    And Janet, I LOVE that story. I remember a gal a few years back who took out an ad in RWR to THANK all the contests that gave her advice/places/wins for the five years or so it took to polish her first book. Single Title, I think that got published about a year ago.

    Awesome story.

    So, Jess, keep writing. Don't get stale. Play. Expand your margins.

    Not on your computer, silly, your internal margins.

    And have fun when you enter.


  14. I'm a newbie so if I'm way off base, it's okay to throw stuff...

    Seems to me, that since most contests require a synopsis and one to three chapters, one could become very skilled at writing just that. And nothing more. If one is entering contests, even with different ms, but never finishing any of them, never submitting to agents/editors outside of contests, then he or she might qualify as a contest junkie. Because perhaps that writer has found a safe place and is unwilling to go beyond their current knowledge of their abilities and actually finish a story and send it out.

    Beyond that, the other problem I would see would be bad recordkeeping such that one entered the same ms in the same contest in which it placed the year before (with no changes)!

    Just my two cents.

  15. It's an interesting approach and I look forward to seeing where you go with it. Have you considered using your blog as a writing launch? Putting your stuff online. Maybe you have. I'm a new reader and only read the stuff in your last few posts.

  16. Uh...I seem to be the only male around. I am interested in the contest approach to getting your writing out there. Hope it's okay for me to comment sometimes. ;-)

  17. Patricia, where’d you learn all this stuff? I don’t think you’re as much a newbie as you pretend to be! lol Seriously, you’ve hit the nail on the head with your observations. Many would-be authors fall by the way-side because they get hung up on contests. Some editors might be a little leery of an author (raise your right hand, everybody) who has won 35 first-chapter contests. But on the flip side of that, editors might also raise eyebrows at an author who says she’s submitted the same story to 101 publishing houses and gotten a rejection.

    The answer: enter as many contests as you wish, but once you’ve racked up some prestigious wins, you might want to only mention the top 3 or 4 when querying agents and editors. And, for what it’s worth…I wouldn’t mention the 101 rejections when querying!

    Good recordkeeping is a must in any business and it’s no different here. Create a system documenting your contest history. Include (checking out my own spreadsheet….) Title, # of words, Genre, Contest Name, Date Mailed, Category, Final Judge, Placement, Notes. Add or take columns to fit your needs. This is good training for submitting to editors as well. My file has separate worksheets for Contests, Publishers, Agents and Short Story Subs.

  18. Patricia, you're absolutely right. That would be just plain crazy, crazy.

    Not even a little somethin', somethin'....

    I know lots of writers who keep working on that SAME FIRST CHAPTER...

    not with me, mind you, 'cause someone would die or at least hurt badly, but there is an 'obsession ratio' out there.

    Like Deb suggested last week, there's nothing wrong with sending out the first chapters to get feedback while you're finishing the rest of the book.

    And as your backlist (unpublished at this point) grows, you can be a Mary Connealy, or a Madelyn Turner and have a bumper crop of books/contracts within the first eighteen months because you were so totally ready when that first contract came.

    Then you get revisions back, you alter the opening chapters as needed and do the same with the balance of the book...

    I think a lot of editors see exactly what you suggested, a polished proposal and then a W-E-A-K center.

    Not good.

    So I guess the next step is to take the suggestions from the contest (the ones with merit for your particular work) and carefully apply them throughout the book.

    You use two many long sentences????

    Go through the whole manuscript with an ax disguised as a delete key. Rephrase. Re-word.

    Repetitive words or phrases?

    Find 'em and replace 'em.

    Computers are marvelous inventions.

    Hammer your points home again and again?

    Chop, chop.

    I think if you apply the lessons learned from good contest judging then you can use them throughout the book to avoid the 'contest-manic' syndrome.

    And yeah, finish the thing!

    I'm a big believer in finishing what I start. When that call for a full comes in, I don't want to have to scramble any more than necessary, you know?

    And hey, Real Live Preacher Man, welcome aboard! I'm glad to see your comments and open to suggestions.

    We love company, and I'm only glad you didn't see my definition of a rare and not-well-studied phenomena I referred to as hyperallergenicmanitosis in a more secluded exchange earlier today, LOL!

    But yeah, we love comments. We know there are lurkers out there, but none of us bite (well, Mary does, but she's in Nebraska and no one goes there), and the more the merrier.

    And contests????

    Man, kid, you've come to the right place.


  19. I always did well in Texas contests! But I've heard of those who say they always did poorly. So maybe they like more southern stories there. :)

    Patricia, I think you made some great comments to what Jess asked. Personally, I think there's a point where you need to quit entering the same manuscript and move on. I got to the point where I would pretty much have a year with each manuscript hitting all the major contests (except for the Golden Heart, which I entered over and over with the same manuscripts). Then I eventually got to the point where I only entered particular manuscripts to get in front of particular editors. Once I had a few wins under my belt, I got more selective.

    Preacher, we welcome anyone and everyone-- men, women, or whatever. :) As for your thoughts on posting our work online or on our blog, I never really thought of doing that. There are services out there, though, that post your work online for editors to visit and read (Writer's Edge is one I can think of). I've know one or two people who've done that but neither got bought that way. Still, it's something to consider.


  20. Real Live Preacher, Have you ever considered getting sermons published. They sell books of sermons. I published some plays for places like CCS Publishing and they sold books of sermons and devotionals.
    There's also a places to sell articles online that can make you money but also raise you name recognition and drive readers to your website. Like
    I haven't worked with these but I've heard of them.
    These are ways to get your name out, outside the contest circuit with short form writing that can add to a writer's resume. I thought of it for you because it seems like you're writing consistantly for your sermon anyway so this would be a way to capitalize on work you're already doing.
    Just a thought.
    Honestly, maybe you'd better ignore this. I donated blood today and I'm a little lightheaded.
    Does any of this make sense?
    Where am I anyway? What day is it?

  21. Preacher, we've got visitors, but I guess they're kinda shy. But they need to stick around. We're working on some giveaways, and if they don't post when the drawings are announced, well, you and Patricia are it! Now, those are pretty good odds, don't you think?

  22. Mary gave blood.

    Most would call that kind. Caring. Empathetic. Even heroic.

    But I know for a fact she's in it for the brownies.

    Mary, Mary, Mary...

    Note to RLP:

    It would probably be in your and everyone's best interests to smile and nod, then shrug off Mary's occasional ideas.

    Not all, mind you.

    But most.



  23. This is such awesome advice, Ruthy! I totally didn't think of this. If I could do all over again, I'd be more pointed in which regional contests I entered. It didn't hit me until the editing phase that certain phrases were specific to Hawaii or California.

  24. WOW, you all did such a wonderful job answering my questions. For the record... I'm not a contest junky. I used to be a long time ago, but then I became ineligible and then I dropped out ... I just didn't do it anymore. I've entered one contest in the past two years but this group has really made me feel like I need to be entering for a number of reasons: 1) I could place or even win. LOL and 2) the more I enter the more feedback I'll get. 3) I can't help but LEARN. :)
    You girls are the B-E-S-T best!:-)

    Ruthy, my friend who enters contests and wins $$$ lives here in my town and she always calls me to see if I'm going to enter. Makes me feel like she won't if I do. I have no idea why she's like this. I've never won a contest. NEVER! I've finaled and won 2nd place once. She's a wonderful writer (so much better than I am) and I want to recommend her to my agent but she's dragging her feet. Yesterday, I said... .whenever you're ready, just let me know.

    She's a wonderful friend, a much older woman and if I had a choice of selling my ms. or hers tomorrow, I'd let her go ahead of me. Would all of you who read this note send up a prayer for her and her writing right now. Her name is Lena and I want her to sell a book SOON.

    Thanks, Ladies and gent. You're all priceless. To God be the Glory...for writer buds like you.

  25. Jess, you've got it. For whatever God intends, Lena and you are on the prayer list.

    And whether or not she enters a contest you enter is up to her. If she's being altruistic (hear that, Mare??? A writer being NICE to another writer... novel idea. Pun intended) let her be altruistic. It might make her day. If she's as nice as she seems, it probably worries her that she's stealing your thunder.

    And I think name recognition can't hurt in this business, Jess. The whole: "what've you done for me lately" thing.

    We need to look current, stay on top of things. And I think it keeps us invigorated.

    And I'm so glad you're brave enough to hop on board here with us!


  26. Mary,

    publish sermons? I know it's done, but it would be bad for my soul. I'd start treating sermons like writing. It's hard to say why, but I know that would be a bad road for me to take. My weakness I'm sure, but best not to tempt myself.