Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Staging Your Manuscript

What is staging?

In the real estate industry, staging is the process of prepping the home so it is shown in its best light when displayed to potential buyers. There is a parallel here with your manuscript and contests.

In a perfect author world all your manuscripts are equally strong, and every single one has a great opening grabber, a page turner-end of chapter hook, along with a clear and succinct synopsis. Please send me directions to that world when you arrive.

Instead of putting your manuscript through its contest paces, consider this twist; choose a contest based on how your manuscript will stage.

Look carefully at the contest score sheet and the point distribution, and decide which of your manuscripts will stage best for each of the six basic types of contests.

Contest A: Synopsis and First Chapter:
If you want to ace this contest you must have a very strong synopsis, a strong beginning hook and the chapter must end on page turner. Check to see how internal and external conflict is scored. I personally consider these to be some of the toughest contests out there.

The Maggies

The Sheila

Contest B: First Chapter Only. No synopsis:
Are you a pantser? This may be the perfect contest to display your WIP and test the waters since no synopsis is required Competition is fierce in these contests, so check the score sheets carefully to see what the judges expect to see in that first chapter.

Chicago Fire & Ice

Contest C: First 3, 5 or 15 pages:
The perfect staging for your action-filled, unique-opening-hook story, that also happens to lay the conflict out there immediately. These are also great test the water contests. But if your hero doesn’t do his walk on until chapter two, or your conflict doesn’t unfold until page twenty, this may not be the contest for your story.

Hook, Line and Sinker

Romancing the Tome

Contest D: Query Letter, Synopsis or Pitch Contest:
Not quite ready to take the plunge with a cold query to an editor or agent? Not sure your synopsis or pitch is up to par?. If your manuscript is ready, this is the contest to test the other submission elements. These types of contests also provide a great way to score a request from editors who do not take unagented queries. They are also very tough contests.

Sharp Synopsis

The Perfect Pitch

Contest E: Synopsis and First Three Chapters( or first 55 pages):
These contests are becoming a rarity, and should only be utilized for your very best manuscripts. They also tend to cost more in postage fees, if not electronic, so can be pricey. Consider this type of contest the final testing ground before the Golden Heart. All the elements should be in place for this contest. Ideally, your manuscript should be completed. And the real advantage to this type of contest is you have three chapters of wiggle room to get in all the external and internal plot elements.

Heart of the Rockies

The Barclay Silver

The Golden Pen

Contest F: The Unique Scenario, or Set-up:
This includes such unique scenarios as the first meet, first kiss, or first sex scene, and those last chapter contests. This might be the perfect way to get contest experience or build your author confidence. These contests are a lot of fun as you get to showcase manuscript features that might normally not have an opportunity to shine.

First Kiss

Reveal Your Inner Vixen

Six types of contests, and each offers a different opportunity for your story. Each of your manuscripts has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and staging your manuscript is just one of the many ways to approach contests.

Good luck!

*The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other Seekers.


  1. Tina, that's dead on, and you're the one who taught me that cool stuff. And thanks for tucking in the example links. Now if you could just feed us a little country music while we browse the links, all is good in my world.

    Different manuscripts may shine brighter in different contests, and it's like choosing great shoes to go with a totally smokin' hot dress...

    If the shoes are wrong, you spend all night knowing it and you're still out forty bucks. Lose/lose situation.

    Staging and targeting 'what goes where' are an important part of learning the business and transfer directly to targeting editorial houses/publishers.


  2. Tina, Excellent advice!! You have a wealth of information on contests. If any of our writer readers have a question, you're our go-to gal!

  3. WOW, Tina, what a great post!! Where were you when I was travelling the contest circuit (oh, yeah, I forgot--WAY ahead of me in first place). I wish I had had your blog when I was entering contests!! Thanks for the doing the research to give potential entrants a leg up.

  4. Wonderful article, Tina. I don't think I've ever looked at entering contests so methodically. I skim the score sheets but my eyes usually settle on the big prize. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  5. You really do know everything, don't you, Tina? That must be so handy.

    Great post. It's interesting how many layers there are to contests and how an aspiring author can use the different contests wisely to help toward her goal of publication.

  6. This is further proof that I walk to a different and obviously anal drummer. Sigh.

  7. As an aspiring author, this was valuable beyond words! I'm just beginning the contest process and this gave me a different slant on how to select which ones I will enter. Thanks much.

  8. So... if there's a contest that doesn't have an inspy category, do you enter? And, where do the cozy mysteries fall? Under inspy or under mystery?

    I'm really getting educated! :)

  9. Jess, if you've got an inspy with a strong faith thread, you're going to run into trouble in a lot of non-fiction categories.
    And, keep in mind that if they don't have an inspy category, and your goal is being published by a Christian house, there aren't going to be judges from those houses to judge finalists. So even if you get a decent score from someone it's hard for that to lead to a request at a house that you are targeting.
    I'd say pick where to enter your book by:
    1) Finalists judges. If the judge is for a house you think would carry your type of book, go for it.
    2) The beginning. Does the beginning have a strong cozy voice? Is it more suspenseful?
    they're going to judge you by what you've sent in, so if you enter a romance category with a cozy that has a romance in it, is that romance frontloaded or with your score sheets say "Nice mystery but where's the romance?"
    But if you're feeling like you're just beginning as a writer adn you're entering for the critique, the category isn't quite so important and any judge will give you honest feedback and, where their comments say, "This is a little too comic for a suspense."
    You'll know to not worry overly about their comments because they don't realize cozy, light comedy is what you were going for.
    Trust me, picking a category is a long running sticking point in contests. Lots of books don't fit neatly into a category.

  10. I didn't mean non-fiction in that first sentence, I mean non-inspy.

  11. Great analogy, Tina! Amazing, but all that made sense. lol

    And, this is becoming a mantra with me, but learning to stage the manuscript for contests is great training for subbing to publishers.

    Oops...I just read Ruthy's post.

    Oh, yeah, y'all just look at those raised eyebrows of Tina's. It's OBVIOUS as the nose on your face that she knows exactly what she's talkin' about!

  12. Pam, I saw you tryin' to steal my thoughts AND words. For heaven's sake, girl, get original, wouldya?


    Patricia, Tina has probably taught all of us more about contests, strategies and thinking outside the box than the rest of us put together.

    And yet she's not methodical. Just smart. Savvy. Good looking.

    That's why we generally hate her, but we don't TELL her that because she's sensitive.

    And we're a caring bunch, ever-watchful over our more sensitive types.

    Jess, your question about categories is a great one and Mary touched on it very well. I know Tina, Glynna and I have all finaled in contests outside of the inspy categories with specific works. I would still consider them inspirational, but not necessarily CBA inspirational, although what defines a 'CBA' book is no longer written on stone tablets. Houses vary greatly, and that allows room for growth and balance within the industry.

    So, following Mary's advice, if you've got something that's heavy inspy initially, probably the best place for it is an inspirational category with a final judge from a publishing house you really like.

    But if not, wing it, kid. Play a little. Writing should be an adventure, don't ya' think?


  13. Writing an adventure. Yes, lets put the fun back in. I have won a ST category with an inspy. But I was trying to get an agents attention. So there was a reason.

    I think it is all about strategy.

    There are many reasons to enter a contest.

    1. Editor request.
    2. Agent request.
    3. The contest has a great party at Nationals for the finalists.
    4. Cash or free conference entry.
    5. BLING!!
    6. Feedback
    7. Name recognition because you have no social skills to actually net-work.
    8. Grudge.

    Grudge being you can't final in that contest no matter what you do and it is making you nuts.

    All are valid reasons. I have entered for ALL those reasons at one time or another.

  14. LOL, Tina. Thanks for that bit of honesty in your this last comment. :)

    Personally, I love the bling, too. :)

    Great post, by the way. Very informational. Wish I'd had it about7 years ago! LOL


  15. Tina! You're the contest guru! I'm impressed and learned a lot today. Thanks!