Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dineen Miller ~ I'm No Contest Diva

Actually, entering contests scared the heebie jeebies out of me. Each time I sent something off, I spent the next several hours terrified I’d forgotten to included something, missed a typo, or sent it to the wrong place. Paranoia set in every time.

But I persevered, determined to see what I could learn through the process and perhaps even catch the eye of an agent or editor. I even entered a few RWA chapter contests, just to test where my inspirational stories would land in a mostly secular perspective.

Sometimes I received great feedback, lots of positive comments and input. I really appreciated those, because they were the fuel to keep writing. But the tough critiques—those were the ones that stung at first, but became the fuel to write better.

One year, I entered a manuscript a writing contest and got a score that equated to a failing grade in my perfectionist, school-based mentality. Needless to say I didn’t final. The other two gave me high scores and positive input. That low score kept bugging me intensely, and I found myself going back to it again and again. The more I studied it, the more I saw validity in my judge’s comments.

I made revisions, rearranged scenes, and reentered this same piece the following year. I also targeted a specific category, because I wanted to catch the eye of a particular editor. At this point, that was more important than winning, to be honest. And it paid off. I did final and catch that editor’s interest.

Here are a few insights I’ve picked up along the way:

Do your research.
Look at each contest carefully and find out who the final round judges are. If you’re just starting out, focus more on the quality of feedback you want. Talk to other writers who are involved in contests and find out which ones have benefited them the most. Then as you progress, strategically enter contests that will put your work in front of editors and agents with good reputations. You just never know.

Pray first, then read.
Some comments will hit a tender spot, but often those are the ones we need to consider prayerfully and perhaps return to at a later time for consideration. That’s why it’s so critical to be aware of your state of mind as you look over your entries. If you’ve had a rough day and already feel worn out, this is not the time to intelligently consider a critique. Assess your mood, pray for God to show you what you need to see, and for the ability to discern what’s accurate and what’s not. Remember that these judges don’t know you, only get to see a small section of your story, and most importantly, cared enough to take time out of their busy schedules to read your work.

Consider input carefully.
Sometimes a judge’s input can be totally off target. One judge gave me comments based on one small, insignificant area of the story. This judge wanted me to expand on this area, to reveal the suffering this particular group of people underwent. Though I appreciated her comments and her passion for these people, that was not what my story was about. I was able to set aside her input in good conscience. Other times, this kind of input can inspire you to a whole new and more exciting direction.

Give back.
As you grow more confident in your writing and have benefited from an established critique group, consider giving some time back to the contests that have helped you. Volunteer to judge a few entries or to even be an emergency back-up. Having worked as a category coordinator and as a judge, the time is well spent and is very rewarding. I absolutely loved working to support the Genesis, one of the best writing contests out there for inspirational fiction.

Contests aren’t a part of every writer’s journey, but they’ve helped me grow in many ways. Now that I have critique partners I trust emphatically and a wise agent who’s not afraid of a red pen, my contests days are about over. I’m ready to be paranoid about the next phase of this crazy writing journey—a book contract. See you on the shelves!

Dineen A. Miller writes suspense novels, articles, and devotionals and is the owner of Designer Girl Graphics, which specializes in the design needs of writers and authors. She finaled in the 2005 ACFW Noble Theme Contest, took honorable mention in the 2006 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and placed second in the 2007 ACFW Genesis Romantic Suspense Category. (For the sake of space, she won’t list the contests she tanked in.) She has also served as a category coordinator for the past two years in the Genesis contests and as a judge in several contests. Formerly a youth counselor and Stephen Minister, her most challenging adventures to date are being the mother of two teens, the wife of an avid disc golf player, and getting her first novel published.

My Links
Website: http://www.dineenmiller.com
Blog: http://www.dineenmiller.blogspot.com


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Wonderful post, Dineen!

I just know your readers will love your books once God matches you with your meant-to-be publisher.

Thanks for guestblogging! Hope you will do it again.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, Dineen. Your words hit home with me - the paranoia as well as the need to really look at those not-so-glowing critiques.

Best wishes with getting published. I look forward to being one of those readers Cheryl says will love your books :-)


Julie Lessman said...

Hi Dineen, so good to have you guest blog today. Really enjoyed your post, especially the part about "Pray first, then read." BINGO!!! You nailed it girl! EXCELLENT ADVICE.


Dineen A. Miller said...

Thank you, ladies! I'm honored to be here. :-)

Whatcha think, Cheryl? Will 2008 be my year? ;-)

Tina M. Russo said...

How lovely to match your face with your name! I have heard all sorts of good things about you.

Your post was right on target. Thank you for sharing.

Georgiana said...

You're so right about prayerfully accepting the comments. Great post!

Mary Connealy said...

One great thing contests do for you is toughen you up. You're so right about facing down the critiques even if they pinch, and study them for to learn.
There is just so much more to writing than having a good story, the details have to be learned and a lot of contest judge comments won't mean as much to you if you don't know what in the Sam Hill they're talking about, but that doesn't mean they're wrong, it just means you've got a lot to learn to appreciate them.
And of course that's not always true but you need to give the critiques a chance.

Ruth Logan Herne said...


Excellent post, girlfriend. Thoughtful, provocative, well-written.

The next time you need me to 'ghost-write' for you, give me a little more notice, eh?


I loved your advice about praying first, then reading the comments. Mind you I don't DO it, but it's totally and irrevocably correctamundo and I will try harder.

You have developed such a wonderful, professional air about you. Every time I look at my beautiful one-sheets (Dineen designed mine for the North Country series and I've never seen a finer job and I mean that in all seriousness) I think of you and the times we've shared at conferences. Praying. Crying.

What a couple of saps!

Thanks so much for hopping the fence, sharing with us. Next time bring chocolate. Or pie. Or a frappuccino, double drizzle.

Love and prayers for you,


(who can be nice sometimes)

Mary Connealy said...

Dineen, you did those beautiful one sheets?
So sharp. Thanks for letting us know, Ruthy. Now we know we are in the presence of genius...besides ourselves of course. :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Amen, Sistah!

And besides being wonderful at what she does, she was great to work with. Those one-sheets were noted by more than one editor who admitted to throwing piles of the things away, and that's huge when you're a newbie, working toward that elusive goal of publication. You want to get noticed, right? Stand out?


For good stuff, anyhow! :)

Me? I can't make pictures and type line up on a sheet in any sort of legible fashion without constantly shifting everything left, right or off the page altogether.

See, Dineen? Mary appreciates techno wisdom. Me too.


Dineen A. Miller said...

Awww, Ruthy, you are nice. LOL! Thank you for your kind praise. It's a pleasure doing work for you. I love helping authors and writers with their printed collateral. Bookmarks are my favorite!

Thanks for making me feel so welcome, ladies! I loved being here. :-)

Missy Tippens said...

I'm a day late, but wanted to say how great it was to have you on here, Dineen. Excellent advice on contests!


Audra Harders said...

Great advice on contests, Dineen! I hate looking at the critiques when I'm tired, but I just can't help myself. That's when I have to remember to pray rather than cry : ) Thanks for being our guest Blogger and sharing!

Pam Hillman said...

I read part of one of Dineen's books, but I didn't know it was hers at the time.

It was awesome. That's SOME author and editors are going to snap her up soon.

Enjoyed the post, Dineen.

Dineen A. Miller said...

Thank you, ladies. I enjoyed writing this, plus it really challenged me to review the last couple years.

Thank you, Pam! Loved your comments too. So helpful. I hope 2008 is my year! We'll see... :-)