Monday, December 17, 2007

Welcome Narelle Atkins!

Missy here. I'm so happy to introduce my friend Narelle Atkins to you today. Narelle is doing great on the contest circuit! I'll let her tell you her story. Welcome, Narelle!
Narelle Atkins writes contemporary inspirational romance. In 2008 she will be the Vice President of the Faith, Hope and Love Inspirational Chapter of RWA. She resides in Canberra, Australia with her husband and two children.


Thank you, Missy, for inviting me to be a guest on Seekerville. I’m glad to be here today with the Seekers.

Writing contests. Mention this phrase to writers and you’ll hear a diverse range of thoughts and opinions. Last week at my Canberra Romance Writers group meeting, we reflected on the year that had passed. A number of us had achieved success through contests. We heard of one member who was thinking about quitting romance writing, in part due to some disappointing contest feedback.

I entered my first contest back in 1999. An opening chapter contest through Romance Writers of Australia. I had only written about three or four chapters of my first ms. I discovered I had a long way to go and the feedback was helpful. One of the judges encouraged me to keep going and to learn my craft. Great advice for a newbie.

The arrival of my children and two interstate moves put my writing on the back burner for about five years. At the start of 2006 I became serious about my writing. I joined the Finish the Book loop through FHL and finished the first draft of my second ms in 2006.

In 2007 I took the plunge and started to enter writing contests again. I wanted constructive critiques on my first and second mss. I entered both mss in the FHL Touched By Love contest and the ACFW Genesis contest. I prayed that I would receive helpful and consistent feedback from the judges.

To my astonishment my first ms reached the final round (and eventually placed third) in the Touched By Love short contemporary category. The final round entries received five critiques from the published author final round judges. From both contests I ended up with eleven critiques of my first ms (due to the large range of scores in the Genesis contest I had a discretionary judge). God answered my prayers for critiques far beyond what I had expected. The feedback from the judges in both contests was excellent. My weaknesses were highlighted and I was given some direction in how to improve my mss. A wonderful blessing and I appreciate the time and effort put in by the judges. Thank you!

My first ms needed major revisions. Comments from the judges and my new critique partners helped me to redefine the direction of my story. I set a new goal: to finish my revisions in time to enter the Golden Heart. I wanted some additional feedback on my first three chapters and synopsis so I entered my ms in the inspirational categories of the Rose City Romance Writer’s Golden Rose Contest and The Golden Network’s Golden Pen Contest. Steeple Hill editors were the final round judges and I had hoped I might final in one of the contests.

I was thrilled to final in both contests. I spent five hectic days revising my first three chapters and synopsis for the Golden Rose final round. Again, the feedback from the judges in these two contests was great. I had been toying with the idea of a sequel with two of the minor characters and one of the Golden Rose judges said she could see this potential too. It’s wonderful when the judges share your enthusiasm for your story.

I placed second in the Golden Rose contest and any day now I hope to hear the Golden Pen contest placements. The final round judge of the Golden Rose contest requested my complete ms.

I started this year with the goal of entering writing contests for critique and I ended the year with three final round places and a full ms request. I’ve learned so much from my contest experiences. The quality of my ms has improved as I revised using the constructive comments from the judges.

To all the judges who scored and commented on my contest entries, thanks so much for helping me on my journey towards publication. I’m not there yet but I’m a lot closer than I was at the start of 2007.


  1. So true, Narelle. Our contest judges play a big role in helping us develop our writing skills. Opinions may vary, and we might not agree with some judge's comments, but the education on technique is invaluable.

  2. Sounds like you have a great attitude, welcoming feedback and just wanting to improve. I hope 2008 brings you your first contract!

  3. Narelle, You're doing great. The contest success and the requests for manuscripts. Learning and making connections, that's what contests are all about.
    You're from Australia, huh? The other side of the world, big time. So interesting that we can be connected by this blog.

  4. Congratulations on your success, Narelle. I too find myself intriqued by your location. When you go into your local bookstore does romance have its own area? What bookstores are in your neighborhood? Do they sell romance in grocery stores as they do here? Is it easy to find inspirational romance on the rack there?

    And thanks so much for joining us and answering my endless questions.

    Is it night there? Are you sleeping?

  5. Narelle,

    Thanks for sharing your contest experience. One of my CPs lives in Australia. In fact, I should be getting her box of Christmas goodies together instead of goofing around on the internet.

    Your comments about having a great attitude when receiving judges' comments is so on the mark. I've often heard other romance writers bash contest judges or assume all are alike because they had one or more harsh ones. I tend to respond with "If you feel that harshly about contest judges, then why don't you become one so you can change their perception?"

    While entering contests has been somewhat beneficial to me, judging them has been far most pivitol to my growth as a writer. Not only that, but I'm more receptive to what my judges' say...and my CPs too. Most judges I've met express their heartfelt desire to help their fellow writer more another step down the road to publication.

    Granted, some help more than others and some need help learning how to help, but all in all, I've seen an improvement in judging from when I first entered a contest five years ago and now. And I can see how I've improved as a judge.

    Which is why I also like to say to complainers of judges, "You were a beginning writer once. This judge may be a beginning judge too."

    I've yet to meet someone born with the gift of judging contests.

    Practice may or may not make you perfect...but it'll definatly make you better.

  6. Myra, it's so true that the judges provide us with an invaluable education on writing technique. I know I've looked at my ms and thought, this isn't working but I can't work out why. Then I've read the judges comments and had a big "aha" moment. The comments have shown me the areas of writing craft I need to study in order to improve my ms.

  7. Thanks Melanie. I hope so too! Two of my trusted writer friends have read my full ms and given me some tough and honest feedback. I appreciate their comments because I know my ms will be better after I evaluate their comments and revise my ms. I have a lot of work to do on my ms before I submit it.

  8. Thanks Mary. An unexpected bonus for me was making friends with my fellow contest finalists. I also met my wonderful Aussie critique partner after my TBL contest news was announced on the RWAustralia loop. It's great to be here today.

  9. Thanks Tina. Romance is big here in Australia and we have a growing number of local authors. Our bookshops have dedicated romance sections and my local Canberra Romance writers group meets in a Romance bookshop. Romance is sold through Big W, K-Mart and Target (similar to Walmart in the US) as well as some grocery stores and newsagents.

    At present inspirational romance isn't sold through these stores. I'm hoping this will change soon! Christian bookstores stock inspirational romance and you can also purchase online through a large Aussie Christian retailer.

    I'm happy to answer any questions you all have about the Aussie inspirational romance market. I'm passionate about raising the profile of inspirational romance (and Christian fiction in general) in Australia.

    It's 7.30am here and my children have just woken up (it's our last week of the school year before the Christmas and January school holidays).

  10. Thanks Gina. It's great to hear you have an Aussie CP. I agree with your comments about judging contests. I've judged two contests for Romance Writers of Australia and I've learned so much through my judging experiences.

    We receive back a report on all the judges scores and I'm amazed by the range of scores for some entries. It seems like some judges consistently score entries higher and others score entries lower. Maybe this partly relates to judging experience? I've wondered if the low scoring judges are more experienced and see more flaws in the entries than the less experienced judges?

    At the end of the day it's the comments that matter. A score is only a number but the comments can help you improve your ms.

  11. Narelle, you make an excellent point about the importance of comments as compared to scores. A number can discourage or encourage but it can't teach the writer how to improve the manuscript.

    Thanks for joining us today! Your experiences confirm the value of contests.

  12. Thank Janet. It's great to be here today. I hope my contest experiences will be an encouragement for others.

  13. It's always been so fun over the last two or three years to hear Narelle announce the end of the school year for her children about the time we're gearing up for cold weather. Then she starts talking about school starting in the fall as we're thinking of the school year ending in spring. :) The internet is amazing for bringing us all together from around the world!

    Narelle, as I read your post, I was also struck by your great attitude. I think that can make all the difference. Keep up the good work! I'll be pulling for that first sale!

  14. Great at last to have a fellow Aussie very serious about being published in Inspirational Romance, Narelle! There has only been one other besides myself from Australia and I am so thrilled to have you for fellowship at conferences here in Australia and online.

    After the privilege of reading Narelle's manuscript I can tell you all I fully understand why she has had a request for the full manuscript!! I also need to add that while there are many very successful Australian romance writers now with their books being released in North America, we Aussies writing inspirationals still have hurdles to jump over with some publishers in the US.

    I can understand some of the problems editors face. While we share the English language, I've been amazed at the differences in not only spelling but shades of meaning that require possibly more work by copy editors etc.

    Having said that, I've received wonderful support from writers and readers for my books released by Barbour. I am so thankful that back in 1993, the editors starting Heartsong Presents book club were prepared to accept manuscripts from me with all those problems.

    I am so excited that after 16 romance titles my first larger inspirational romance book Return to Baragula is scheduled for release by an Australian Publisher. More details of course on my website

    So, you can see why I'm just so excited for you, Narelle and congratulate you once more and look forward to meeting you again.
    Mary Hawkins, Tasmania, Australia.

  15. Thanks Missy. How would we survive without the internet? It's great having online friends on the other side of the world.

  16. Hi Narelle, so nice to "meet" you through the Seeker loop. Great post, and I wish you continued success, not only in contests, but in finding a publisher home for those finalist entries. God bless!

  17. Thanks Mary. I really appreciate your generosity in providing detailed comments on my full ms.

    Mary has also brought up an important point for non-North American contest entrants. I've found the judges have picked up on one or two Aussie expressions that don't translate easily to a North American audience. Contests are a good way to receive feedback on whether or not there are different shades of meaning for phrases we use in our everyday life.

  18. Thanks Julie. I've enjoyed being here today with The Seekers.

  19. Hi Narelle,

    I really think that 2008 is going to be your year! As do all the girls in the CRW group.

    My first contest results taught me alot - not only about my ms, but also about not being too precious or sensitive about my writing.

    Some of the comments I received had me quite down at first, but after a good night's sleep I could look at them objectively and see areas for improvement.

    I have made my changes and resubmitted to another contest - so the cycle continues. Hopefully after a few trips through the contest loop the outcome will be a saleable manuscript. Regardless, I know I will be a better writer for it.

    Best of luck for the Golden Pen and hopefully we'll catch up in February.


  20. Narelle, great attitude! And what fun to be in Australia. One of my favorite books/movies is A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute (sp???) Great story, beautifully told, and a looooong span of time, which I like in a good book.

    Now, in a baaaaad book, that's pure torture, but I digress!

    Thanks so much for stopping over and I wish you great and wonderful success in the GH and anything else you do this year. It would be a wonderful year for that first, elusive contract. Keep up the good work.


  21. Narelle,
    There was recently an Aussie who had just joined the ACFW book club and was afraid she wouldn't be able to get a copy of our book club selections in time. Is that Australian Christian retailer that sells online able to get new releases very quickly? If so, I'd like to pass on that information. Thanks!

  22. It seems like some judges consistently score entries higher and others score entries lower. Maybe this partly relates to judging experience? I've wondered if the low scoring judges are more experienced and see more flaws in the entries than the less experienced judges?

    My immediate response would be "more experienced judges score lower." But I coordinated the Long Contemporary category is last year's FHL TBL contest. After exchanging a few e-mails with my judges, I got a good idea of their level of experience, plus all the final round judges were published.

    Granted, we didn't have a ginormous numbers of entries to evaluate, but based on the number I had, I didn't see a corralation between experience and scoring.

    Some lesser experienced judged scored lower than the more experienced judges. Sometimes the scoring was reversed.

    When I first began judging RWA contests five, almost six, years ago, I judged FAR harder than I do now. If the entry had no plot, then I'd give it a 1 or 2. Now I'm more likely to give it a 3 and be very specific on why I scored as I did.

    If an entry had a handful of missing or misused commas, I'd give a 3, maybe 4. Now I'm more likely to give a 5 unless the entry has at least 10 or more errors, especially if the errors are consistant ones like run-on sentences or not putting a comma between two independent clauses joined by a conjunction. The key is looking for a consistent problem, because we all easily miss those little boo boos and typos. And I NEVER take off for spelling because I'm awful at it myself.

    But those are things I've learned over judging 8-12 contests a year.

    Oh, regarding the differences in OZ and US word-choices and spelling...this is why if you aren't a US native and you are targeting a US publisher, then find a CP or beta reader to help you spot those Aussie-isms. The gals in my crit group are always helping our Aussie-gal with things ranging from nappies to Tam Tams. Seems like the other day we had a huge discussion on Kool-Aid.

    I hope things turn out well with the full ms requests. :-)

  23. Thanks Kirsty. You're working hard on your ms and you have a great attitude. I know it won't be long until we see your name among the contest finalists. I'm looking forward to seeing you and the CRW girls next year.

  24. Thanks Ruthy. I also loved A Town Like Alice and the miniseries with Bryan Brown. Australia has a short but rich cultural heritage. Another Aussie favourite of mine is The Thorn Birds.

  25. Melanie, I think the availability of new releases here in Australia depends on the publisher. A large number of the independent booksellers do their own print runs on certain books. Koorong is the largest on-line Christian retailer and they buy direct from the US.

    Camy Tang's Sushi for One was available within a month of it's US release through Koorong. I currently have Camy's second book, Only Uni and Julie Lessman's book A Passion Most Pure on order from Koorong.

    At present the Australian dollar is strong against the US dollar. This year I've purchased Steeple Hill titles through CBD or Amazon and paid the international postage fees because it's faster than waiting for the titles to be available through our local booksellers.

  26. Gina, thanks for sharing your experiences from a judge and contest coordinator's perspective. I think it's good that many RWA chapters provide training for their judges.

  27. Narelle, I enjoyed your post about your writing, contests and Australia as well.

    You mentioned that you write contemporaries. What geographical settings do you write? Do you stick with Australia, or venture into other countries.

  28. Thanks Pam. At this stage all my mss are set in Australia. My requested ms is set in Sydney. I grew up in Sydney and I have loved using Sydney harbour and surrounding areas as the setting for my ms. In contrast my second and third mss are set in a fictional rural country town near the mountains.

  29. Narelle, it's nice to finally match your face and name!!