Monday, January 28, 2008

Expect the Unexpected

Did you know that there are a ton of unexpected benefits you get from entering contests? Actually, after several years (and several contests) I knew there was, but when I started making the list, even I was amazed at how many unexpected benefits I came up with!

Entering contests helps you learn to deal with rejection. Aarrrghh! Who wants to learn to deal with THAT?!? But, really, we’ve all heard how hard it is to find an editor who loves our stuff. Well, it’s just as hard to find 2 or 3 -- or ten -- judges who love your writing. The first few times a ms. finals in two consecutive contests, then bombs in the next one, you’ll wonder just what you’ve gotten yourself into. But after riding the contest rollercoaster for a while, you’ll be prepared for just about anything. Not that you’ll LIKE it, but at least you can learn to deal with it. And you’ll be that much better prepared to deal with those same ups and downs from editors later on.

In the same vein, when judge #1 tells you they loved paragraph number three on page ten, but judge #2 tells you to cut the same paragraph because it’s too flowery, and Judge #3 skims right over it without missing a beat, and your eyes start to cross…well, this is all good practice for the comments you’ll get from editors. The only difference between them and the contest judges is that they can buy your manuscript .

You learn to deal with the disparity judging…wildly divergent scores. How can two different people judge the same ms and come up with a 50 or 60 point difference? The same way that I can read a book and it not do a thing for me, but you can read the same book and think it’s the best thing since sliced cucumbers. It’s the same with editors. One will love your book, another will…just not be willing to buy it. It doesn’t mean it’s not any good. It just means it’s not what they (or their house, or line) are looking for. Period. And all those wild contest scores will help you learn to deal with it a little at a time.

And here’s something a little more tangible. You will learn to meet deadlines. If you set your heart on entering ACFW’s Genesis contest or FHL’s Touched By Love contest, then you’ve figured out just how much you have to write every day to meet the deadline. You figured out the exact last day you can mail your entry and get it in on time. You’ve allowed yourself a few days to polish your first chapter, and you know the exact last day you have to put it in the mail. You’re learning to meet deadlines. And hopefully, you’re learning a little about yourself in the process. I know people who polish to perfection, stick their entry in an envelope and mail it off with weeks to spare. I, on the other hand, tend to procrastinate until about two weeks before the big event, then rush around trying to get it all done. I wrote and mailed two proposals for anthologies in one month once, when I should have started a lot earlier and allowed myself more time. It would have been a lot better on my nerves and the proposals could have benefited by being completed earlier.

How are you at following directions? Can you enter a contest and not get disqualified for not following the rules? Or…better yet, can you send an agent or editor EXACTLY what they want to see without ruffling their feathers? Now, I realize that a lot of contests have sticky little rules that make you scratch your head in dismay, but that’s not the point. The point is to follow the rules of THAT particular contest or that particular editor or agent. I just went out and bought a gazillion butterfly clips because that’s what a contest required. I’ve never used butterfly clips. I’ve always used the other ones (whatever they’re called), but for some reason this contest wanted butterfly clips, so that’s what they’re getting.

Once you start submitting to agents and editors, they have guidelines they want you to follow. If they say a one-page query, you’ll figure out how to write a one-page query. If they say email, you’re on it. If they say snail-it, you do it. If they send you a list of things or a sample to go by that makes your head spin, you will do it the way they want it done, or risk alienating them because you didn’t follow their directions.

I double-check my submissions to publishers just as carefully as I’ve always checked my contest submissions. All that practice has come in handy to keep me from being a complete nervous wreck when I submit to publishers.

What else? You’ll learn how to write a better synopsis by entering contests. One wants 3 pages, another 4. One asks for a 1 page overview, so that helps to encapsulate your story in a nutshell.

What are some unexpected benefits you’ve gained from entering writing contests? I’d love to hear them!


  1. Pam, You're right of course. We learn from the pain of contests. :)
    It's a bummer to learn, but still, we do.
    And, I am now hungry for sliced cucumbers AND I believe that is my first siting of the expression 'snail-it'. I am excited and plan to start using that term until it catches on nationwide.

  2. Wow, Pam, wonderful breakdown on the benefits of contests, and ALL so true! Entering contests are really kind of like taking a writing course, if you think about it -- you learn an awful lot about writing novels and fine-tuning them and whether or not you will make the grade (final) or have to retake the course (not final).

    And the most IMPORTANT benefit of contests??? Connecting and becoming friends with incredibly bright, funny and talented women (or men) who end up becoming lifelong friends. Long live The Seekers AND the wonderful gals/guys who post comments!!


  3. Pam, fabulous analysis of the benefits to entering contests.

    I also agree with Julie's comment about connnecting with fellow writers. Meeting new folks can send me into panic mode, so I tend to avoid it unless I'm tossed into the pool and told "swim."

    After I finaled in the GH last year, Tina Russo e-mailed me right out of the blue. I was totally shocked. Why was she contacting *me*? In fact, up until she did, my inspirational connections were limited to 1) Camy Tang. And I was pretty much happy with knowing Camy because her mind is as...well, probably more warped than mine. Hmm. Maybe not. :-)

    And now that I think about it, I had already met some inspy gals through FHL and FinishtheBook.

    So when Tina contacted me, I was in awe because what type of person e-mailed her fellow finalists to wish them well? The Tina kind. Not only did she wish me well, but she took time to get to know me, and she didn't run away when she did.

    I don't think many unpubbie writers estimate how VALUABLE getting to know fellow writers in their genre is.

    So I say even if you're a socializing nervous wreck like me, get out there and meet people, especially your fellow contest finalists.

  4. All the ones you said, Pam!

    Another unexpected benefit for me was name recognition. Not just with eds/ags, but with other writers. I would meet someone for the first time, and she would say, "Have you sold yet? I've seen your name all over the RWR contest page." I was so surprised that people noticed and remembered (even remembered the names of my manuscripts--which I can't do half the time!).


  5. I think I've learned that I'll always cringe, even after I'm published, when I receive criticism, even the constructive kind. I just got my scoresheets back from a contest I won, and I still haven't been able to look at all the comments. You'd think it would be easy, since I WON, but it seems even harder! I don't really want to know what they DIDN'T like about it. Okay, I do want to know, it's just hard.

    Oh, and I found out that I'm really ditsy. I'd hoped I'd grow out of it, but no, it lingers, and I'll soon be 40. One judge commented that the last page confused her. I'd introduced new characters without even a scene break. When I looked at the last page, I realized that instead of page 28 of The Woodcutter's Daughter, it was page 28 of my OTHER BOOK. So the last page was from ANOTHER STORY, and I hadn't even entered that story in the contest. Oh, my goodness. Ditsy. What else can I call it? I have no idea how it happened.

  6. Melanie! Congratulations! Melanie is posting tomorrow ladies.
    And I remember once getting a contest entry back that did NOT win and the first page not the last the FIRST, was almost complete gook. I'd cut something or pasted something...the first whole page was wrong and made no sense! The judges were amazingly kind considering.

  7. Melanie said: When I looked at the last page, I realized that instead of page 28 of The Woodcutter's Daughter, it was page 28 of my OTHER BOOK. So the last page was from ANOTHER STORY ... Oh, my goodness. Ditsy.

    LOL, Melanie, I KNEW I liked you!! I love it when younger women do the same things I do. You know, in some cultures, "ditsy" is cute ...

    And, Gina, so TOTALLY agree with you about Tina!! A very classy lady.

  8. Mary, I would lots rather experience the pain from contest judges than from editors. Snail-it? I suppose it IS a new term, isn't it? lol

  9. Oh, YES, Julie, why didn't I think of that? The friends I've made along this journey IS the most important benefit.

  10. ha ha ha you are sweet Gina.

    But I was so blessed in 2005 when I met the Golden Girls, and we united in prayer (we were all GH competitors in the same category), that I wanted more of that.

    Instead of competing, uniting with my competitors. A very potent thing.

    This is how I got to know Carla the 2007 GH inspy winner. And you two really blessed my lives last year.

  11. So true, Gina. GH finalists have this wonderful tradition of forming loops of their own. It was invaluable both times I finalled. Long after everyone else has stopped their ears and run screaming from all the questions regarding "What next?" the GH loop is still squealing and screaming. Still sharing successes and failures and giving first-timers tips on what to do about pictures and a multitude of things to be done before awards night.

    And some of those friendships last lifetimes.

  12. Missy, I can't believe I missed that as well! Name recognition is huge, but not something I ever thought of in the early years of entering contests.

    I'm notorious for casing out the RWA luncheons for a table where I know NO ONE! lol Once I sat down with a bunch of complete strangers and one lady eyed my name tag and told me she'd judged my finalling ms. in the GH.

    Even a few editors have done a double-take before. They might not know my face, but they know my name.

  13. Tina, getting to know, praying for, and rooting for your competitors is a sure-fire way to temper the disappointment of a non-win in a contest. Hmmm, that can be another benefit of entering contests: Learning how to find joy in other's successes, knowing that you've got talent and your time will come if you persevere.

  14. TINA SAID: Instead of competing, uniting with my competitors. A very potent thing.

    HOLY COW, this is HUGE!!!!!! You nailed it, Tina!! It is sooo much better (and prayer-powerful) to bless the competition rather then be jealous of them (which, ahem, as a very competitive person, tends to be an annoying downfall of mine). So right now, I am praying for another debut author whose fabulous book just came out this month along with mine -- I'm praying she goes straight to the bestseller list and that God uses her mightily. Take that, Devil!!

    Of course, it goes without saying that I am also praying for Seeker authors to go to the bestseller list, too, (Debbie, Mary, Camy, Cheryl, Missy and Janet), but no hardhsip there since I love these guys SOOO much and the books are SOOO good! Piece of cake. (White, with chocolate icing.)

  15. Pam, great job on this.

    I can't believe I'm about to say this:

    I agree with everybody.

    (Obviously the drugs are working.)

    At least the hormone injections. Sweetening me up some.

    Okay, kidding about the injections and the drugs, but you guys have totally rocked the plus sides of contests.

    I met all of you because of contests, except for Sandra who had the audacity to contact me and tell me she was brave enough to critique with me....

    And meant it, LOL!

    But other than that it's been contest related and what a wonderful, soul-giving, marvelous group of women.

    I've also noted that my other writer friends (from other genres, etc.) are contest winners or new/established pubs as well.

    And I've discovered that it doesn't mean I ignore those who haven't gotten that far. Not at all. I love to encourage others, but I've got a strict work ethic, and a tough shell, so if you're not tough enough to swim with the big fish and not trying to improve your swim-ability, I shy away.

    Talk's cheap in this business, and like all of you, I have no time to waste.

    I love to see new authors toughen up, take it on the chin, and dive back in the water.

    I like guts and gumption, and that's what contests can help develop.

    Great post, Pammers.


  16. Great post, Pam, and right on target. I have to chime in here about how finaling in the 2005 GH brought me, first of all, three of the dearest friends a gal could have--Tina, Julie, and Janet . . . which in turn led me to a whole passel of great gals, THE SEEKERS!!!!

    Also, what you said about the subjectiveness of judging is so, so true. Just look at the diversity in this group. Laughing here--I found out only this morning that Camy was one of my judges in a recent contest. She was tough but right on target about many aspects. BTW, another judge in the same contest gave me 25 points higher--take that, Camster!

  17. Ooops, meant to add one more thing. Hop over to my blog today and you can enter my January contest AND also have a chance to win an autographed copy of Missy's new book, Her Unlikely Family!

  18. Julie, our excitable one! I'm so glad to know you're praying for your friend with the debut book. Bestseller list better watch out!

  19. Myra, it's so funny when someone judges your work and they don't know it's YOU until later. Especially when you know they judge right from the heart. I love it when that happens because I know they really care.

  20. MELANIE!!!

    You won the inspirational category of the GOTCHA CONTEST!!!


  21. Congratulations, Melanie! We're so proud of you.

  22. Congrats, Melanie!! And congrats on winning one with the wrong last page!! That's so funny!!! :)


  23. Have you ever noticed that it's no fun telling your non-writer friends that you won a contest? They say, "So what does that mean? Is your book going to be published?"
    "Um, well, no."
    Really a downer.

  24. I promise I've improved it since you guys read it! LOL! All your great judging is responsible for my wins!

  25. Powerful post, Pam!

    Unexpected benefits...contests and their subjectivity definitely prepared me for the disparety of public reviews.

    And contest comments prepared me for editorial revision letters.

    Bombed contests made rejection easier to take and I'm sure, when I listened, improved my chances of selling. Once the initial sting passed of hearing, "You're not ready to submit yet."

    I dug my heels in and learned all I could.

    Still am learning and intend to never stop. We can always, always improve and I am still learning the ropes in so many ways.

    I'd have to say though that one of the most profound benefits was getting to meet my Seeker sisters because contests are how we met.

    Cheryl Wyatt