Friday, January 4, 2008

Gina Holmes ~ Guest Blogger

Does Winning a Contest Amount to Anything?
By Gina Holmes

Does winning a writing contest mean anything? Well, of course, it depends on who you ask. I’ve heard several in the industry say, “You know what winning a writing contest amounts to? Nothing.”

But is that really true?

I run the popular literary blog, Novel Journey. We’re known for our author interviews and have featured everyone from Pulitzer Prize winning, Geraldine Brooks to Dean Koontz. We also spotlight a lot of new novelists and have given many an author their first on-line interview. We will feature CBA authors and ABA authors alike, we won’t however feature a self-published author.

Why this discrimination? Well, it wasn’t always so. When we began, we were willing to take a look at self-published books, but quickly learned that there is a reason most of these were not picked up by traditional publishers. They weren’t publishable.

Having wasted our time reading many a sub-standard, vanity-press book, we decided to only feature traditionally published novelists. We simply didn’t have the time or resources to weed out the few good from the many, many bad.

Recently I received an email from Evan Howard who is a self-published novelist. Could I help him get featured on blogs, he asks, mentioning that his novel finalled in the USA BookNews 2007 Best Book Awards.

I didn’t hold much hope that I’d stumbled across quality, but because of the contest win, I followed the link and found his name and book title among some traditionally published novelists I know.

I asked to read a few of his chapters, and to my surprise, they were well written. We will be featuring Evan Howard and his novel, The Lost Epistle of Jesus in an upcoming series on untraditional publishing. And, of course, I’m telling you about him now.

Does a writing contest win make a difference? For Evan it did.


  1. That's an excellent point, Gina. And from what I hear from agents and editors at the ACFW conferences is contests are good for the noticeability factor.

    Especially if it's a contest from a group like ACFW or RWA. These are known for their tough judging and high quality winning manuscripts. Nearly all of the Noble Theme/Genesis finalists have gone on to publish.

    As a judge for the Genesis contest, I offer as much encouraging comments along with tough critiques - all to help the writer grow.

    Interestingly, when we ran our critiques on Novel Journey, one writer we all got excited about was Jennifer Griffith, whose same manuscript, Gumbo yaya, went on to be a 2007 Genesis winner.

    So I encourage writers to enter contests. If you're a new writer, you'll receive good feedback for your entry fee - and it's cheaper than a critiquing service.

    If you're a seasoned writer (what Randy Ingermanson classifies as a Senior) and you make the finals, you get read and critiqued by industry professionals. That's worth the entry fee alone.

  2. Great post, Gina! A contest can definitely help someone get a foot in the door. And in a business that's so hard to break into, that can make all the difference.

    Thanks for being with us today, Gina! And hello to Ane, too!! (Ane and I are in the same local ACFW chapter--W.O.R.D. :)


  3. Good post, Gina. I totally agree about self-pubbed books. Very few are wonderful.

    As for contests...I run hot and cold. I've placed in several contests and one of my books actually sold to the editor who did the final judging, but I still look at each contest suspiciously. How can contests be totally on the up and up when first chapters are splattered on websites, when first chapters have placed and won other contests, when we're all editing, critiquing and giving each other reads? And does it even matter?

    And explain this to me: If ROSES ARE RED places in one contest and gets a read from Editor Jane, then it places in another contest and Editor Jane comes across it again what are the chances of her giving it another thorough read? Won't she just mark ROSES ARE RED a 2nd or 3rd or 4th place? Or what if Editor Jane requests ROSES ARE RED and rejects it but ends up being faced with reading it in three more contests where it places? What's the point?

    I'm judging a contest now and two of the entries have placed in other contests so I know who the authors are though I don't know them personally. Another entry even has an author's name still in her header. arghhhhhhhh! No, I won't disqualify her...what's the point of being that cruel?

    The way I see it, contests have become big business. And because everyone knows everyone (or their manuscripts) I have to say Writer Beware and use good sense when entering. You can find yourself nothing more than a contest junkie if you're not careful. And yes, on the flipside, you can find yourself published.

    Believe it or not, ladies, I really am a great encourager. :)

  4. Hi, Gina!
    Well, I love the feedback that contests give, I just can't enter that many! I'm a SAHM, after all, and not made out of money. But for me, I enter contests because it's sometimes my only chance to get my ms. in front of an editor or agent I really want. And that happened with the last contest I finaled in. Plus, it looks good in a query letter when you can say your book placed in such-and-such contests.

  5. Hi Gina and thanks for your wonderful insight. Contests do so many different things for different people. I think we all benefit from contests, whether we realize it or not. I've chosen my crit parnters b/c I know what to expect from them. When I enter a contest, who knows what comment will either snap on the light or irritate me to throwing the final scores across the room : )

    Take it or leave it. Contests get your name out, help you make important contacts, give you a foot in the door.

    Well worth the hard earned pennies we invest in them!

    Thanks for playing with us, Gina!

  6. Okay... the Great Expectations Contest needs judges. Here's the call:

    "If you have a published friend who has time in January, please have them contact us. We like to give every entry at least 1 published judge."

    Go to their site and contact Angi or email me and I'll send you Angi's email.

  7. Hi, Gina. Thanks for being our guest today of all days, when Novel Journey is featuring one of our very own SEEKERS.
    So go check out
    Julie Lessman wrote a wonderful book with A Passion Most Pure.

  8. Gina, LOVED your article and, yes, I for one think that winning (or finaling) in a contest DOES make a difference ... right off the bat with your self-esteem, for one! :) With getting your name out there for two, as Audra pointed out, and three, as possibly the icing on the cake that will tempt an influential person to take a bite, as in Evan Howard's case. I mean let's face it, in today's tough market, we need all the help we can get!

    And, Mary! What are you doing traisping around in blogs when you should be in bed?? I truly appreciate the plug, but I'd rather have you well and in rare form so you can keep us in chuckles, my friend. Don't let me catch you on any other blogs, or so help me ...

  9. Thanks everyone for your kind and thoughtful comments and thanks Mary et al for letting me spout off. I really appreciate the opportunity. (Ane, commenting here may not be violating our restraining order, but it's still bad form ; )

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  11. Jess, you crack me up!! :) But you made some really good observations. Luckily, I'm terrible at remembering titles, so I never recognize a book when I judge it unless I've critiqued it. And as much as I would love to judge a book I've critiqued :), I won't do it. Conflict of interest and all. (Too bad I'm so honest!) LOL


  12. Love you, Missy. I have a problem with being too honest and too realistic. An inherited trait. LOL Sometimes those two traits lead to too cynical. :) I really do love contests (the judging & encouraging) and this is my year to give them a shot if I can scrape up the dollars. The Seekers have convinced me they can't be all bad. LOL

  13. Oh, WOW, Ane. You have no idea how blessed I am to read your comment. This is my first "visit" to The Seekers. I know God brought me here. I am coming out of "post-surgery" fog and REALLY needed this encouragement.

    Thanks, Gina for opening up this discussion and for your support as well.

    Happy New Year!

  14. Hope you're feeling better Jessica. I'm coming out of a 'post flu' fog. Or maybe a 'post migraine' fog. I'm not doing that well diagnosing myself. I'm too busy whining.

  15. I mean Jennifer...okay, maybe I'm not ALL THE WAY out of the fog. Sorry.

  16. Jennifer, Jessica....

    What's in a name, Connealy?????

    Gina, great post. Thanks for jumping in the sandbox, playing with us.

    And Jess, darling, you bring up some very good points as well.

    Are all judges created equal?


    Can some of them step out and 'see' an entry through new eyes?

    Absolutely. Not only have I done it to entries that have come my way (some of which went on to win or place in contests as a result of suggested changes.... pretty heady stuff, I'll tell you)... but I've had the same thing happen to mine, where a judge who saw it initially sees the final rendition and cheers me on. That's sisterhood for you. Or brotherhood.

    Now not all judges are like that. I know that. You know that. But I know editors who've bought things they saw in contests, didn't bite for the ms., but then buy it a few contests later.

    I think that's more common than you'd imagine.

    Now if they just plain don't like the story, or don't like your style, then no, they're not going to change that opinion, right? Then we should be looking at new markets, new opportunities. God lays them out before us daily. Totally up to us to take the chance or not.

    But I think most judges celebrate your successes and your improvement. I know I do, and the judges I recruit are like that too. Tough gals but cheerleaders of the heart.


  17. Good point about contests Gina. I hadn't really given it much thought.
    What a surprise to find you here. Way cool!!! I look forward to reading more from your new author find.
    God Bless you

  18. I want to ring in on the distaff side. As a successful non-fiction author of 11 books, 2 of which I self-published, I have a different take on things. Used to be, authors self-published for the reasons you say; their work was not polished or professional enough to past muster at a traditional publishing house.

    Today, with all the new technologies available for publishing, many established authors (myself included) are self publishing to:

    1) gain more control over the finished project

    After years of enjoying productive and cordial relationships with my editors, I got an editor on my last book that turned the usually enjoyable process into a living nightmare. She kept trying to insert inaccuracies and her personal opinions into what was a highly researched and accurate medical text.

    2) pursue lines of work apart from what you usually write

    As I stated, I am a non-fiction author. My former agent and all my editors wanted to keep me writing strictly non-fiction. My heart and head are bursting with stories begging to be told in a fiction format. Since I can't make any headway with the people I normally work with in the publishing world, I am going forward with publishing my own novels.

    I am aware this will subject me to the disdain of people who assume, as you do, that most or all self-published books are automatically very bad. However, I have read enough very bad traditionally published books to make me wonder how they ever got printed. Plus I am just old and crotchety enough that I choose not to let the prejudice against self-publishing bother me.

    3) I get to keep more of what my work earns.

    I am a mid-list author of medical books intended for the lay audience. I have two titles that have sold in the 20,000+ copy range. Not NY Times bestsellers certainly, but not bad, either. However, I have yet to receive a single royalty check. There's always some accounting reason why the book hasn't earned back its royalties even though the math says it has, but after 20 years of hearing those reasons, I no longer believe them. If I self-publish and the book fails, shame on me. If it succeeds, then I get the benefits without having to argue over them.

    I have taught myself Photoshop so I can design my own covers, and learned how to create and upload pdf files. My college degree was in art so I am not exactly a rank amateur in these matters. Now I am learning how to design and maintain web pages. As soon as I master that, I plan to launch my company with 4 titles, three I have written and one written by a friend.

    I'm applying rigorous editorial standards to these books and hope that with the help of a few other hardy and adventurous souls, we can over the next few years turn around the perception that all self-published novels stink.

    Thanks for hearing me out.

    p. b. smith
    aka Fat Cat on blogspot

  19. Hi, p.b.. Thanks for visiting our blog. You made some great points. Best of luck with your self-pubbing journey and forming your own company!

    Missy ps. Love the fat cat photo! :)

  20. Greatly enjoyed Gina's post and reading through all the comments.
    Blessings from Costa Rica

  21. Thanks everyone for the comments. On the self-pub thing. There ARE exceptions of course however, um, they're really really really rare. Everyone thinks that they're the exception. They'd agree most self pubbed books aren't good but theirs is. I know this because I reject them, then the author gives me hell and tells me how dare I say selfpubbed books usually stink and I haven't read theres. If I had I'd change my mind. So, I'm an optimist and I agree to read their masterpiece and two paragraphs into I realize the writer almost never has learned the craft of writing. Like I said, Evan was the exception. There are others of course.

    As far as keeping one hundred percent of the royalties goes, well a hundred percent of nothing is still nothing. It's hard to get your self pubbed novel onto shelves and hard to get media attention. But once in awhile someone with a self-pubbed book has great avenues for selling it and can actually write well enough for a mainstream publisher but chose not to and might make more money that way, but it's so rare.