Monday, January 14, 2008

Reaching for the stars.

Writers must plant their behinds in the chair, spending time at that computer or Alphasmart, or in front of that clean sheet of paper and write. That’s a given.

And writers must read. Examine what makes a novel great. Some days that’s far more fun.

The more we write and the more we read with a critical eye, the better writers we’ll become.

Or so we hope. But let’s face it, writers can make the same mistakes over and over and never realize what’s wrong. Even reading craft books and taking online classes can’t always teach us what we need to do because often we can’t view our writing objectively.

That’s where critique partners and contests make all the difference.

With her red ink, my critique partner reminds me what I forgot to put in the scene. That my talking heads need actions, physical reactions, or introspection. That I could use setting to underscore the scene’s emotion. Or that I forgot scenes must have a point. Ouch. That last one hurts. LOL. Or she may suggest I cut. She shows me spots where the pace slows. Where the action doesn’t further the plot. Everything she suggests is meant to take my work to the next level.

But one thing she can’t do, that contests can, is give my work fresh eyes. She knows the story and like me, can lose an element of objectivity about it. Or she may have the same issue with her own work. Don't tell her I said that. :-)

Now this will be harder to believe, but she never gives me a plaque, or puts a blurb in the RWR when I did a great job and she loves a scene.

Guess there are just some things a crit partner can’t do.

But here's the good news: contests can.

You knew that was coming. :-) Contests are a writer's way to reach for the stars.

What follows is a mixmash of some attitudes and actions that'll improve your chances for success, along with a few of the things you'll gain by entering contests.

C is for craft. Writers, who take online classes, read books on craft, find a critique partner or critique group, and attend workshops respect craft and are willing to do what they must to gain success.

O is for outlook—yours. Writers need courage to enter contests. It’s tough to put our work out there for strangers to critique. Writers need a thick skin. This may be our baby, but if we’ve been around infants, we know that to keep them smelling sweet, we’ll need to clean them up. Think of the judges’ comments as the wipes, talcum, and lotion that will make our work shine.

N is for networking. Contests are great ways to get our name out there. Entering lets others know we’re serious about our writing. When we final, then win, our peers will notice. Many writers found friends through entering contests. Best of all, targeted editors will start recognizing our names and talent. Hopefully, they’ll buy that manuscript, but if not, we may have a step up when meeting those same editor judges at conferences.

T is for teachable. To gain from contests, we need to be teachable. This is all about attitude. Not that everything a judge says will be right for us, or even accurate, but when writers will at least consider the suggestions, the criticism, we’ll look at our work with more objectivity, willing to admit we have weaknesses. Besides, it’s great practice for pleasing an editor one day.

E is for energizes. Entering contests adds zing to this solitary, often discouraging business. We’re in the game. We have an objective. High scores make us feel ten miles tall. Low scores won’t drain us, if we don’t make the mistake of viewing contests as only a win or lose proposition. Contests are teaching tools. Lap up the feedback, give ourselves time to digest it and we just might fatten up our fortitude.

S is for savvy. When we enter contests, we learn to discern which advice to reject, which to keep. This comes with experience. The best clue to take or ignore criticism is when more than one judge gives the same suggestions. Good advice will resonate with us, giving wonderful “aha” moments.

T is for tenacity. Writers can’t allow a low score or red ink to derail them. Publication necessitates persistence. Once published, authors will still need to hang tough through editor revisions, rejections. Guess it’s true--nothing worthwhile is easy.

S is for satisfaction. It feels good to polish the work the best we know how, to be successful in following all those sometime confusing contest rules. The praise of judges sprinkled among the criticisms keeps us going. It’s a glorious feeling to final. Winning is magical. To see our names in print on the contest pages of the Romance Writers Report is that first step toward seeing our name on a cover. We may even win cash or prizes. When nothing is coming in but rejections, that’s huge.

If you haven’t entered your work in a contest, let this be the year. Make it a late New Year’s resolution. And if you do, I’m hoping your contest experiences will be happy ones.

Blessings, Janet


  1. Clever article, Janet, and a great way to make important points regarding contests! Wish I'd thought of it!! :)


  2. You guys know I've mentioned I'm judging my Golden Heart entries right now.
    I seem to be having some trouble with them.
    I just like them all.
    I'm having trouble...oh... reading critically I guess you'd say.
    I'm just reading along and, even if I see something and think, I'd reword that, or 'That's telling' I'm still having a pretty good time and thinking I'd read on... which is a huge judging criteria for me.
    It seems harder because, with the GH I can't send critique sheets back, so little niggling problems slip away and I don't see the whole. But honestly, aren't you supposed to judge this one on readability? Right?
    So someone, Ruthy? Camy? Tina?
    Who else here knows how to kick my ... self.
    I seem to be turning into a marshmallow and just the though makes me want to toast myself.
    Help me rediscover my inner sarcastic wicked witch of the west.

  3. Newsflash out of WNY Mudland:

    Janet Dean has a terrifically great and wonderful post on The Seekers Blog, a great stopping ground for pubbed and aspiring authors and their readers. Janet's post makes perfect sense and is a must read for all who enjoy the subtleties of a well-written novel.

    And just in:

    Mary Connealy is a wuss.

    Yes, dear listeners, the queen of Christian romantic comedy and comedic mystery has been quoted as needing help in judging her GH entries because (sob and whine inserted here) they're all good and she's not sure how to handle that.

    Stay tuned on further details as time allows.

    Snarky Tyrant

  4. Thanks, Julie, Melanie and Ruthy! Your nice comments gave me some much needed warm fuzzies.

    Mary, how fortunate your entries are fun to read. You don't need to be a wicked witch to give them a score. Just give it a little time and see which books hang in your memory. Which characters you can't put out of your mind. Give that book or books a 9. Or if you're really stuck, read the entries again. LOL. I suspect that'll jump start your mean gene. :-)

  5. Mary,
    It's always easier to see the entry more clearly the second time you read it. (Like I'm an expert. I've only judged one contest.) But I'm sure you'll score them very fairly, if I know you.

    Have y'all heard that the Genesis contest this year is only letting you submit 15 pages? That's an insanely small number of pages, if you ask me. But no one is. Ha.

  6. Janet said, "Good advice will resonate with us, giving wonderful “aha” moments."

    So true. And even when the judges' comments seem brutal, there are more "aha" moments waiting when our critique groups hash over the contest critiques. "She said that, huh? Why? Oh . . . aha!" :-)

  7. interesting blog. i'm not an author but i'm going to forward this to a new author friend of mine. for the contest, hsmuda[at]gmail[dot]com

  8. Continuing coverage on both the activities in Seekerville and the continuing saga of Mary's recent attack of NICENESS....

    First to JD's assessment of writing as a craft:

    JD, loved, loved, loved your analogy of books to babies, particularly the diaper wipes and talcum...

    Most babies need a good scrubdown now and again. Perfect comparison.

    And now, breaking news:

    Di di di di di da, di di di di da...

    (Imagine a news ticker sound)

    It seems that some people are actually sympathizing with Nebraska's Connealy woman, offering the simple advice of reading her entries twice.

    This ace reporter wants you to know that it can't possibly be that easy, that a second read couldn't really make that much of a differernce, could it?

    Inquiring minds want to know, and while this reporter thinks that Ms. Connealy is just having an unusually good day, chock-full of mellow moments, usually those days are hormone related at a certain age.

    You know what I mean.


    I pose the question:

    Should I travel to Nebraska for the sole purpose of prodding Ms. Connealy none too gently, or believe that her hormonal spikes will level themselves out, striking fear into the mere mortal hearts of GH entrants everywhere???

    Feel free to vote on this issue at your own peril.

    Snarky Tyrant

  9. Thanks for stopping at Seekerville, Susan. Guess we creative types can finds ways to make lemonade out of our lemons.
    :-) Hi to your critique group!

    Hi Hannah. Good to have you here. You just won a copy of Cheryl Wyatt's A Soldier's Promise over at my blog. Congratulations!


  10. Ruthy, I figured the baby analogy would work for you. You probably get more practice diapering babies than any of us.

    If the cause of Mary's mellowness is hormonal, she'll swing back to her flip side any minute now.


  11. I have a question for you sage souls, since I'm trying to figure out which contests to enter this year. Let's say I have two entries, but one of the entries has already been seen by one of the final round judges of a particular contest, we'll just call it the Genesis contest, and the other final round judge would only publish either of the two entries if their guidelines changed (or pigs learned to fly, about the same chances of either happening). Would you enter said contest (Genesis) just in the hopes that you might win and could revel in the glory? Or skip it this year?

    All opinions, snarky or otherwise, are welcome.

  12. I love it, Janet! Great, creative post. My fav was s is for savvy. Because it reminded me of a contest entry I got back last year that devastated me. And you know why it devastated me? Because I think the judge was right.

    You know, after entering a gazillion contests, it got pretty easy to shove them in a drawer and conveniently forget the comments that made no sense. But sometimes the most painful ones were the ones where I knew the judge had nailed me on something terribly wrong.

    The one I'm referring to in last year's contest would mean a MAJOR re-write of a book I've already re-written at least twice. So I set it asisde. Maybe someday I'll get the change to re-work that rejected book and resubmit somewhere. When I do, I'll dig that contest feedback out.

    Melanie, I'll save the snarky replies for Ruthy or Mary. LOL I would say to go ahead and enter again. Especially if you've made any changes to the book. 1. You may catch repeat judge in a different mood. 2. The competition may not be as stiff this time. 3. The judge who couldn't buy might still love it and give it a win, drawing attention from other editors. 4. Pigs may fly! :)


  13. Mary,

    It's important to remember that you aren't judging them against each other. If you love them all then give them the high score they deserve. Plenty of grumpy judges will feel free to score low.

    The rules say to focus on GOOD STORYTELLING. If they swept you away then give them the appropriate score.

    I read Nicholas Sparks and I swear at times I want to strangle the man for some of his writing but he is still a consumate storyteller. :)

    By the way, since Janet mentioned reaching for the stars and entering contests. The Tara (formerly First Impressions Contest) really has lined up some very interesting judges for this year's contest. Thomas Nelson, Grand Central to mention a few. I love to see fresh judges.

  14. Melanie,

    Personal opinion only.
    Reveling in the glory of a contest win lasts approx. 24.6 seconds. (Why is it then that contest loss misery lasts 24.6 hours???)

    I digress.

    Save your money. Enter the manuscripts in a contest that will further your career.

  15. Ha ha ha, there you have it, Melanie. An answer to your question. Missy says go for it and I say don't. I love it.

    Toss a coin :)

  16. Great article - and fun to read as I'm in last hours of waiting for contest results! Helps me keep perspective.

  17. LOL, Tina!! You're right.

    But I do agree with you, Tina, on your lecture to Mary: Give them all a good score if you enjoyed them all. And if they're good enough to publish (with some editing), then give them the 9--as painful as that would be for you, you marshmallow. ;)


  18. Thanks, Missy, for sharing the contents of your drawer. It helps to see other writers struggle and duck the tough ones upon occasion, but that could be for the best. Writing something new can be better for your career, and easier for you, than rewriting an entire book...what, three times?

    I revel longer than Tina, Melanie. I can make a party out of a paper cut. So, I say, if you need some satisfaction or networking enter.

  19. Hi Katie! Now there's an idea! I should have added waiting for contest results to my post. That should be loads of fun to examine. Next time. :-)

    Let us know if you're a finalist or winner. We love sharing good news!


  20. Melanie, how come you're just picking between two contests. Honestly hunt around for another one. there are scads, that has the finalist judge you want or at least a new one, or an agent sometimes judges, you could concentrate on that.

    And I'm ALWAYS NICE and I'll slap anybody who says I'm not.

    Now I'm cranky. Time to judge entries three and four...HOW FAIR IS THAT TO THOSE POUR ENTRANTS, HUH?

    Plus, I know a secret about Ruthy that no one else knows, nope, not even her.
    ah.........the power......

    No, don't try and guess, the wondering is way, way better than the knowing. :)

  21. Oh, I've already picked out three other contests I MUST enter. I was just wondering if I should enter the Genesis, too. Even if I final, I'm not sure I can make it to the conference in Sept., so I think I may skip it this year.

  22. Mary knows a secret about Ruthy that she doesn't even know herself. Hmm, sounds like fiction, Ms. Connealy. I'm still sorta interested. Okay, a lot. But I'm proud of you for not telling. Shows character. Will money help loosen your lips? ;-)

    I just finished the first run through on my line edits for Courting Miss Adelaide. I still have to cut more since the word count is 10,000 less than when I sold the book. I got all choked up reading the ending and gave myself a headache. Well, I suppose it could be the result of eye strain, but blaming it on an emotional ending is good for my career. ;-)

    Blessings, Janet

  23. To final in the Genesis and not be at the conference would be harsh, Melanie. Glad you'll have three irons in the fire.

  24. Janet, that's a really good kind of headache, and good sign that it will pull at readers' heartstrings. Nice job!


  25. Connealy:

    You know nothing. I know it. You know it.

    Well, I mean nothing about me that isn't common knowledge. Please...

    And if you DOOOOOOO know something that will totally ruin my career, I'll be glad to bribe you with chocolate to keep it between us.

    I'm mean, bossy, snarky and tough as nails and I'd be smackin' those GH entries with a pancake turner in hand, shaping them up.

    Okay, that's not true at all and I totally agree with Tina on that one unless (and this is a big unless that happens to established writers and authors, pubbed and aspiring) you're liking them because you're feeling a little altruistic and a mite guilty that you're published and they're not. Don't laugh, guys, this really happens and it doesn't do the aspiring author a bit of good if we ...shade... our scores to 'help' them.

    But it is hard to read a bunch, see them as all equal, and justify giving out a handful of nines.

    But that's where Russo is right on the money. Give 'em what they deserve, kid, you know I trust you on that.

    But it's hard not to judge one against the other if one outshines the rest by a bit. That one justifiably gets a tenth or two higher, right?

    Subjective stuff and you're very good at it.

    When all else fails give 'em all a 'six' and be done with it.

    (Kidding, don't anyone get hyper, Jeepers creepers you guys are a bit antsy out there.)

    Unless you're reading mine, of course (she's not, we've already ascertained that Seekers don't read Seekers)...

    But if you were I'd stand right in line for that '9' and pat you on the back all the while you're doing it.



    Go for the other ones. If you're not going to be at conference, if you're not going to sell to that editor even if you final, then spend your hard-earned bucks (we had this discussion a week or so ago, right about the expense of contests, GH in particular...) where they'll do you the most good, honey-girl. Seriously. Get it out there, put it out there, but weigh the possible good results to you and your writing career.

    And I hope I kick your butt.

    (Meaning that in the nicest possible way, of course.)


    So we've made Mary cranky (I'll take full credit for that) and now she'll zap the last entrants. Hopefully those entrants don't know me or have my home address. If they show up here I'll bake 'em some cookies (highly addictive) and hand 'em a baby to feed or rock.

    How can anyone hate a woman who bakes such good cookies and rocks babies?

    Snarky Tyrant

  26. I have to say it is fun reading all the posts. i to am not a writer so not entering this contest for a prize this week.
    but i am enjoying the banter.
    I would hate to have to judge books. i tend to love most i read.
    (well almost most)

  27. Thanks, Missy! I hope you're right. Can't wait to dig into your book, Her Unlikely Family. Okay, this is a plug, but why not? We're proud of Seeker books!

    Ruthy, can't see how anyone, even a disgruntled GH contestant or two, could hate you. But if they show up, you're prepared. Who can resist babies and cookies?

    Jenny, Glad you enjoy the posts. Some of us scare readers. Not to name names. ;-)

  28. Aw, heck, Janet, Mary and I don't scare 'em, not really.

    Well, Mary, maybe, but only when her prescriptions run out.



  29. And Jen, welcome aboard! The nice thing about Seekers is that we love readers and writers equally.

    Shoot, we all started as readers, so why wouldn't we just open-arms love you, Dude?

    Not so Snarky Tyrant

  30. This year is the year!

    Sometimes it's as much (or more) fun to read the comments as the posts.

  31. Thanks Janet, I not scared (yet)
    Ruth, thanks for the welcome.
    It takes a bit to scare me (ok spiders and dogs will do it) but other than that im fairly good.
    Its good having an insight in to Authors thinking.
    I admire anyone who can write a diary and who can write a book.
    I am not a writer but do enjoy reading a good book.

  32. I'm trying to read all the comments but I really do have to go do the work I actually get paid for! I really hate being an adult :-)

    Ok, didn't reach the end, so don't know how Mary's 'turmoil' was resolved (or not). I just want to say that I have been a 'victim' of the wicked witch of the west and loved absolutely everything she had to say. Even the stuff I disagreed on. The only contest critique that really stinks is when the judge's comments make it rather obvious that she didn't really read your entry. Maybe that means it didn't hook her, but if she'd just say that instead of making vague, non-relevant comments it would be so much more helpful :-)

    About entering contests...I'm looking forward to Tara because I dream of Thomas Nelson offering me a contract! So, if I write waaaaay too long for LI, is it still worthwhile to enter contests judged by Steeple Hill editors? Does it really boost your image to be able to say to an agent/editor: I've won this contest, and this one, and finaled in this one...?

  33. Great article, Janet!

    I loved it all, and particularly the reminder to have fresh eyes go over our stuff so we don't lose objectivity.

    Also really agree with you about how much courage it takes for writers to put their stuff out there via the contest circuit.

    I was always really, really glad our entries were just a number and not a name when I majorly bombed a contest. LOL!