Once I jokingly said to a friend who has finalled in the Golden Heart, like, 10 times and won 3 or 4 times, that I aspired to be her when I grew up. She replied, very sadly, that no, I did NOT want to be her. Yeah, put that way, I could see her point.
Over the last few months we’ve talked about getting up the nerve just to ENTER a contest, entering simply for feedback, then getting to the stage of entering because we’ve been consistently finalling and we’re pretty sure our current wip can make the cut and land in front of an editor.
All of that is well and good, but what’s the ultimate POINT of entering unpublished contests? I mean, past the point of getting our work in front of an editor or an agent? The point is to become ineligible to enter contests. Right? Right!
And, dear heart, we don’t get to that point by working and reworking chapter one of a manuscript to enter in contests. I know of more than one aspiring author who fell by the wayside because she could never stop tweaking that first chapter and entering it in the next contest to see if it would final. After two or three years of this, she lost her zeal for the story and couldn’t even remember where she was headed with it in the first place. It was a hodgepodge of contest feedback and she completely gave up writing.
Hey, I’ve had my share of doing the same thing, so I know what I’m talking about! But I finally got past that and actually finished a manuscript, then another, and another. So, that’s the first step to kissing unpublished contests good-bye forever. (Hope I’m not driving AWAY our readership… .Well, when we’re all published, we can always talk about contests for published authors, can’t we?)
So, don’t be a first chapter statistic: Finish the manuscript.
And you know what? If you’ve never actually finished a manuscript, you’ll be surprised at all the things that will happen during the course of writing the story that will change the opening scene, or make the goals and motivations of your characters that much clearer as you write the closing scenes. It can be a real eye-opener, even if you had a detailed synopsis to go by.
At some point you’ll know you need to “retire” your current award winning manuscript from the contest circuit. Only you can decide when to do this, but I would say that if it’s been in front of most of the editors and agents who are judging, and if it’s won the Golden Heart, then it’s probably time to retire it. If you spot an editor or agent who’s judging that has never seen the manuscript, by all means enter it in that particular contest, but don’t just keep sending the first same chapter to the same final round judges over and over and over. (Someone else mentioned this a week or so ago). After an editor has seen it in contests 2 or 3 times, that’s probably enough.
I imagine at that point they’re ready to see something else from you, so write something else. Write the first chapter and a clear synopsis of the sequel to your first book or something totally new and enter that in a contest and get back to FINISHING your first award winning manuscript (which is a moot point if it won the Golden Heart, isn’t it?).
So, the goal is to start your manuscript, enter a few contests, FINISH the manuscript, and start something new. All this time keep entering contests, making connections, submitting to agents and editors, and somewhere down the road, something will click, and you’ll move one more step up the publishing ladder.
Keep working, keep moving forward to the goal, and publishing will happen.
Just don’t be a first chapter statistic.