Friday, February 29, 2008


Seekerville Blog

Contests are a good deal in several ways for both the published and pre-published writer. Before I received my first book contract, I was a finalist several years in a row in the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Noble Theme Contest. (The contest is now called the Genesis and is currently open to entries at Now that I have a number of books out on the market, I still enter contests. Let me tell you why.

For the pre-published, contests offer unique opportunities.

Low-cost critique from experienced writers.

Where else can you get such low-cost feedback on a chapter from authors who are farther down the publishing road than you are? Granted, not every suggestion written on our submissions should be taken as gospel, but we can take the nuggets and discard the dross. Sifting through feedback offers a great way to learn how to weigh suggestions and incorporate them (or not) in our work. When I judge contests I try to give feedback the writer can apply to the entire manuscript.

Opportunity for recognition in the industry.

Each successive year I was a finalist in the Noble Theme brought me to the attention of more agents and editors. I appeared on their radar, so to speak, as an up-and-coming writer to watch, and eventually, the recognition helped me get an agent and then a publisher.

Experience handling criticism.

The ability to receive criticism with a receptive and humble heart is invaluable to any writer, not just those who haven’t yet sold their first book. Rejection is part of the business for the published and pre-published alike, as is editorial critique. A gracious attitude toward corrective feedback is a hallmark of a professional and makes an author desirable to work with in the eyes of an editor or agent.

For published authors, contests offer:

Feedback from other writers that can help improve future books.
The opportunity for recognition in the industry that may open doors to further contracts.
Recognition among readers that may increase sales.

As a final word, I would offer a caveat about contests. As excellent as they can be in so many ways, contests contain a degree of subjectivity. Perhaps what you have written is not to one judge’s taste, and you get a lower score from that person than the others, keeping you from being a finalist or placing. In those cases, you get up, dust yourself off, thank the Lord for whatever valuable instruction came out of the experience, and move on. This, too, is great practice in behaving as a professional with grace and humility. I speak from experience!

BIO: Jill Elizabeth Nelson writes what she likes to read—tales of adventure spiced with romance, humor, and faith. Reluctant Smuggler is her latest release in the To Catch a Thief series of romantic suspense. To find out more about her books, read excerpts, listen to a recording of the author reading the first chapter, and enter a monthly contest for a free signed copy, drop by Jill and her husband of over 25 years live in rural Minnesota, where they enjoy camping, outdoor cooking, and hiking (weather permitting). They are both movie-buffs, and Jill is an avid reader.


  1. Welcome to Seekerville, Jill. And thanks for you rignt-on post!

    Your focus on humility is so important. Without it, writers won't look closely at low scoring judges' comments and might miss valuable insight into their work.

    My first book releases in September and I'm planning to enter it in contests. I'm not sure why, but I didn't realize contests gave the pubbed writer feedback, too. Now that's exciting!


  2. You are so right, Jill, in everything you said! You can get such valuable feedback from contests with much less money than a professional critique would cost. I am so thankful for people like you who judge contests and offer such great insight, tips, and wisdom. It is truly a blessing to me as a writer.

    It's hard to take when you get comments from a judge who just really didn't like your story. I've gotten some comments that made me wonder how the judge could hate my story so much. But I also know that that's the way it is when you're published, too. Some people will not like your story. But it's best not to air your sour grapes to anyone but God. Be humble, keep working, and He will lift you up in due time. I haven't always been so good at that, but I hope I'm getting better!

  3. Jill and I spend a weekend together in Minneapolis about this time last year. The first book in her series, The Reluctant Bugaler was just out. And my first book Petticoat Ranch was just out.
    I didn't realize that the time we had won the Noble Theme/Genesis contest together the same year, in different categories.
    So, we have been living parallel lives.

    that was my first book signing Jill, how about you? I figured you for an old hand. :)
    Great post, Jill

  4. Jill, first:

    Thanks so much for joining us in Seekerville.

    And double thanks for being nice to Mary. We appreciate that even more.


    Here's a question for you and for our other pubbed authors: (question came from an actual concern of Lake Country Romance Writers while organizing The Barclay Gold...)

    Do published authors REALLY want unpubs critiquing their books anonymously in contests?

    We had differing points of view on that, and I'm interested in what all of you now-pubbed gals think.

    Case in point:

    I have a friend who judged a fun romance in a contest, but felt strongly that the author's concept of a big dairy farm was incorrect.

    My friend scored accordingly and penned a little note to the author letting her know why.

    On the flip side, this same author wrote a wonderful book about a small town cop and my friend loved, loved, loved this book.


    She didn't see the mistakes in it. Were there any?

    Don't know, but she happened to have strong personal knowledge of farming and no personal knowledge of small town Southern cops, so was the second book that much better or the reader less informed.

    And do you want to know that as a published author?


  5. Hi, Jill. Great to meet you.

    Grace and humility is in my resolutions for the along with knowing when to close my mouth.


    Working on it.

  6. Hi Jill, Welcome to Seekerville, I was really interested in your comments about published authors getting feedback. With so many of the seekers now published, we need to know what the advantages are for published to enter contests.

    I am glad you asked the questions Ruthy. I help coordinate a contest for published and in this contest the authors do not receive feedback. They don't even receive scores. Just those who placed get their placement. I always thought that was a shame because even after we're published we still have room to grow. I know that several of the authors after the contest wanted me to tell them their scores and give them feedback. I couldn't of course but I think it would really help them.
    Thanks again for joining us.

  7. I remember reading an article with a very reasonable debate about the judging for the Rita and Golden Heart.

    You have to be published to be a Rita judge. But you can be unpublished and judge the Golden Heart.

    The article contended that it was exactly wrong. READERS of any kind should be able to judge a published book because it was for readers. But published authors would be much better judges for unpublished work.

    It hasn't changed though.

    I judged the Rita for the first time this year.

  8. And it was good of you to be nice to me. The Seekers all draw straws and the loser has to be nice to me for a week.

    It was Ruthy's week but she forgot.

    Which wasn't all that nice.

  9. Good question, Ruthy. I'd think the tough part of getting critiqued on a published book is it's too late for the author to fix it, even if she agrees with the judge. Still, it's not like the feedback is available to readers like reviews on Amazon. I think I'd like to know what a judge thought, for the sake of the next book, but I'll know better when I actually experience it. I'm sure all criticism hurt, but you know what they say, better to have readers love or hate your book than to be indifferent. Not sure I agree with that either. LOL


  10. I think I take this post with a grain of salt. I am sure I would welcome critique from any judge for an unpublished work. I doubt I would want that same critique for something already released into the marketplace. Am I too thin-skinned?

  11. Well, it's tricky, Katherine. I actually don't remember judging sheets for the ACFW Boty contest, the only published contest I remember judging.
    I must had done critiques for the FHL contest though, I'm sure I judged for them.
    Do we have critiques for those, ladies? What are they like?
    Can anyone remember?

    The Seekers who are published are all new to the published world. So we're more aware of the unpubbed contests. We'll know a lot more about pubbed contests very soon. :)

    I judged for the Rita this year but that's simple give it a number rating. No critiques. But that's true for the Golden Heart, too.

  12. Thanks for blogging today, Jill. You nailed some great points. My favorite thing was what you said about contests helping to put you on the radar for agents and publishers. I am inclined to agree with this, although my agent does not. My thinking is name recognition is key, which finaling in contests can definitely give you the edge on.

    Also, if I'm an editor who has two front of me that are both pretty good, but one has a ton of contest wins and the other doesn't, I'd be inclined to take more notice of the contest queen. Why? Because she was good enough to win something and productive enough to not only write a book, but go to the trouble of entering contests as well. But then I'm not an editor or an agent, so what do I know?


  13. Mary, for BOTY they use unpublished readers initially, then the books go to the second round judges, published or editors or agents, right, Cheryl? Wherever you are?

    And I know I wrote comments on the books, some more than others, but always mindful that an editor who gets paid a lot more than I do and actually understands reachable market shares liked the book and gave it a stamp of approval.

    Who am I to argue with that?

    Why did I comment?

    Cheryl made me.


    Not really. Well, kind of. If you scored someone low, you had to offer reasoning to justify the score.

    Some of the books were so darned good that I had to commend the author. (and while both of those placed in the finals, both got smacked down by a final round judge who totally didn't like them because they weren't Biblical enough, if I remember correctly).

    In The Barclay Gold (secular contest with multiple categories) the consensus ended up becoming a no comment situation because people were afraid of offending published authors and it's a subjective business. Just because one of their local judges didn't like the book or 'get it', didn't necessarily mean the book wasn't strong.

    Katherine, I empathize with you but I think I'd want the feedback because I don't want to wallow. Growth and extension are huge parts of this business.

    Or maybe it's my die-hard competitive nature. Yeah. More likely.



  14. Excellent points, Jill. I especially liked how several times you pointed to the professionalism! Critique/reviews/rejections are all part of the business.

    Thanks for being here with us in today!!


  15. I also thought I'd weigh in on the pubbed contests. I haven't entered any yet, but I've judged them while unpublished. I felt very weird giving criticism on books--like who am I to tell them anything? It was the pubbed Daphne that I judged for several years. In that contest, the judges have the choice of whether or not they want their scores/comments. I was always thrilled when they didn't want them! :) (And most did not want them from among the entries I had.)

    Once I enter my first pubbed contest next year, I'm not sure how I'll feel. My sister called to tell me the about the four typos she found in my book after it came out. I wanted to cover my ears and say shush! Because there's nothing that can be done about it now. Still, I would like to hear things that could help me improve on the next story.


  16. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Jill!

    Cheryl Wyatt

  17. Hi, everyone. Sorry to have been an absentee all day. I checked the blog this morning and then got super busy at work. I'm home now and enjoying all your posts. Thanks for weighing in!

    As to the question about unpubbed writers judging pubbed writers, I am always open to reader feedback. I'm not sure how well a reader or a prepubbed, unless she/he's nearly ready for publication, could speak to level of craft; however, they certainly have a lot of insight to offer an author on what made the book sing (or not) for them.

    Anyone else have a thought?

    Thanks for hosting me on Seekerville today!


  18. Jill, we've had a converstation here (or maybe I was on another blog) where we talked about judging or critiquing as a READER, not as a writer. Maybe published writers entering contests might better like having feedback from readers since they have an editor to give writing/craft feedback.

    I guess Readers Choice type contests would be good for that.

    I'm so new at publishing that I'm still not sure I'd feel comfortable giving feedback to someone with a lot more publishing experience. So judging pubbed contests is difficult for me.

    I tell you what, though, I really want a RITA!! (I about drooled on Tammy Alexander's last year!) :) So I'll be entering next year. And I'm sure I'll enter other contests as well.

  19. It's so encouraging to hear how contests helped you grow in your craft, Jill! Thanks!

  20. I'm with you drooling over a RITA, Missy. My publisher entered my book. They generally do that.

  21. This year my publisher entered me in the RITA, but I've entered myself in the Holt, the IRCC, and ACFWs BOTY. Everybody know what those acronyms stand for?

  22. Those are all the ones I'm considering entering next year, Jill.

    Best of luck to you on your entries!!


  23. Thanks, Missy. And back at ya when your time comes!

    Another bit of advice is to seriously realize that contests have a strong element of subjectivity. I think I said that in my article. Sure, it's disappointing if you don't place, much less win, but pick yourself up and go on. There's always next year and the next book.

    It's kind of like getting published. Actually, it's exactly like getting published. You get rejections, but if you persist, one day you hit it right.

    Excellent Blessings!

  24. Hi Jill,
    Thanks for a great post and super info! Loved your comment, "A gracious attitude toward corrective feedback is a hallmark of a professional and makes an author desirable to work with in the eyes of an editor or agent."

    You're so right! Editors want writers who understand editorial changes are part of the business. Contests help us learn that lesson.


  25. Jill, my husband just read your book "Reluctant Burglar." He loved it! I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but the premise is so original and intriguing. I just need to squeeze more hours into each day.

    :) Annette M. Irby

  26. Wonderful! Thanks, Annette, for letting me know your husband enjoyed Burglar.

    Because my books are labeled "romantic suspense," sometimes guys think the story is going to have sappy stuff in it. I don't do sappy--LOL--and I say so in my speaking engagements, with a wink toward the fellows that my books are "guy-friendly." Hope you find the time to give it a read, too!

    Oh, tell him "hi, and thanks" from me.

    Waving from MN.


  27. Hi, definitely count me in for the contest. The covers shown on the sidebar are really very enticing.

    Pat L.

  28. Welcome to Seekerville!

    You have excellent thoughts on contests...we should have you as the official Genesis promoter. LOL!

    And by the way...everyone should pick up Jill's books...the premises are FABULOUS! Very clever and well-written stories.


    Cheryl Wyatt

  29. Ruthy....with BOTY last year...I had a mixture of pubbed and unpubbed judges. Although I did have a rule that they could not enter if they wanted to judge and any BOTY judge could not enter. That was my own personal gig on making sure no one had any reason to question the integrity of the contest.

    Although I think people ALWAYS find reasons to complain..especially if they didn't final and thought they should. It's SUBJECTIVE in nature. Pubbed, unpubbed, reviews, etc. Neverending. LOL!

    Not sure how this year's coordinator's doing it.


  30. After reading all the posts on entering contests, I did it. I sent off a flash fiction to WOW for their winter contest. Just in time, too. Even though I'll not receive a critique, I was motivated to polish thie piece and submit it. I feel good about it. Thank you, Jill, for your professional advice.

  31. Jill! I just keep finding you everywhere!

    Okay y'all. Jill is like the best judge ever. Poor thing has had to read my entries twice in the last year. But she gives great feedback... Both positive and negative and I think that important.
    Thanks Jill!
    And good luck in the Holt. That's my chapter :-)