Friday, February 8, 2008

The Savvy Diva's Guide to Contests

There's more under that tiara than hair!

As I was putting together my contest strategy for the new year I began to look at the numbers.

A modest year of contesting, including one contest a month and two Golden Heart entries totaled about $1,000. That's after entry fees, postage, supplies and a large bottle of Tums.

I started thinking about the real Contest Diva's out there. Those whose names I'd seen over and over again on the Yahoo Contest Alert Diva lists and in the RWR over the last several years.

How did they budget for contests? What were their contest entry strategies? Did they have (please) any words of wisdom for me? I began a search of these Diva's, tracking them down for answers.

The amazing thing I discovered is that the overwhelming majority of these Divas have SOLD!! If they haven't, then they are dangling precariously close to the precipice of published land.

I'd like to share with you comments from these savvy and generous Divas.

Paula Graves:

"I didn't really "budget" for it, but I was judicious about the contests I chose. Specifically, I only entered contests where the editor judging my category could actually buy what I entered if he or she asked to see the full. I also looked for contests that gave entrants written feedback. I tried not to spend more than $25.00 on any given contest (except the Golden Heart), and I tried to enter only contests with good reputations.

Contests were a great investment in my career. Contests finals and wins gave me something to put on my website before I was published, which helped me have a web presence and a site up and ready to go when I finally sold. And more to the point, a contest win led directly to my first sale to Harlequin Intrigue. My editor asked to see the full manuscript of what eventually became my first book, Forbidden Territory."

Lisa Marie Wilkinson:

"I would give up things such as daily lunches in restaurants (brown bag to work because it's cheaper), Starbucks, weekend movies. Any money I received from contest wins I would reinvest in other contests. Any birthday or Christmas cash received as gifts would go into my 'contest fund.' I'd save all spare change (which can add up!)

Contests were a good investment because they resulted in my first sale, to Medallion Press. Without contests giving me access to editors, I am convinced I would never have made that first sale. "

(Fire at Midnight will be a March, 2009, release from Medallion Press).

"I paid for my contesting and for conferences by selling things on Ebay. It’s a lot of work, but I was determined to pay for my writing expenses myself and not use the family money. Contests have opened a lot of doors for me recognition-wise. I’ve gotten in front of a lot of editors and have even had manuscripts passed up with a recommendation to buy, but my timing stinks and lines closed (For example – Duets, Flipside, and then Temptation’s change to M&B) So I keep on entering and hope that one day all my stars align just right. "

(Lindsey is the winner of Harlequin’s Great American Romance contest, and an American Title III finalist)

Janice Lynn:

"I can't say that I per se recall budgeting for contests, but I only entered ones where I specifically had something to gain if I finaled/won. My main concern with contests was who was the final judge and how would finaling/winning that particular contest help me achieve my writing goals in the long term. Contests were something I had control of and I used them to 'meet' editors and get my name out there. Ultimately, I sold my first book directly related to a contest win so for me contests was a wise career investment."

(Be sure to check out Janice's medical romances, The Doctor's Pregnancy Bombshell and The Heart Surgeon's Secret Son, a March 1, release from HM&B, Medical ).

Robyn Grady:

"To make the most of my contest funds, I looked for judges who were editors of the line I was targeting. I also favoured contests that accepted e-entries to save on postage from Australia. Then I asked my very understanding husband and family if they wouldn't mind giving me money, rather than gifts, for my birthday and Christmas to cover a lot of the [other] costs. Not only did I learn heaps from the judges - published and unpublished - finalling in 13 contests in a short time meant an enthusiastic and, ultimately, positive response from my first choice agent. In December 2006 I sold to Desire. In January 2007 I sold to Presents with a 2 book deal. A very happy ending."

(Hired for the Boss's Bed, Harlequin Presents, US Mar 08, For, Blackmail...or Pleasure?, Sihouette Desire, US Mar 08, Aust.NZ Apr 08, One Wild Night & A Marriage Ultimatum, M&B Mod.Heat, UK Apr 08)

Sharie Kohler/Sophie Jordan:

"I was on a tight budget when trying to sell. My best tip is to decide how many contests you can afford a month and then budget accordingly. I managed about two contests a month - and none in the month of December, taking into account all the expenses of the holidays. I let things go that I normally bought - like Starbucks. Or, rather, I switched from lattes to tea at Starbucks, and saved quite a bit since Starbucks is where I write."

(Sharie writes paranormal romances for Pocket-Marked by Moonlight- and as Sophie Jordan, she writes historical romances for Avon-One Night with You. See her webpage for her very neat sale story!)

Thanks very much for sharing with us, Divas!

You are an inspiration.


  1. Hey! Guess I'll be the first to chime in and say, contests are *so* worth it. Along with finding the right CPs, I believe entering the right contests for my writing made the big difference. Good luck to everyone entering. Dreams truly do come true.

  2. Good morning, Robyn. What time IS it in your part of the world.

    Thanks for stopping by to say hello.

    I never mentioned it but I read one of your msc's in a contest. Awesome! It was chick lit actually.

  3. I was published as the direct result of a contest final so, naturally, I'm a big believer in contests. I generally targeted the ones with more clout or who had final judges I was interested in getting my material in front of.

    I was a 2005 Golden Heart finalist and that was a fabulous opportunity to meet some outstanding authors and industry professionals. As a finalist in the first American Title Contest I went on to sell my humorous mystery hybrid series to Dorchester and have sold a total of seven books since my AT final in 2005.

    Now that I'm published I try to enter a good number of pubbed contests to enhance my professional writing resume.

    I think the key to getting the most bang out of your contest buck is to set a budget(and adhere to it), do your contest homework,
    and--very important here--remember that contest judging is extremely subjective.

    Persistence pays off!

    ~Kathy Bacus~

  4. Thanks Divas! Loved reading about how you budgeted and decided which contests to enter.

    I've never specifically set a budget for contests, but I work full time and don't have a lot of other "me" perks I like to spend money on (no Starbucks within 50 miles, sadly), so I've never felt too guilty about those expenses.

    After the first flush of entering subsided and I actually started finalling in contests, my targets have been very similar to what some of you mentioned:

    Is the finalist judge my target editor/line?
    Is there a cash prize?
    How much $ and how many pages?

    30+ finals and counting lol

  5. Kathy!! I LOVE people with strategies. I am such an anal strategist, from my spreadsheets to my sticky notes. It's very strange that being a non plotter I am so anal about everything else.

    We must get you to guest on Seekerville and share some of your writing strategies.

  6. Wow, great research, Tina! It's inspiring to see our money and our blood, sweat, and tears actually does get us somewhere.

    Great, great info!!

  7. I love the recurring theme of targeting contests with judges who can buy your manuscript.

    There really is a DEVELOPED strategy to contests. But the fundamentals of contests, when you're first starting, are those comments, getting good enough that you can start finalling.

    Once you get there, then the finalist judges really count.

    What about entering contests with finalist judges who have already rejected you? Is there any point to that? Do they change their minds ever?
    Has anyone ever been rejected and then PURCHASED on the same book by the same judge?

    I mean it COULD influence a judge who sees a manuscript coming at them again as a finalist, get them to reconsider.

  8. Wow...thanks for the plug for Contest Divas. I appreciate it.

  9. Pam!!! 30 finals! You go, girl!

    Yes, I've tried to get a part-time job to finance my contests, but it isn't going well. :-( So now I'm trying to think of who I can sell an article or two.

  10. Just to get off the subject for one second, I finished reading ONLY UNI by our own Camy Tang last night. So, so good Camster.
    When I think of your talent and how YOUNG you are, I am just in awe, what a career you've got in front of you.

  11. Thanks for all the words of wisdom from the Contest Divas! I'll be entering the pubbed contests next year, so I need to start planning my strategy. (Having withdrawl this year, though!)

    Congrats to all those who made those sales through contests! I also want to say howdy to Janice!! :)


  12. Melanie, you really should consider doing a little freelance writing to support your contest habit. I check out daily for jobs. That and short story sales not only support my writing and contest habit but also pay the electric bill

  13. Loved this blog! I'm a fairly new writer and have only entered two contests so far. Neither were wise choices for my WIP but I loved the encouragement and feedback, and was glad I had entered.

    I wasn't sure about the benefits of contests until reading the contest Divas's stories. I'll take the time to do some research and start entering contests more judiciously in the future.


  14. Good girl, Lara Lee, let us teach you some of the tricks so you don't have to learn them all thorugh hard painful experience. That struggle is what made Tina so grouchy, so we'll be saving you.

  15. Sorry about that, Tina, just taking a break from giving Ruthy a hard time. :)

  16. Thanks, contest divas for sharing how you finance your habit. :-) Selling on Ebay is a terrific idea, Lindsey. I wonder if my daughter would learn the ropes if I'd give her a cut. :-)

    How interested do you gals think editors are in pubbed contest wins?

  17. I am not a grouch. Sensitive and discerning but not a grouch.

    Janet, we were counting on you to do an editor survey for a future post. You now have friends in high places.

  18. Lots of interesting stories.

    Please enter me in this week's drawing.


  19. I enjoyed todays post as i said im learning alot about contests and what authors go through to get published. Robyn good to see and aussie here. congrats on your books.

  20. I enjoyed reading the Divas' comments. Interesting to see how other divas view contests (putting myself in that category makes me want to snort because I am soooo un-diva-ish in real life, but I did love writing contests!).

    Hi Kathy!! Congrats on your well deserved success with Dorchester! You makes a great, great point at the end of your comment. It's regarding persistence. Truly, this is one of the key factors to selling a book. Few get fortunate enough to sell to their dream publisher quickly (and the few who do miss out on a valuable educational process). Be resilient. Be persistent. Learn from your mistakes, hone your craft, keep writing, keep putting yourself out there--eventually 'the call' will happen!!

  21. Hi Missy!!

    Another piece of advice on contests---don't just keep entering the same manuscript over and over. Keep writing and submitting new stuff. I know that after I've seen the same ms final a dozen or more times but never see anything else by that author's name, well, it makes you wonder why not. Is it that the author hasn't written anything else? Prove that you can consistently write good material by getting lots of stuff out there. Allison Brennan is a great example of this. During her contest entering days as an unpub, she had finals with LOTS of different stories. That showed she could consistently write great stuff that rises to the top. Of course, now that she's pubbed we KNOW she writes amazing stories that do rise to the top. Too often I've seen writers get hung up with entering the same ms over and over and over. I guess my point is not to keep polishing and polishing that same ms but to keep writing new and fresh stories and to keep stretching your wings.

    Okay, I have totally blabbered too much (my hubby says I have a habit of this...imagine. ;)

    Y'all have a great night and happy contesting--it is totally worth the effort if you're smart about which contests fit your needs/goals!!

  22. I really agree....contests are worth it!

    Great blog post!

    Cheryl Wyatt-former contest diva who also sold. LOLOL!

  23. Thanks, Tina! I'm going to check out that website right now.

  24. Personally, I hate contest. LOL Just kidding.

    Great blog, Tina! I don't remember budgeting for contests, but my strategy was to enter one a month, two if a big one came along at the same time as a smaller contest with an interesting premise or new editor.

    For me, looking at contests as an investment in my career (it was much cheaper than my university edcuation :-) helped numb the financial pain a bit. That, and writing all my entry fees and other writing expenses off as tax deductions. :-)

  25. some great stories here! and very inspiring I might add, time to chuck the Starbucks habit, I guess. :)

  26. Tina! Doing wedding stuff, couldn't get here quicker, but WHAT GREAT STORIES!!!!!


    Awesome post. Divas, thanks for sharing with us. Seriously. Your success is inspiration for every one of us who's still knocking at the door, posting those entries.

    Great stats and awesome work plans. So important.

    Bless you gals, you've lightened my step today!


  27. What a surprise to see the tangible results of contest entries! I will take them more seriously now!

  28. I'd love to be a guest on Seekerville, Tina. Once I turn in my next book at the end of the month I should have some breathing room!

    I'm a pretty goal-oriented gal, too, with enough incremental goals to encourage me on the way to the long-term biggies. It's been great hearing so many takes on contest strategies and how hanging in there pays off.

    Hello, Janice!! It’s great to hear from a fellow ATer. And congratulations to you on the sales to Harlequin! Very cool.


  29. Thanks Kathy! I've sold 9 books now and am just blown away. :) I still pinch myself because it doesn't seem real. I just got my third book author copies from Harlequin, though, & holding that book, the tangible results of a lifelong dream, that's as real as it gets. :)

    Happy contesting, ladies.

  30. Tina,

    Loved reading about the contest divas. As you know, I keep a contest chart online to help writers with this addiction (I guess it just keeps them addicted, though:-)

    BTW, you've been tagged. You'll have to read my blog at to see what that means.

  31. I have really enjoyed reading the comments and was so flattered to be asked about my "strategy." One of the best things that came out of contesting for me (besides a sale) is the wonderful friends I've made on the contest loop!

  32. This is related to Ebay Strategies that most of the members want to earn money through ebay online. "I paid for my contesting and for conferences by selling things on Ebay. It’s a lot of work, but I was determined to pay for my writing expenses myself and not use the family money.