Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thoughts from the Genesis contest coordinator, part one

Camy here.

Since I really didn’t have a clue what I was going to write about for my monthly post, I was justifiably thrilled to have a topic land in my lap.

I am head coordinator for the ACFW Genesis contest, and I’ve been fielding question after question about the contest in the past week. Some interesting questions came up which would apply to any contest, so I thought I’d address them here.

Should I enter {pick your poison} category if one of the final round judges (an agent or editor) has already seen and rejected this manuscript?

Unless you reeeeeeeally want to get your story in front of the other final round judge, I would suggest not entering that manuscript in that category, if at all.

If there’s only one final round judge, why waste the money to enter a contest when the “prize” at the end—getting your work in front of an editor/agent—isn’t that valuable to you as a writer?

If you are entering primarily to get feedback from first round judges about your entry, then by all means, go ahead and enter. But remember that for the money you spend on the contest, that might be all you get.

Despite the fact editors and agents read hundreds or even thousands of manuscripts a year, they really do remember the stories and the authors. I’ve had judges say:

“I saw this manuscript before. I gave feedback. This entrant didn’t listen to any of it.”

This is very bad. This editor/agent will be hesitant to ever work with this author because he/she has shown herself to be unteachable.

“I saw this manuscript before. This is the third time I’ve seen this story. How often is this writer going to revise the same manuscript?”

This is not so good, either. Editors/agents want to know a writer is not a one-manuscript-wonder. They want to know a writer has several books in them, not just one story that they keep revising and entering in contests.

“I saw this manuscript before. The entrant listened to my comments, but I’m still not thrilled about this storyline/character/plot premise.”

This is not so bad, because the editor/agent would be open to seeing this writer’s other works, but they’d rather see different manuscripts by the same writer.

An alternative would be if your manuscript is one of those “on the fence” in terms of genre and could be entered in a different category with a different final round judge.

My manuscript is a romance, but there’s no/little romance in the first 20 pages. What category should I enter it in?

Here’s what I’ve heard from many editors, agents, and published authors—the romance genre usually requires that the hero/heroine meet in the first chapter or two and put off a few sparks.

The reason is that romance READERS expect a certain type of story—a love story—and so publishers tend to adhere to this “formula.” They don’t want to disappoint their readers.

If your story doesn’t have any romance in the first 20 pages or so, an editor reading it might assume it’s not a romance and send a quick rejection. While contests are great, ultimately you want your manuscript presentable for an editor, right?

My suggestion is that if your manuscript is truly a romance, to try to add some romance into the first 20 pages. It will not only solve your “Which category to enter it in?” question, but it will also make your manuscript more presentable for an editor.

Part two tomorrow.


  1. interesting. as a reader i agree with the romance part. its even disappointing to open a romance book and the characters don't meet till half way through. hsmuda[at]gmail[dot]com

  2. Camy -- Very valuable info here for contest junkies!

    Especially the part about defining your romance as a romance in the early pages of the book. I am an AVID romance reader, so as a reader, if I have to wait until half the book or the end for a spark or two, I'm ticked. And as a judge of Inspirational Romance, I would not look too favorably on that either.

    But to me, that doesn't mean you have to have a love scene right off the bat, but just some indication of sparks to come and between whom. In A Passion Most Pure, my hero and heroine don't actually meet until Chap. 3, but there's kissing going on on page 1 and plenty of sparks kindling that lead up to their first encounter.

    But I have to tell you, before I put some spark action up front, contest judges marked me down for not following the typical romance formula of boy meets girl in first few pages of book.

    So I would say if your plot does not allow an encounter between hero and heroine immediately, get the sparks in their some other way. Some suggestions are inserting another romantic encounter (like I did in APMP), internal monologue where the heroine is pining over the guy (but don't start with this -- you gotta have action first) or a flashback that indicates a prior encounter (I know, I know, judges don't like flashbacks in the beginning of a story, but they can work if minimally done).

    Personally, though, I tend to stray from the typical romance formula, but NOT when I was entering contests. :)

  3. Excellent points, Camy! I'm totally into giving readers a peek at the h/h early on. The sparks that fly may not always be romantic. In my second book, the hero and heroine clash in the opening pages, but romance readers are saavy and know this is only the beginning of what's sure to be a wild, bumpy ride to their happy ending. So bring the h/h on stage and force judges to strap on a seatbelt. They'll thank you for it.


  4. I actullly don't mind the hero and heroine not meeting long as I know that the story is working toward it. Say what you will about TITANIC, but the movie's leads didn't meet in what would be the literary equivelent of the first 20pages. In fact, I'd say they didn't either in the first SHREK movie.

    A leisurely meet can happen in the right story.

    But once the leads do meet, I expect to see some sparks. A couple weeks ago, I blogged about four "romances" written by popular inspy author. Where's the spark? Good question, because in those novels the spark, the sexual tension wasn't there.

    In fact, I got to thinking about one of the books last week. In the novel, the hero was either shirtless or had an exposed chest and the Heroine had no physical or mental reaction. Hmm. I got to thinking that by mentioning the hero was half-dressed that implied the heroine notice and either was embarrassed or impressed and the reader had to make that assumption.

    Anyhoo, I agree with Julie's comment about adhering to romance "forumla" when entering contests. Although I took a risk with a story and entered it in the Genesis despite that the leads don't meet in the entry. I'm hoping characterization, plot, and the tension of wondering how the two will react once they meet is compelling enough to work outside the typical romance "formula."

    On a side note, that Julie's leads didn't meet until chapter three in no way lessened the perception of the story as a romance. Actually, I think that they didn't meet right away added more TENSION to the story becuase of the plot situation. We get to know the characters first.

    But PASSION is a thick story. Were it a Love Inspired romance, waiting until chapter three wouldn't work.

    Which gets me thinking of Missy's HER UNLIKELY FAMILY. I read it last week. Such a sweet story. My favorite part was how she used scent to establish a character. He smelled like money.

    And that gets me to thinking that when you enter a contest, use that space in your header to list WORD COUNT or TARGET LINE.

    Let's say I was judging a contest and had the first chatper or three of Julie's PASSION and Missy's FAMILY. Both stories are distinct for their subgenre, and I can't evaluate both with the same romance forumla criteria. Yet if Julie hadn't added long historical/125K to her header and Missy hadn't added Love Inspired/50k to hers, I could mistakenly assume Julie had written an LI since the final round judge is a Steeple Hill editor. Is that fair to Julie? Not IMHO. And if I didn't know Missy's story was written for Love Inspired, then I might think, "Gee, for a single-title, this story could use more setting layers and a sub-plot." And that wouldn't be fair to Missy because her story is a perfect LI short contemporary.

    While we don't want to think judges compare entries, when a judge is scoring, it's not easy to think "I like this story better because it's short and sweet like the Love Inspireds I read" or "I like this story better because it's lusher like the single-titles and long historicals I read." Judging preferences come into play more, IMHO, when the judges don't know what sub-genre or line the story is targeted to.

    So unless a contest specifies DO NOT list word count or target line, then I recommend doing it.

  5. One recurring comment I got when I first entered Petticoat Ranch in contests was a real low score for the hero.
    Because he was unconcious for the first forty pages.
    Kind of tricky. Clay and Sophie definitely 'met' but he just had no role. How could that be judged. So, after so many of the same comments :) I woke him up. Gave him a scene that revealed him quite a bit, then had him pass out again. LOL
    If you've read the book, think about the Chapter which starts with, "He was dead."
    None of that was there in the original version.
    It was a great scene though and a necessary scene. Not just to win a contest but because Clay NEEDED to come onto the scene (in a conscious way) earlier.
    So by adjusting to contest expectations, I ended up writing a better book.

  6. This is a great idea, Camy, to post about the Genesis. I'm telling everyone I know to come and ask questions.
    Fortunately for you, I'm a loner.

  7. Mary, perhaps we should begin a prayer chain, maybe a fasting one too, to pray you out of your shell. No woman is an island. Trust me, it's okay to talk to people every now and then...unless they, like, creep you out. And even then it's okay if you have a can of ScotchGuard.

  8. Whoops!

    I forgot to add my ;-) at the end of that last post.

  9. Hmmm, Gina, interesting idea about including projected word count and target market in the contest entry heading. I hadn't thought of doing that unless contest guidelines specifically ask for that info.

    Camster, as a contest coordinator, do you think that's generally a good thing to do?

  10. Myra,

    I'm not sure what Camy would say, but unless a contest specifically says DON'T include anything in your header but title or whatever, then I'm not sure why it'd be wrong not to include sub-genre, word count, and/or target line. Now if a contest said, "Don't include your name," then that's reasonable. But word length and/or targeted line aren't personal identifiers.

    I remember the first time I judged the short contemporary category of the Winter Rose. That year most of my entries had the specific targeted HQN/SIL line listed in the header. I remember wondering what the difference was between a Blaze, Desire, an American Romance, etc, so I asked my crit group for descriptions. What a wise idea!

    One of the entries...well, let's say I was a bit shocked at how quick, strong, descriptive the sexual tension was in the first 25 pages. Not to mention the setting revolved around a sex toy shop.

    I was thinking "Whoa, there Nelly!" But when my CPs explained what the "formula" was for a Blaze and Desire, I realized the entry was totally appropriate for the targeted line. And IMHO to help with judging, a judge should know either the word count (if the category isn't a specific word count category like long or short contemporaries/historicals) or the target line (if the category includes category novels or covers a range of word length stories like the inspy category normally does).

    And why a contest would freak out about word count or target line being included in the header doesn't make sense to me. In fact, penalizing an entrant for including that information is very anal, almost as anal as disqualifying for using binder clips instead of butterfly clips.

    I totally understand rules. But stupid anal rules are still stupid and anal no matter what anyone says. Not that I'm saying anyone here is stupid or anal about stupid, anal contest rules. :-)

    Oh, let me add that in our internet age, don't be shocked if a judge googles your title and/or your name if you include it.

  11. I have a question.

    I'm published, in the past 4 years, but by a small press. NOT self published. It is the same small press that published Lianne Lopes first book. And Lynette Sowell's first book. I don't think this publishing company is CBA approved... am I even eligible to enter the contest?

  12. One thing I have learned is that contests are actually STRICTER than most publishers.
    They don't put the RJ hammer down for using the wrong font, for example.
    At one time Harlequin and LI had fairly strict rules (well everyone did but Harlequin changed last, that I knew of) because whatever it was--Times New Roman or Courier, 12 point-- added up to the right number of pages to get their goal word count. And TNR and Courier are VERY DIFFERENT in the number of words per page.

    Now, as far as I know, EVERYONE goes by computer word count so publishers just want clear, easily readable type, and that can be quite a few different fonts.
    Although I believe TNR 12 point is the industry standard.

    So following the contest rules can really, really matter.
    Who else on here once got eliminated from the Golden Heart for single-spacing their synopsis. That happened to me.
    But rules is rules, folks. that didn't stop me from putting my foot through a wall, but no amount of whining will get you back in a contest that as ejected you for not following the rules.

  13. I have Scotchguarded myself into a different life form, Gina.

    I highly recommend it.

  14. Mary, you touched on something I've been wondering about, and not just for contests but for publishers in general: What's the currently accepted way of figuring word count, by actual computer count, or by estimated number of words per page?

    And you are so right, TNR adds up to WAY MORE than Courier. The old standard (back in the dark ages of typewriters!) was Courier, 60 characters (equals 10 words) per line, 25 lines per page, or 250 words per full page.

    However, I much prefer TNR these days. For one reason, I'd rather use real italics than underlining (although I'm not sure which of those is preferred by most editors anymore). And my best estimate, using the same spacing and margins, equals around 330-350 words per page in TNR as compared to Courier.

    Bottom line: When it comes to tacking on my projected word count for either a contest or publishers other than Barbour and Steeple Hill, I don't know which count to use!

  15. Everything I submit to Barbour goes by word count, Myra. I think LI is the same.
    In fact does anyone know of ANY publisher that goes by page count anymore? Why we would no more understand how to count pages than we would be able to hitch up the team and drive it to town to sell eggs and cream.

  16. Lollipop, here's what I found on the ACFW website.
    Eligibility – The 2008 ACFW Genesis contest is open to ACFW members unpublished in adult or young adult fiction in the last seven years (no published fiction print or electronic works of 20,000 words or more). Authors of non-fiction or library bound fiction dissertations are eligible.

    It sound like you're ineligible, but isn't it the DREAM to become ineligible??? :)
    You can still be in there pitching to editors and agents at the conference if you can get there in September. And instead of a contest win, you can wave your freshly published book under their noses to lure them to you.

  17. How many times have I changed my manuscript because I was editing for a contest? A lot. You want the most important scenes before those judges, and if you're only allowed to submit 15 pages, well, you gotta make those 15 pages good! That means action, sparks, earthquakes and tornadoes, if you can work it in.

  18. Excellent post Cammers!

    Myra...for word counts....Steeple Hill is now using computer count. They no longer go by a certain number of WWP.

    Cheryl Wyatt

  19. FYI: My editor at Steeple Hill (Melissa Endlich) really likes Courier best...says it's easier on her eyes. Just thought I'd throw that in there in case any of you sub to her.

    However, she won't reject you if you send it in another font such as TNR....unless of course you send every sentence in a different font. LOL!

    Cheryl Wyatt

  20. Cheryl, you rock. I think, for April Fool's, you should submit something doing exactly that.

    Camy, thanks for the advice. We should have talked about this last night. *siiiiigh* I think I'm back on the "Do Not Enter" side of my debate.

  21. Any way you look at it, contest coordinators should be nominated for sainthood.

    Saint Camy..I like the sound of that.

  22. You know as a contest judge, TNR just makes me cranky. Okay, crankier.

  23. Actually, if I had my "druthers," I'd go with Bookman Old Style. It's a little bigger than TNR but still has a more elegant feel than Courier. I think I first heard about using it for mss. from Robin Lee Hatcher, but I've never been brave enough to submit anything to an editor using that font.

  24. sounds like good advice. I didn't know there were formula's.
    I guess for me as a non writer entering the same thing is like entering an embroidery the same one year after year at the local show (one you are suppost to have unexhibited stuff) but if it didn't win the first year it probably wont win the next cos either its the same judge or it will be remembered. but changing the style or working on a new design helps you improve.
    (having it framed without a hair in it would help too)

  25. Camy, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on submitting work to judges at contests. There's so much wisdom to be gleaned out there!


  26. Camy,
    Great comments!

    I'm with Cheryl--I always use Courier New when I submit to Steeple Hill. And, IMHO, it is easier to read than TNR.

    When I have a completed manuscript that is close to sending out, I change the font and go from page layout to web layout. My eyes get so used to reading the text in Courier that it's easy to miss typos, etc. The change in font and layout helps me pick out errors. Then I change it back to whichever font I'm using for submission and print it off.

  27. ilike the font discussion i dont like TNR i normally use Arial when not using good font and for my webpage its normally a choice of 3
    verdana, georgia, arial,
    i do use Courier at times.
    will check out Bookman Old Style
    I know even in webpages TNR can be harder to read than some of the others and isn't one recommended if you are creating a webpage.
    (remind me to change my password its to long when i have to type it every time i post!)

  28. Thanks, guys!

    Putting word count in the header: Judges last year suggested it, so this year, it's optional in the Genesis to put your total manuscript word count in the header for the very reason mentioned.

    Genesis guidelines are here:
    The Genesis FAQ page will answer pretty much any question you might have:

    For how to determine word count when submitting to publishers, you should be able to go to their website and find their submission guidelines, and that usually says how they determine word count--by computer word count, or by the assumption of 250 words per page. Guidelines will also state if they prefer a particular font.

    While I like Bookman font, not all judges have that font on their computer and the Genesis is an electronic entry contest. If an entry comes in a font the judge doesn't have, sometimes the entry will look like gobbledygook.

    So I tell Genesis entrants to use either Times or Courier New, since most judges have those two fonts on their computers.

    Saint Camy

  29. An interesting (to me) fact. If you DON'T have Bookman on your computer, try typing Bookman into the blank space instead of selecting a font from the drop down box. It'll work. Isn't that odd? It's like it's there in your computer but they don't list it.
    that's just a fun fact. Obey Camy and use Courier or TNR.
    I like Ariel, too, very readable.

    I worked on a newspaper for a while and we used Helvetica and Bookman, they are the basic serif and sans serif fonts.
    Serif is little tails decorating your words. Sans serif is more plain.

    I know, you can't be near me and not learn something!!!!!!!!!