Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger Trish Milburn

In Praise of Contests

Throughout the more than 11 years I wrote seriously before I sold, I heard writing contests called crapshoots too many times to count. And in some ways they can be because they are largely subjective. However, I don’t think writing contests can be dismissed as a legitimate way to get your work in front of agents and editors. If you’ve worked hard on a manuscript and believe it is publishable, by all means enter contests. What do you have to lose other than your entry fee?

I’m a living, breathing example that contests can help pave a writer’s way to success. Have I gotten bad scores and hurtful comments? Sure. Have I placed in the bottom quarter of Golden Heart entries in my category. Again, yes. But those aren’t the contest facts that stand out to me now.

My first big contest bright spot came in 2003 when I finaled in the Golden Heart for the first time. I still remember having to sit down before I fell over when the woman who called me (I was so stunned, I still don’t remember who it was) told me I was a double finalist. Those finals didn’t garner me a win, but it did help my self-confidence, earned me a fabulous set of GH friends (the famed Wet Noodle Posse), and led to my first trip to New York City. Not bad, I say.

The next year, when I finaled again, I felt like it was lightning striking twice. When I actually won the Romantic Suspense category, I cried so much I’m surprised anyone could understand my acceptance speech. I remember shaking and being in a daze. That win didn’t get me a first sale, but having it on my writing resume didn’t hurt when I talked to editors.

I still can’t believe it when I type that I’ve finaled in the Golden Heart eight times and won twice. When I started writing seriously and submitting back in 1996, I couldn’t have even dreamed such a scenario.

Yet another contest eventually led to my first sale. In December 2006, I sent off an entry to Harlequin American’s Great American Novel contest just before the deadline. I then promptly forgot about it until Editor Kathleen Scheibling called to tell me I’d placed third. This, of course, didn’t guarantee a sale, but it did give me a nice little foot in the door if nothing else. Long story short, I went through three sets of revisions on that book and sold it to American in October 2007. It wasn’t my first sale (I’d sold two YA novels in July), but it was my first sale to a romance publisher. I was ecstatic! The second book on that American contract also won the prestigious Maggie Award of Excellence only weeks before being contracted.

And one more contest story to show that you should take advantage of every good opportunity that comes your way. Last spring, Dorchester and Romantic Times announced their latest American Title contest was going to focus on paranormal. I went through my huge stack of unsold manuscripts to see what I had that would fit. I pulled out a manuscript called Out of Sight that I loved and sent it in with a “what the heck, let’s try it” attitude. It became one of the 10 finalists and my last contest as an uncontracted author since the entry deadline was before I sold. The contest is still under way with the fourth round (the final four finalists) having just ended on Sunday, Feb. 3. We’ll find out soon who the final two finalists will be, and voting will begin again for those two contestants Feb. 18. The eventual winner will have her book published by Dorchester.

So you could say I’m a firm believer in contests, no matter that they are subjective. If you work hard to make your work the best it can be, those subjective opinions may very well swing your way and propel you to the next level on your journey toward publication. Or if you’re published, they could introduce you to new audiences and show your publishing house that you stack up well against your competition in the marketplace.

Go forth and contest! And good luck.


Visit Trish at : and watch stores in September for her first Harlequin American release, A Firefighter in the Family.

Trish grew up in Kentucky and got her degree in print journalism. After college, she worked as a newspaper reporter, a marketing assistant, and finally a magazine managing editor before quitting to freelance write and copy edit. By taking the leap into freelancer-land, she also had more time to devote to writing fiction and chasing her dream of being a published novelist.

While working toward her first sale, she finaled in the prestigious Golden Heart contest sponsored by Romance Writers of America eight times, winning twice. She was also a finalist in Harlequin American’s Great American Novel contest,which led to her first sale to American.

She has served her local RWA chapter, Music City Romance Writers, in virtually every position, and is currently serving on RWA’s National Board of Directors.

In addition to romances for Harlequin American, Trish writes young adult novels under the name Tricia Mills, for Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group.


  1. You're the poster girl for persistence pays off, Trish! How awesome to hear about your YA and Harlequin American sales as well as your success in the American Title Contest. (How fondly I recall Flavia's heart-warming comments when I was a finalist...)

    Enjoy the rush!


    ~Kathy Bacus~

  2. Trish, I scoped out your website when Tina first announced that you'd agreed to guest blog, and it's very cool to see both sides of you on one page! Hooray for you!

    I'm delighted with your success stories and a true admirer of your persistence. Also, that you are publishing not only in different areas (YA and Romance), but different romance genres. I like that fearlessness. I've noticed that a lot of new authors are selling multiple books that aren't necessarily alike or even related, and I love that trend because I'm not a big fan of being 'boxed'. Feels too much like breakfast cereal. Once a cornflake, always a cornflake.


    How many times did you want to quit?

    Ever? Never? Bi-monthly?

    Thanks so much for hanging with us in Seekerville. You're a great example for everyone who stops in to check out what's going on.

  3. "Go forth and contest." I like that.

    Very encouraging, Trish. Thanks.

  4. Wow, Trish, what a great success story, all those Golden Heart finals. And now published, YAY!!!!!!

    Great post.

  5. Waving hello to Calamity Jayne, Kathleen Bacus!

    Trish your post has been printed up and is now above my computer. What an encouraging story!!

  6. The more I read here, the more I realize how limited my knowledge is of the many contests actually exist in the writing world!

    This has been great information!


  7. Hi Trish!

    What a great blog. I love contests and believe they can and do make a difference in a writer's road to publication. Your story is an inspiration! I wish you continued success.

  8. Trish, fabulous story! As I sit here mulling over your comments, I keep thinking "She's an 8 time GH finalist!"

    I can't imagine enduring that elation of finaling (and winning) and the discouragement of it not turning into an sale. Yet eventually you sold. Perserverence is the name of the game.

    No wonder editors want emotionally-driven books. Just getting published is an emotionally-driven process.

    Congrats on your sales!

  9. Hi, Kathy (waving)! I've been pretty fortunate as far as Flavia's comments have gone. The round that just ended was the first time she was less than impressed. I'm just happy I haven't been fileted for all to see. :)

    Ruth, thanks for the compliments on the site. I LOVE my new site. And being a bit of a control freak, I love that it's all in WordPress so I can easily update it myself as often as I want to.

    Hmm, how many times did I want to quit? Can't remember, though there have been a couple of times that were really depressing, mainly when I felt I was "thisclose" to selling and I didn't know if I could keep beating my head against a wall. The summer of 2006 was particularly bad. I didn't do much writing that summer. I was depressed because I'd been at it so long and felt like I'd gone as far as I was going to. I was getting ready to go to another RWA conference still not published, and I wondered if I could keep spending money on something that wasn't bringing any in. I literally flopped on the couch and just watched all 7 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all 5 seasons of Angel and the first season of Supernatural. It was total escape from my real life. But the funny thing is that after I watched all that and did a lot of reading, an idea started forming in my head for a story. It became my YA GH winner for 2007, a book I LOVE and hope to sell and virtually wrote itself.

  10. Thanks, Melanie, Mary and Carla. And thanks to Tina for inviting me to come over and hang with you lovely gals today.

    Kim, there are lots of contests, both RWA-sponsored and not. Good luck as you venture into contesting.

    Gina, you are so right about getting published being an emotionally driven process. Often it feels like being on a huge roller coaster, and I hate roller coasters.

  11. What a good blog. It really helps give people knowledge of the fact that there are things out there to help with publication. Thanks for the great info.

  12. Great slant on contests, Trish. You've certainly had a broad experience and your persistence has paid off.

    Sometimes it's easy for writers to become cynical about contests. They are, as you say, subjective in nature, but your points are well made. Beginning writers get a lot of good advice (sometimes), advanced writers often get their manuscripts in front of their dream editors, and finals/wins are always good for the ego.

    Super advice!

  13. Howdy back, Tina! Love the blog!


  14. Jo, I think newer writers just have to learn through experience which comments to take and which to toss. Some of the comments you might not like, but in the back of your mind they still ring true. Those are the ones to pay heed. If something seems totally off base, there's no one saying you have to take the judge's advice.

  15. Hi Trish! *Waving* So wonderful to hear what a success you are, despite the setbacks. It's an inspiration and a reassurance as well. Grins. HUGE Hugs and big celebrations to you for all that you've achieved! :>

  16. Hey Trish:

    I've found it hard to enter something that's done well in contests--to have it flop in others. Those are the moments that make me want to quit. And I admit, I've said out loud...."Trish didn't quit, and now LOOK at the trail she's blazing." I use you.

    How do you like that? (grin)

    The GH final was a boost in confidence for me too. I have to fight the "it was a fluke" feelings at times, but it's a bit like an addiction I think. Once you've seen your work compete successfully at that level, it does something for you that nothing else will.

    Thanks for this great blog. Your take on contests is always a good one to hear.

  17. Trish, at any time did you consider throwing a ceremonial cleansing party? You know, like when a really bad relationship finally ends and you burn all of his old stuff, including the QVC necklace he bought you, like a purge.

    Only in this case it would be a HUGE bonfire of manuscripts in the back yard while you're telling the neighbors its, um...

    Old tax returns.

    (No personal knowledge of such a thing, you know, but I have a friend who might have burned a manuscript. Or two. 'Member that Chicago fire???

    Not Mrs. O'Leary's cow. My writing bud.

    Ever tempted?


  18. Trish, thanks so much for your great post! I bow down to all that bling on your nametag at conferences! :)

    Truly, I always knew it would just be a matter of time. Anyone who's writing is good enough to final int he GH that many times on so many different stories is an amazing writer. You just had to find the right editor/s and the right moment. I'm so happy for you!!!!

    Hi, Cassondra! It's good to see you here as well!

    Hey! Are you two okay after the storms yesterday? I guess it came close to both of you.


  19. Okay, I can't resist fixing a typo. That should have said anyone WHOSE writing...


  20. Jeanne, waving back. :)

    Cassondra, we all have to fight those fluke feelings at every stage of our careers from beginning to multi-published. I think we writers are neurotic that way.

    Ruth, I was never tempted to burn my manuscripts. I didn't want to tempt fate that as soon as I did, some editor would miraculously want it. :) Plus, I'd put a lot of time and effort into each one. But I did purge my office of "stuff" every so often to make it less cluttered and more conducive to getting work done.

  21. Missy! Hey, chica. I just looked for your book at Borders this morning, and they didn't have any of the Love Inspireds. Grr. I'll have to get it at Kroger or Wal-Mart or Books-a-Million. The B&N nearest me doesn't carry category books.

  22. Oh, yeah, forgot to reply to the question about the storms. It was stormy here last night, but the tornadoes went north of downtown, which seems to be their typical path. The people down in West Tennessee were the ones who really got hammered. Union University sustained a lot of damage, including the destruction of some dorms.

  23. Trish, first of all, congratulations again on your incredible success in the last year or so. It's so inspirational when someone who's worked so much and tried so hard and continually given back to her other romance writers through volunteering actually hits the jackpot. Whoo-hoo! And good luck in American Title. I think your entry is brilliant!

    In my years and years before publishing, contests were one of the few glimmers of hope amongst all the gloom. So I'll always be a big supporter of writing contests.

    Seekers, had to laugh. The first Australian music group to gain any international success was a folk group called The Seekers! So when I saw your name, my brain automatically started to play 'Georgy Girl' and 'The Carnival is Over'. Which is Trish's case is SOOOO not the case ;-)

  24. My closest B&N doesn't carry category either. Drives me crazy. I do have another B&N the other direction that carries some of them, but they didn't plan to order mine. A gggrrrr moment, too.

    Thanks for looking! Walmart should have it. I've also heard Target and Walgreen's do.


  25. Anna, I love that song! (Georgy Girl.) :) I had no idea who sang it, though.

    Thanks for stopping by!


  26. Your story really is inspirational, Trish. (I was there when she got the call for her second sale, hard on the heels of her first.) And while her story is a testament to perseverance and hard work, it's also a testament to the weirdness of the publishing industry, because she should have sold long before. So take heart from both these things: 1) keeping at it is likely to pay off, and 2) a long wait is not a reflection on you as a writer.

    The same goes for contests. They are dependent on personal taste, as well as whether the judge got a great deal on a new suit that morning or found out she was allergic to chocolate. What I really wish is that we could send a couple of B-complex tabs and a cheery quote with each entry, and tell the reader to prep herself before she starts reading. But we can't. The most we can do is find out what promising editors and agents are judging and submit the best entry we can. It is a crapshoot, but the odds are a damn sight better than the lottery, and how many of us buy tickets to that? I owe my first sale to the local chapter contest where I acquired my agent. She was probably in Colorado to ski and visit friends, but the stars aligned and my first book comes out in May. Contests are your friends.

  27. Hiya Missy! Great to see you here. I was wondering where you hung out, my GH pal! Hope you're coming to SF. Actually the Seekers are counted as fairly nerdy in Australia now but I think their songs are just so catchy. I have an album of 60s music that I bash through on the piano now and again and believe me, the Seekers stuff is huge fun to play. So kudos on the title, girls!

  28. Aw, Anna, you're a sweetheart. Thanks for all the nice things you said.

    Missy, I need to go to the grocery tomorrow, so I'll pick up your book there.

    Esri, my pal! She was indeed there when I got the call that I'd sold to Harlequin American. We had just finished stuffing ourselves with pancakes at the Pancake Pantry. :)

  29. Loved hearing about all your contest highs Trish! How exciting. I'm on the back cover of the 2004 RWA with you as a GH winner. What a year!

  30. Hi, Pam. Yeah, I still have that issue of the RWR too. :) Dallas has been kind to me. Both of my GH wins came in Dallas, in different years.

  31. Excellent post, Trish. Thank you for coming to Seekerville. Congrats on all of your contest finals...glad you didn't give up in the early season when nothing seemed to be happening.

    Your books sound interesting. Will have to go order them for sure.

    Cheryl Wyatt

  32. Thanks, Cheryl. And thanks to everyone here at The Seekers for hosting me today. It's been fun.

  33. Anna, are you an aussie also.
    i remember the seekers they have the cool song
    "we are australian" well one of the members wrote it.

    Trish thanks for your insight and good luck with the current contest.

  34. Hi Trish! Great post, as always. Congratulations on all of your credits. No wonder you've hit the ground running with your sales now.

    I'll second your thoughts on contests. THat's how I sold, too. It's the absolute best way I can think of for a non-agented writer to get an editor to read (and pay attention to) her work. There are no guarantees, of course, but it's one avenue to publication.

  35. Ausjenny, isn't that another song that just gets in your brain and won't go away? Actually Judith, the lead singer, had a voice so pure, it gave me goosebumps.

  36. Anna, they still play it on the telstra site and we lost our phone line (turns out it was a dodgy modem causing the problem) and they were busy and they played alot of that song.
    I remember the songs i was born during the 60's but remember the songs like Train whistle blowing.
    by the way im in south australia.

  37. Trish, I'm stopping in late but wanted to congratulate you again on your sales. I've admired all those Golden Heart finals and knew it would just be a matter of time. But waiting is not the fun part that's for sure. Wishing you all the best! It was great having you at Seekerville.


  38. Thought I'd pop back by today to see if there were any late posts, and there were! Ausjenny, Christine and Janet, thanks for the comments and for stopping by.

  39. What an interesting story Trish. Also a good reminder that we need to keep on plugging along at "whatever" until the doors close or we are directed another way.

    Please enter me in this week's drawing.


  40. It's nice to know that victory is sweet, no matter how many times you've been published!