Tuesday, March 18, 2008

CONFESSIONS OF A CONTEST FLUNKIE-Guestblog post by Pamela James

Today we have American Christian Fiction Writer's (ACFW)Vice President, Pamela James guestblogging with us. Since she's such a good friend, I wanna tell ya this disclaimer: I don't think she's a flunkie...but the title she picked for her post was avidly cute.

So without further ado....here's Pammer James:


It is so exciting to be here.

I haven't done much contesting, but what I have learned may help you out. My father said, "There are two types of people in the world. Those who learn from the mistakes of others and the "others"."

I have to admit, I am one of the 'others'.

My advice to you is to enter contests. Enter plenty of them. Polish your work to the best shine you can get and enter it again. In 2005 I entered three contests. I had a friend who entered so many she lost track, but she shall remain nameless, right Cheryl? :)

But DO NOT enter if you just want someone to tell you how fabulous a writer you are.

All of the Fab Four entered the Genesis contest (back then it was known as the Noble Theme, it's last year being called such, in fact). Three of us made it past the first round. Camy Tang, Cheryl and myself. I just KNEW I had a good entry and since I wasn't being pitted against Cheryl or Camy I figured I had a pretty good chance of winning or at least placing in the top three, right?

Well, I didn't. Cheryl and Camy both won First Place in their categories.

As I mentioned, we all entered more than one contest. Cheryl, Camy and I didn't final in all the contests we entered.

I would like to point out the two of us three that are published. God's timing? Yes, and. . .I didn't have the right heart. I wanted to hear how wonderful my talent was. I missed the meaning and the blessings of contests.

Cheryl and Camy took those scores, read the comments, LEARNED from the judges comments (even the ones I thought were unkind), and APPLIED those suggestions (that's all they are you know from someone who knows what they're doing) to their writing. Their work got better and better.

I took those comments and grumbled. The judges didn't get me. They didn't understand my story. How on earth am I supposed to tell the whole story in one chapter? If I did, why write the rest of the novel. I even asked Cheryl to help me find some good in one judges comments (not sure what contest).

In fact, I was so upset and down about the contests, my hubby (the fixer) forbade me to enter any more contests since he didn't know how to make it better for me.

Instead of growing as a writer and a person, I spun my wheels. Worked on the same novel for three years. It was rejected twice.

Last year God softened my heart. I finally understood that critiques and judge comments were meant to help and not hurt. If I could apply what I learned from a crit or a comment I could have the joy of seeing my work improved. What a blessing to have so many people willing to show me the ropes. I have been learning from the fabulous people He has put in my life. And I think my writing has improved. It's not there yet, but it's getting there.

Learn from my hard lesson. Enter contests with the right expectations and the right heart. If you final or win, then that is a plus. I think your main goal should be to improve your writing and you will definitely get that if you allow it to help you.


Pamela James
Faith Based Intrigue: Visit Pamela on the Web
When danger and faith collide.


  1. Great post, Pammer! That's such an awesome testimony about how your writing has come around.

  2. Interesting post and Im glad you have stopped spinning wheels.

  3. Pammer, everything you've said is so true.
    Last year I entered the Genesis and my judge marks were so far apart they called in a discrepancy judge. I still didn't final. When I got the judge's score sheets back it was the agony and the ecstasy. One gave me a 99 and "got" the story. I wanted to frame her comments. The worst scoring judge was blunt and to the point. But, after I settled down and really read the low scoring judge's comments I began to understand her teaching and it totally made a difference in how I wrote from then on.

    The high scoring judge was good for my ego, but she didn't teach me what needed to be taught. The other judge was my teacher. :-)

  4. LOL......sometimes, the 2 X 4 upside the head just comes around later than sooner. But you SO are on track now, girl!

    Pam, :D :D :D

  5. Thanks for the welcome.

    I agree Pam, I even went back and dug out the old contest comments to glean what I could from them. :)

    I have to admit, Robin, the 2x4 was my complete confusion over Colleen's love for her edits. When she explained how it made her work better and her look like a better writer, that was my light-bulb moment.

    Thanks so much for the encouragement guys.

  6. Hi, Pam. Thanks for stepping away from the awesome power you weild at ACFW to spend the day with us.
    I think I did everything the hard way, too...EVERYTHING. And the slow way, too.
    I still remember knowing what they meant by POV and how hard it was to bring that into focus, odd concept, really.
    There's just a lot to learn about writing.
    I think I've always told a good story but it took me a long, long time to learn to tell it well.

  7. Absolutely right on, Pammer! The judges' comments I found most helpful were the ones who gave me the lowest scores. I applied what I learned from them and began to place in the top 3. Like you, I'm not first place yet, but with each tough comment, I learn more.

    If we want to publish, we'd better develop rhino-skin. :) Put your armor on!

  8. Pamela, excellent post! I wish instruction didn't have to hurt, but no pain, no gain applies to writers too. Thanks for visiting Seekerville! And thanks for all you do for us at ACFW.


  9. This really is a great post! We all need to have a teachable spirit no matter what we are putting our hand to! Thanks for the honesty in this!


  10. I have always wished that learning could be more like osmosis, or maybe like pouring fuel (writing skills) into a tank (my brain). You remind me that it actually takes a thick skin and hard work to learn this art. Thank you for your willingness to share your own rough road with us. I will try to spend less time being glad I am not alone and more time doing the work that will get me farther down that road.

  11. Great post, Pammer! Thanks so much for joining us today!

    I love what you said about Colleen and her edits (I'm assuming you mean Coleen Coble.) I've always been one who hated the revision stage of writing. I loved the first draft, then just wanted to put the thing away. But after working with an editor for the first time, I've found that I love the opportunity to make the story better. And judge comments can help with that, even if they're tough to take.

    I appreciate your honesty. I've been in the same situation and have done the same thing. It's been a slow process for me to take criticism better. And it still hurts sometimes! I guess I don't have a total rhino hide yet. :)


  12. Pammer, you are just too cute...and very wise. Thanks for sharing!

    Love ya, girl...Kim S.

  13. Well, Pammer, I enter contests because I want people to tell me how wonderful my book is. I admit it. I also grumble about the judges' comments sometimes (as you all well know) but I also pore over those comments, more than once, and go line by line through my book and make changes according to the wise input from those judges. Oh, yeah, I'm no fool. I want to improve my chances in the next contest!

    Great advice, Pammer! You go, girl! Things are really happening for you.

  14. Yes, I meant Colleen Coble. :) I thought she was weird. But I am working with a mentor now, Kelly Mortimer, and I find myself anxiously awaiting her comments. And once I go through the chapter again, it looks so much better. But I believe God had to soften me up so that I could truly appreciate the gift that her mentoring is. And to be able to apply it.

    You guys make me feel so welcome here. You may have to kick me out. :D


  15. They haven't kicked me out yet, so I think you're safe.

  16. Melanie, you've survived some of my awful first drafts, so you're a strong woman. :)

    I'm still chucklin' over Mary's comment about weilding awesome power. If that's the case, everyone BETTER get their Rhino Armor on. I'm a dangerous woman. (Just ask my hubby. . .or Cheryl, lol.)

  17. We never kick you out. Actually, we never let you go! You're officially trapped. :)


  18. Pammers.

    You mean we're NOT supposed to expect total domination of (pick genre here) when we enter a contest?????


    Thanks for stopping by to see us and share your insight (which I think is more than a little hard on yourself, truth be told...

    And there ain't nothin' soft, fuzzy and gentle about my rationalization, Cupcake...)

    and play in the rippling sands of Seekerville.

    Did you get a hot cross bun? I just re-filled the coffee station and oh, yeah, Mary sent a fresh carrot cake by way of dogsled from Nebraska.

    Which means it's still slightly frozen but it'll thaw quick.

    And I'm glad you're here when Cheryl's not because then we can pick on you and she can't wield HER sword of awesome power...

    (Mary, where on earth do you get these ideas??? Didn't anyone come to school today, hmm???)

    And make us behave.


    And usually at the guest blogger's expense.

    Which means you, Pammers.


    Okay, I must shower. I decorated a gazillion and a half cakes today and I have buttercream clothes and whipped cream hair...

    Which is greasy no matter how you try to dress it up, LOL!

    I'll check in later, see if you gals are behaving yourselves.

    Please don't.


  19. Pammer,
    You're a doll!!! Thanks for posting such great comments . . . right from your heart!

    Rejection is always hard to take! As writers, we open ourselves to criticism every time we allow someone to read our work. When they respond negatively, we often want to retreat into our shell -- or at least that's how I always feel.

    Tough skin or not, it doesn't get easier. Maybe we get smarter and can look at the upside of the criticism, ie that we can learn something from the critique, but it still stings.

    Sensitive judges should offer some positive remarks along with the negative. We need to pat ourselves on the back for what we do right, then work hard to improve the areas that cause us problems.

  20. Criticism?

    No way! I'm ANTI-CRITICISM and, by golly, proud of it. Why suffer through the pain of red ink and negative comments? I'd much rather hear praise, praise, and more praise with a dash or boatload of exhaultation. No bowing or kissing my feet, though (that's idoltry and, well, just plain gross).

    Anyhoo, in support of my platform of LOVE and EQUALITY, I'm advocating for every criticism a crit partner or contest judge give, the said crit partner and contest judge should give two--nay, three--praises. But, you ask, what if the CP or CJ can't find anything worth praising?

    Find something.

    Spend hours and hours and hours and hours and three minutes more searching for the right words because, for Pete's sake, the last thing we want to do is discourage anyone from her dream of becoming a published writer.

    Yes, she probabaly could become a world-renown quilter, or teach her kids not to chew with their mouths open, or spend her days baking bread to take to her Hindu neighbors and nursing home residents who have no teeth but who also need to know someone cares.

    But NO!

    Everyone should be encouraged to chase her dream of becoming a published writer because we live in a country where we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    Critical comments negate happyness...umm, happiness.

    If after two, three, four, ten years, you don't see a growth in your writing, never fear. Anybody can become a published author if she stays persistent.

    Even ski-jumper Eddie the Eagle got to go to the Olympics and represent Great Britian.

    In honor of Eddie and a handful of adjective-obsessed romance authors, we should banish criticism in favor of adulation because the last thing we need are anymore well-written books.

    And you know I'm serious becuase I'm always serious. I reek with seriousness. snif Oh, wait, that's acutally my 8-yr-old sweaty son who's standing next to me.

    My bad.

  21. Pammer, criticism is never easy to take. And once you're published it just changes. I keep bracing for the review that will cream my writing. Ah well. Keeps me focused on why I write. Good luck this year!

  22. Pammer, we've all been there. At least I know I have.

    I think the reason it was hard for me to accept critiques sometimes was because I didn't understand why the critiquer/judge had made the call. And, more importantly, I didn't know how to fix it.

    I remember once in a group of writers, one published author said my heroine had done something unbelievable, or out of character.

    But I had read one of her books recently (and loved it) and I mentioned that her heroine had done something equally unbelievable.

    I think it caught her off guard, but she quickly rallied and gave me the MOTIVATIONS that made her heroine's actions believable.

    At that moment I just wasn't mature enough in my writing craft to truly understand that she was right.

    Oh...glad to have you here!

  23. Gina, I was multi-tasking (okay, talking to someone) and thought your post was Ruthy's until I got to the part about your 8 yo son and realized it couldn't be Ruthy.

    So is getting the two of you mixed up a compliment or WHAT?

  24. Rejection and critisism always sting. When my son got the package in the mail that was my rejection, he knew what it was. He, being the sensitive child he is, called me at work. I cried for all but two minutes, but folks got concerned so I sucked it up and prayed about it. I realized it was God's will.
    Unfortunatly it was a form rejection so I didn't learn anything from it, lol. Other than it wasn't my time.

    When I get published and get a bad review, I know where to come and cry, right? I'll probably call Cheryl and snort and sob all over her shoulder (well, her phone shoulder which is way less messy for her than for me).

    Ruthie, you and Gina crack me up. I'm sure my son is wondering what I'm cackling about down here. I did get a hot cross bun and thanks for refilling the coffee. I sure needed it. The carrot cake hasn't made it here yet and I think the dogs may have hijacked it. I'll keep the porch light on though.

    Well, just so you know, my dad was a prankster, so I'm used to things being at my expense. My kids learned it from him because like I've been telling them for the last few days, I'm not ornery. :)
    But behaving ain't on my to do list today! So we can have fun.

  25. Okay, I just read Gina's ANTI CRITICISM comment and I am choking on my soda.

    Honey, you simply gotta quick sending your stuff to the red pen queen for a quick check.

    I had no idea.

  26. Gina:

    Pam mis-took you for me. You should be sending God a thank-you note, woman...

    Tee hee hee...

    (snarky smile sent at no additional cost...)

    Pammers, glad you found the coffee and I just realized that Mary ATE the carrot cake and didn't send it after all.

    Mid-life women do the strangest things.

    But Tina's got a fresh batch of chocolate-drizzled almond biscotti which makes a fine accompaniment to the robust hazelnut coffee in the third carafe to your right. Yeah, that one. It's decaf because it's late in the day, you understand.

    So, okay, I'm clean now, I don't smell like Gina's poor child, and I'm going out on a limb here and saying I like criticism if it's good.

    Seriously. I mean it.

    Good/bad? How can that be?

    Pam, you made a great point of not being able to 'see' the lack of motivation in your manuscript compared to the published author's, and that's valid.

    Sometimes the critiquer actually has a point, a good point and we miss it because:

    Our panties are in a bunch. (buy bigger panties...)

    We're blinded by tears. (get more Kleenex)

    We're goofy and egotistical. (get a clue.)

    We can't bear criticism of ANY of our children from outsiders. (find another profession)

    Growth in writing (which Tina put so aptly the other day, smart woman, that Tina...) doesn't come without pain. Think of it as the Osgood-Schlatter syndrome of the writing circuit.

    It's painful but necessary for growth.

    I know lots of writers who are perfectly content to be big fish in very small pools.

    What's that about?

    If you want to get good, really good, the kind of good that separates the wheat from the chaff, ya' gotta be willing to meet the thresher full tilt, no bend, no sway.

    Can't be ducking your head, afraid to try the waters.

    And hearing from Cara and Deb that it doesn't get easier once your published is actually good for us, because who wants to get caught in second gear when third gear is but a clutch push away?

    Some judges are critical of anything that walks. Or talks. They're just critical, plain and simple.

    Some are new and HUGELY sympathetic to whatever the current buzzword of the day seems to be.

    Some are totally awesome, and a lot fall in between those parameters.

    But if a judge can't "get" your stuff, then how does an average reader stand a chance?

    And that's what an editor might be thinking as they weigh one against the other.

    On the other hand, maybe you're targeting the wrong judges, the wrong genre, the wrong publisher. Very possible when the lines separating Long Contemporary from Single Title from Mainstream with Strong Romantic Rlements are about as blurry as my shower mirror was a few minutes ago.


  27. Wow Ruthie, that is amazing. I think it's interesting the way we percieve critisism. Sometimes it's who it comes from. Sometimes it's when it comes to us, where we are in life at that moment. And sometimes, God needs to grow us just a little more so that we can make the trek He has created us for.

    Now I don't take all critisism well. I got into a terrible snit the other day when one of my friends (who reads only literary stuff written in sometime B.C.) told me the beginning of my story wasn't plausible. I was hot, let me tell you. But a couple of days later, do you know what I did? I asked several trusted author friends (a few who are on here) what they really thought. Just because I wasn't willing to risk that he might be right.

    I got the coffee and the biscotti, yum! I totally understand about the carrot cake, Mary, although it is my favorite next to chocolate. :)

    Oh and while I'm here, I want to brag on Cheryl and no she's not paying me. :) I went to the military base with my buddy Phil, the other day (soldier who just got back from Iraq--he dropped my driver's license down into his dash, but we wont' discuss that, lol). We went into the PX and I saw all these fiction books. I immediately started scouting for Cheryl's newest soldier one. It wasn't there. . .because IT HAD SOLD OUT!!! Isn't that fabulous?!

  28. Awesome, Pammer. You are so right. It's not easy though, is it? :-)

  29. First, let me say you can criticize my kids and I'm okay with it. Hmm. Then again, I'm about to send a seething e-mail to my oldest son's choir teacher.

    PamH, thanks for the compliment. I've always thought Ruthy was brilliant, beautiful, and bodacious. :-) Of course, since someone has to be the brilliant, beautiful, bodacious seeker, why not let Ruthy. She's got, like, twenty-six kids.

    Umm, Tina, don't tell anyone, but I actually like your quick crits. They're bloody fantabulous!!! And they make me happy...once I've fixed all the multitude of problems.

    On a side note, I was Amazon shopping through some inspys to figure out which ones I wanted to recommend that my local library buy. I came across one that was a very-good seller and award-winning. All the reviews were amazingly favorable...except one. The review blasted the inspirational romance for being too sensual, too racy, too EROTIC.

    No joke.

    And I'm not even talking about Julie's A PASSION MOST PURE. This was another author's book, written a few years ago.

    Then the reviewer went on to justify how shameful the author and publisher were because most of the reviews previous to this woman's were from teenage girls. Thus the publisher and author were leading the girls down the path of sin.

    Oh, American Idol is about to come on. Which reminds me.

    Simon Cowell is the best judge because he is the harshest judge. If you're good, he'll tell ya. If you sound like a canary in heat, he'll tell ya. And after weeks and weeks and weeks of his criticism, I bet those who reach the finals finally figure out that learning to manage criticism makes them stronger. Fans and critics will love ya or hate ya, so you better get use to the criticism.

    Same goes with writing.

    Gotta go.

  30. I have had such a wonderful time here today. I almost hate to leave. I WILL be checking in with you guys frequently. Thanks for making me feel so welcome.

    Pammer-who's working through a chapter to send in for a critique, and maybe a contest? :)(If she can keep the cat off her laptop. Sigh.)

  31. Oh yeah, you are gonna get there.

  32. I'm always LATE!
    Pammer....I can't wait for the day I can post a "PAMMER SOLD!" notice in Seekerville....

    Thanks for gracing us with your presence.

    The rest of you...crack me up! Thanks for laughs!

    And any newbies to Seekerville...thanks for dropping by!


  33. Enter life with the right expectations and the right heart. Good interview.

  34. Can you be both?! One that sometimes learns from their mistakes and at other times doesn't?! Cindi