Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Why Have A Contest?

We've talked a lot on this loop about the advantages to entering a contest but have you ever considered the point of view of the organizations putting on the contests? Most writer's groups that sponsor contests do so to fund their organizations. My local Romance Writers of America is the East Valley Phoenix Chapter of Desert Rose. They sponsor the Golden Quill which is a reader's choice contest for published authors. This money helps finance the chapter. How do I know this? I was their treasurer--twice. 

The main writing organizations sponsor contests to generate operating funds. The National Romance Writers of America and their special interest chapters such as the Faith, Hope and Love chapter sponsor contests. The American Christian Fiction Writers sponsors writing contests for the published and unpublished.

And why is that important? Think about all that these organizations and chapters have to offer aspiring and published authors. They offer workshops that teach writing skills, they sponsor conferences which give us opportunities to meet editors and agents, they share industry news, they offer opportunities to meet other writers and network. Many of these organizations publish newsletters and magazines Many have websites with a wealth of information about the writing business. All of these things require money. some of the events pay for themselves.  But an organization needs cash on hand to initiate conferences and workshops. Websites and newsletters cost money, not to mention postage. And don't you love to go to meetings and talk to other writers? Without these organizations, we wouldn't have that opportunity.

So if you enter a contest and do not place, you still haven't lost. You have supported the continuation of organizations that make the life of a writer easier, better and more fun. 


  1. Now this is very useful news. I always wonder where the money comes from when anybody gives things away. This explanation of the contest fees makes complete sense, and it actually motivates me to enter some of them. I am a new writer, but I have already found a lot of free and very useful information. Entering a contest is good for me, for many reasons, but now I see it as a way to help those who help me. Nobody loses in this setting. Thank you for a great post.

  2. Now if we could only figure out a way to make contest entry fees count as a "charitable deduction."

  3. Sandra, great insight on the other side of the contest coin! I never thought about the residual benefits of entering contests, but so true!!

    And Gina, uh, my accountant DOES use contests fees, postage, etc. as a deduction for me, albeit not "charitable" since I am seldom "charitable" when paying fees ...


  4. Good point Julie, All of you should be keeping tabs of every stamp, pen, piece of paper you spend on writing. This would be a good post next time. smile. The IRS allows deductions for up to five years before showing a profit. All you have to do if audited is show the intent of writing and that it isn't a hobby. When I was audited I showed them all my rejection letters and that satisfied them. They knew I was seriously writing. So see. Those rejection letters ARE good for something.

    Gina, you should ask each contest coordinator because there are some organizations that donate their proceeds to charitable organizations. Those you can write off as a charitable expense.

    Katherine, I'm glad you're seeing more benefits because entering contests is going to help you all the way around. Best wishes.

  5. Gina, contest entries, postage, your computer, all of this is deductable.
    Consult your tax accountant.
    I think you have to show some income like...within three years of beginning or it counts as a 'hobby'. But if you've got income from magazines or any other writing source that is enough.
    And if you're afraid to deduct it for fear you won't get income in time, then keep track of it because you can deduct older expenses in a later calendar year.

  6. Okay, five years.

    So you were AUDITED SAndra? All the sudden this isn't a contest blog it's a suspense novel.

  7. Yes, I was audited. Ed and I traveled to South America for a year in the seventies. We were audited for three years after returning. I think they wanted to be sure we weren't revolutionaries. But the thing is it was the best thing that happened. The auditors were great. They showed us all kinds of ways to get deductions. Since then I've never been afraid of them. We made out ahead every time we were audited. And yes, I did take all my receipts in a paper grocery bag and plopped them on their desk.

  8. I'm off to a Bible Study with Beth Moore. If you ever get a chance to take one of her studies, do it. She is an amazing teacher. I'll be back this afternoon.

  9. Sandra.

    Once again you come across as being so darned nice.

    What's up with that????

    And here I am thinking up ways to sugar the gas tanks of judges' cars, warp their doors to let in icy cold wind, chilling them on raw, winter nights and ruin their air conditioning units in August if they live in the continental U.S.

    While you're coming up with ways to look at a contest as an altruistic venture.



    Got that out of my system.

    Like, pshaw, who thinks of these nice things when they enter contests? What happened to envisioning the win? The moment of triumph? The thrill of victory? To heck with their classes, let 'em take out a library book and study up!

    (Guilt is dripping from my pores as I type this. I am not nice. I am not altruistic. I'm a competitive wench who likes to forge ahead at warp speed. And yet I love, love, love Sandra.)

    Okay, Sandy. Nice post. Very nice. Way to shame me into the deep, dark, shadowed side of the confessional.

    Bless me Father, for I have sinned...



  10. I think it is smart to realize that the "business" end of writing does exist. Therefore all we learn about that is only a benefit! Thanks for sharing this!

    kimfurd at homtail dot com

  11. Great post, Sandra. I hadn't really thought about it that way.

    If I only get five years before I have to show a profit, I may be in trouble.

    DH gets an accountant to do our taxes because he's always afraid we'll be audited because of all my writing expenses. Of course, now I have a part-time job to try to pay for all those expenses. Does that help my cause with the IRS? Didn't think so. But at least dh is appeased.

  12. Thanks for the tax advice, gals!

    I mentioned to hubby about the writing deductions we could do, but because he's a pastor, we already don't pay income taxes so deducting writing expenses at this time wouldn't benefit us any.

    Once I generate writing income, then we'll start deducting writing expenses.

    Ruthy, thanks for being the group's token heathen/villian. I'm sure everyone appreciates you doing the sinning and saving the rest of us the heartache. ;-)

    You silly girl, you.

    Just remember most of the gals her love you. :D

    Some day when we both grow up, we can be sweet, loving, and kind-hearted like Sandra.

    When I say I made a $50 charitable dontation to RWA this year, there ain't anything altrusitic in my comment or action. Double-space synos for the GH. Double-space synos for the GH.

  13. On a side note, how do y'all feel about fairly perfect CBA heroines? Do you feel it's the accepted standard? Do you feel a heroine can be too soiled to make it in a CBA book?

    Yes, I blogged about this.

    But I'm rather bothered because one gal in one of my writing loops insists that too much baggage won't fly in a CBA heroine. She basically thinks all CBA heroines are fairly perfect.

    Any thoughts? Or does this constitute as assimiliating a blog?

    Borg Gina of Gina

  14. does this constitute as assimiliating a blog

    I don't know what that means, Gina, but it's a really impressive string of long words so I'm in awe.

    I clearly remember one CBA novel that began with the heroine climbing out of bed with her live-in boyfriend.
    Name, name, name...I can't think of it.
    Of course she has to get straightened out, but she was in a very clear type of relationship with this guy and it took her a good part of the book to move on.

    HOWEVER, for an author just starting out, trying to get published, I think it makes sense to not push the envelope too hard.

  15. And yes, we're off topic.

    Sorry Sandra.

  16. AND, Ruthy is NOT a heathen/villain.
    We can debate villain if you want but I'm going to have to insist we drop heathen.

    There, I defended you Ruthy. You're welcome.

  17. Phew.

    Thanks for clearing that up, Mare. And Gina loves me from afar because I totally sympathize and empathize with her lot in life which is motherhood to oodles of wet-nosed yet wonderful children.

    People with big families or those from big families are much more in tune with the criminally insane than the general public. Goes with the territory.

    So, while we're off-topic, I think your assimilative bad-girl heroine question kind of depends on the heroine and the publisher as well as the writing public associated with the author.

    If the author has an established relationship with the public, one publisher may give the green light, willing to risk because it's good to expand now and again.

    Another publisher may put up a firm octagonal (used big word for Mary's benefit, she gets so darned impressed by them and I love her and want her happy) red sign saying, "No way, what are you thinking, change the opening 'cause it ain't gonna fly in 'Bama and the Delta, Cupcake."

    Where a new author might as well change the opening from the get-go 'cause she ain't a-gonna' get nowhere, nohow with that kind of opening unless you're market specific:

    Great African American gal in ACFW, can't remember her name, but she got this awesome book published with an opening about how the wife heard her husband upstairs... The thump of the bed driving her instincts to their most creative level when she came home unexpectedly...

    And found him with their best friend.

    Another guy.

    No way did I think standard CBA would let that fly, but a more A/A CBA publisher (if memory serves) contracted her the year I had her in Mainstream Genesis.

    So it depends.

    But for the most part?

    I think it's tough to push the mantle unless you're either THAT good or your story touches people heart and soul.

    And horrible heroines aren't all that much fun when they do all that time-consuming soul-searching. Golly gee whillikers, that can get old in a hurry.


  18. Haven't I always been told that you shouldn't make your heroines too perfect, that everyone hates that? You can have "fallen" heroines, as long as you aren't explicit with the "fallenness." But what do I know?

    (Sorry, Mary, for not using big words. Phooey, one of my words isn't even a word.)

    And Ruthy said: "No way, what are you thinking, change the opening 'cause it ain't gonna fly in 'Bama and the Delta, Cupcake."

    Ruthy, I'm from Bama, and we've got enough poor-white-trash/hoochie mamas that I don't think you could shock anyone here who's gone to public school past the sixth grade.

  19. ..explicit with the "fallenness...

    That's pretty good, Melanie...although I think fallenness might be the one that's not a word. :)

    What's the woman's name, someone? She wrote her books with a one word woman's name...Linda, Sharon, Ruthy (maybe not) googling them, even searching on Amazon is NOT working. She's a relatively big star.

    For that matter, Karen Kingsbury had her hero living with a woman, who got pregnant by another guy and had an abortion, while Hero's ex girlfriend is pregant by hero.

    Just a side note...none of us are Karen Kingsbury. :)

  20. ...none of us are Karen Kingsbury...

    'nough said.

    And Mel, darling, I didn't mean to imply that 'Bammers wouldn't get it...

    Shoot, honey, 'Bammers invented the seared soul, didn't they?

    Just that it's a big risk to publishers if they openly offend fundamentalist teachings and lose an audience. From a dollar standpoint, that makes perfect sense.

    But there are markets more open to varied degrees of realism, and the established authors probably have an easier time of getting books bound because they're Twinkies...

    You know.

    Proven product with great shelf life.


    So while a Twinkie might get a contract for a smackdown book, I don't think it's as likely to fall to a newbie.

    But I'm wrong daily, no, wait, make that hourly so what do I know?

    I only wish that weren't as true as it actually is.


  21. Ruthy, I do love you.

    It is remarkable how similar the pattern of love is to the pattern of insanity.-Merovingian in The Matrix - Revolutions

    I like how Melanie said "You can have 'fallen' heroines, as long as you aren't explicit with the 'fallenness.'"

    Couldn't you say CBA fiction is all telling stories about redeemed sinners or redeeming sinners?

    But my original question wasn't really on if it's possible for a unpubbed author to sell a "fallen" heroine. A gal doesn't have to be sexually unpure to be fallen. I'm not, like, trying to write a story about an erotic dancer who sells pot on the side to pay for her next abortion and in the process meets a man who leads her to salvation all in the course of 240 pages.

    My question really goes to the fundamental belief...umm, standard to what a CBA heroine is. And is there really an rubric to fit your CBA heroine?

    I remember not too long ago, a pubbed inspy author said to me that a CBA heroine can't be intentionally deceitful.

    Why not?

    If she has good enough motivation, in her mind at least, why can't she do something deceitful? Why can't she lie, drink, steal, and go commando under her clothes?

    I know some lines are far more conservative in what a CBA heroine can't do. And I'm sooooo not criticizing that. No way! Many readers want to pick up a book knowing 99% of the time it's not going to have anything offensive in it.

    There is a place for sweet, sanitized stories with practically perfect heroines. Reading them is like turning off the world and enjoying a satisfying bit of chocolate.

    I'm just wondering what you would say are the characteristics, past history, current lifestyle, etc, that would unacceptable in a CBA heroine?

    And based on the CBA novels you've read, what percentage of them would fall into the "practically perfect" category.

    Not only that, but would you say that the CBA market is like the ABA market in that we'll accept more of a sordid past/present in the hero than in the heroine? And why do you think that is? Boys will be boys so we can't expect them to live morally pure lives like girls?

  22. We are soooooo off-topic.

    Sandra's going to smack us when she returns, but hey, it's her fault for leaving.

    I'm such a child.


    I don't see a rubric at all.

    LI is one of the squeaky cleanest lines out there, and they grabbed Dorothy Clark's book about a young prostitute who seeks sanctuary in a church while being hunted by her pimp.

    And then starts a new life.

    But I think I know what you're getting at, and I don't know that it comes down to what the hero/heroine do or do not do or haven't done.

    Wow. That was a horrible sentence.

    I think CBA is defined more by the HOWS of how they handle it. The way the talk, interact, discuss and sermonize a topic/choice/option like a Sunday school session gone manic.

    That part sets the general CBA H/H's apart as unrealistic for me, as if the author is platforming or soapboxing to show the misbegotten reader the proper way of handling a crisis or dilemma.

    Suddenly appearing angels bother me, too, because I think it's a cheap device.

    So I don't see it as a perfect heroine kind of thing (and I love beleaguered heroines, they're my favorite, and I like bad boy heroes, but I really love good boy heroes who step out of their own prideful ways for the sake of love. Shoot, if he's cute enough and challenging enough, I love all heroes, LOL!)

    What does everybody else think or are you guys waiting to suffocate us because we're talking about other stuff??????

    Come on.

    'Fess up.


  23. Ummm... I had a good idea but I lost it.

    Oh, yeah, I had an entry in an unpubbed contest one time and the heroine is a college teacher and the hero is taking her class and he's really not buying her 'turn the other cheek' philosophy. He's a cop.

    So he gives her a hard time during class, then afterward he comes up to apologize, knowing he was too rude.
    Whatever his first words are...her response was a line like this.

    "It's nice to meet you," she lied.

    I just thought that was funny. It made me laugh. This was a seriously squeaky clean heroine. The judge called me on it. 'Can't have the heroine's lying.'

    So I changed it to "It's nice to meet you," she wildly exaggerated.

    The book isn't published yet. Wonder why??? LOL

    Ruthy was that you, judging that entry????

  24. I'm scared Sandra gonna whoop our e-hides for going off topic, but I couldn't help sharing my wonderings.

    I think CBA is defined more by the HOWS of how they handle it. The way the talk, interact, discuss and sermonize a topic/choice/option like a Sunday school session gone manic.

    That part sets the general CBA H/H's apart as unrealistic for me, as if the author is platforming or soapboxing to show the misbegotten reader the proper way of handling a crisis or dilemma.

    What ticked me off enough to challenge me to write a novel was reading a Lori Wick romance where the majority of the story was sermons. No joke. The pastor preached a sermon (I think the first chapter), then the heroine and hero each had a scene where they discussed a sermon they'd heard, then another pastor preached a sermon. I wanted to scream "I get the point: Good and bad things happen to both good and bad people!"

    Instead I elected to throw the book up against the wall.

    Felt more spiritual.

    What bothers me in a CBA novel is someone always having a scripture to answer the problem. And I think that goes back to the general idea that the book must teach a biblical lesson and do it in a clear enough manner as to lessen the chance of the reader not getting it.

    But can we really blame the authors for that? I've often wondered how many editors say "We need more God-talk, more scripture verses, more prayers." Again, just wondering...

    Anyhoo, back to my original topic hijacking point. I still don't think anyone has lived a life so bad that s/he couldn't qualify to be a CBA hero/ine. To say that your life wouldn't qualify you to be one leads me to think....

    1) You are self-righteous about your past to the point of being proud of the fact you're too bad for the CBA market


    2) You are holding onto a past that God has forgiven you for and freed you of--bondage by choice--becasue deep down inside you don't think you deserve to be forgiven

    If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has past away...

    Why that can't make a basis for a CBA-heroine, I don't know. What about character arc, inner journey?


    3) You have a narrow-minded, cynical view of the CBA market

    I know some pretty practically perfect CBA heroines are published, but to say all are that way seems too cut-and-dry to me. I think the market has grown to encompass a variety of soiled levels. That's good thing.

  25. I'm back to topic...for a bit. :-) Sandra, excellent point about how important contest revenue is to writing organizations. "Opening Gambit" enabled our small chapter to bring in speakers, including Margie Lawson.

    As for taxes--I claimed my expenses for nine years before selling. That didn't include my computer as everything I did on it wasn't writing related. My d/h says there's no limit on how many years you can claim writing expenses as long as you're seriously pursuing publication and have the rejection letters to prove it. Nothing hard about that in our household.

    I've heard wonderful things about the Beth Moore studies, Sandra. I'd love to take one.

    Fascinating discussion about how far writers can push the envelope with the fallenness of their heros/heroines. Probably not a good idea to push too far for early sales. But aren't we all told not to make our heroines too perfect, too?


  26. My goodness. When the cat's away the mice do play. Mary and Ruthy and Gina. Did you girls have fun while I was gone or what????
    At any rate, thanks Mary and Ruth for picking up the ball and answering Gina's question. I couldn't answer it myself as I've wondered the same thing. I've read and seen several lifelike situations in CBA but keep getting told while pitching, etc. that taboos do exist. I guess when you have a name, you can get away with more. Which is the same in the ABA market.

    Thanks Janet for getting us back on target. Getting speakers to visit is another benefit that a well-funded writing group can do. And don't we learn from them.

    Your husband is right. As long as you show intent to publish and the rejection letters do that, you can deduct. I even count the mileage to the post office to mail off my submissions.

  27. That would be the same Lori Wick who's got the highest rank on the CBA bestseller list for March, right Gina????

  28. I attended my area RWA meeting last week. I've just recently rejoined. I've belonged like...three times before and I lose track and don't renew and don't even notice. but I'm trying again. :)
    We discussed possibly having a conference in Omaha. I was told that there are fewer conferences every year.
    It was all just talk, nothing settled, but they said there was a lot of money to be made with conferences, too. So other things than just contests.

  29. Melanie, did we answer your question about the tax deduction? In response to Mary's suspense, I was audited again much later on in reference to the writing. That was when I showed them all the rejection letters. So keep those letters fellow writers. They may come in handy.

    What we were taught by the auditors is the most important thing with whatever you claim is to have good documentation and receipts. When I travel to the PO or to a writer meeting or to a critique group, I keep a log with all the mileage and where I'm going and what its for. I keep every receipt, even if its for a stamp.

    My accountant has no problem making the claims as long as I have the documentation. Start keeping track.

  30. Yes, Mary, conferences can make a lot of money, but it is always good to have money in the bank when planning one. The organization sponsoring the conference has to pay half in advance for the hotel, meeting rooms and even the food ordered for the luncheons, etc. This runs into the thousands of dollars. They sign a contract to pay the rest after the conference. So what happens if you don't get enough attendees to cover the cost? The organization is still responsible and has to pay. So in truth, you make very little "extra" money. But you want to make enough to cover the next conference. And you want to make enough to keep your organization in the black.

  31. Umm, yeah, Mary. But this particular book of hers is at least 8 years old, so perhaps she's improved her craft. That's the last of her books I've read. But since she's so hot on the charts, apparently I'm one of the few readers who isn't a fan anymore.

    On a side note...

    For the life of me, I can't remember which CP said this, but whoever it was either last year or the year before or maybe the year before mentioned how they lost money on their yearly conference and if it weren't for the contest that they had, they would have been in some serious read.

    Either they were going to have to do something to decrease conference costs, increase contest registration, and/or increase contest profit.

    And if it's the chapter I'm thinking about, they added electronic entry option to their contest and got a SLEW of entries to the point that they were begging everyone and their dog to judge. Glad they didn't ask my dog because he's not real good with understanding plot. Plopping, he's an expert at/with/on.

  32. here i am with another question how do readers get to vote in contests?
    i've seen mention of contests where readers choose a winner who does it work.

    and good advice on the tax info I do creative memories at a loss! but have to declare it and we have to keep records for 7 year i think.

  33. Janet, you made a good 'contest funds' related point.

    In LCRW the contest money was used to create a scholarship fund for people to access for conferences. They granted me $200.00 towards my first ACFW conference in Denver, where I originally met the other Seekers. Great conference, great gals, great faith-sharing experience. Wonderful.

    And if you can get your contest going strongly enough, you can achieve a good amount of discretionary income. The trick is to come up with good judges for both aspects and have coordinators who are willing to fill in the blanks, possibly at the last minute. Those of you who've coordinated know exactly what I mean and my friends understand because I'm not afraid to beg.

    Not even the teensiest, tinsiest bit afraid, LOL!

    So the benefit to a group that puts together a good contest can be multi-layered.


  34. Gina, Maybe that one manuscript that was judged so weird was your dog. I hadn't thought of that. LOL

    Ausjenny--good question. In most contests for the unpublished judges are selected by a committee. They usually try to find judges who are either published or have plenty of writing experience. If they have too many contestants for their published authors, the published authors usually judge the final round. They also try to match judges with genres they are familiar with.

    For the Rita, all published authors of RWA are expected to judge. If you don't volunteer they send you all kinds of emails to guilt you into it. (Please don't ask me how I know this LOL) They are given a list of genres and they can select which genres they would be willing to judge. Some years they ask which contests they would not judge.

    For reader's choice contests for the published, this is easier to get judges. The contest facilitators ask around the community for avid readers of romance or Christian fiction etc. They usually recommend friends and the list expands. As Robin mentioned in her post, these are good for published authors to get their names out there. They aren't judged in the same manner as unpublished which focus more on the craft. They are judged for an overall great read.

    Camy might be able to give more specifics on the judges for the ACFW contests. I think they have strict criteria for judges also.

    Ruthie, you've organized contests, maybe you can answer this also.

  35. Sorry Ruthy, I see you did answer while I was typing my response. I got interrupted by three phone calls. Yikes. Good job my dear Irish lassie friend whom I trust is gearing up for St. Patricks day.

  36. Ausjenny, I just have to ask are you from Australia? Every time I see your name on our post I think maybe that is what the aus is for. If so welcome. And if not, welcome. From Sandra who is much too curious for her own good sometimes. (Don't say it Ruthy---or Mary)

  37. Sandra yes Aus is for Australia, Debbi asked last week too.

    when i first started online i was using jenny from australia cos jenny from downunder was taken then went Jenny from SA but then some thought south africa and cos it was to much to type i went Ausjenny. Oh my isp is hte blame.
    i was blakejennifer (cos blakejenny was take) and my isp only allowed 8 charators. so ausjenny was born that was about 7 years ago maybe a bit more so everywhere i am ausjenny or in some cases where i accidently signed up and lost the info ausjenny44 except yahoo where i have a love hate relationship (it loves to hate me)

    Thanks for the info on contests. I did wonder about the reader ones.
    I would have a hard time deciding what book i like best unless it really jumped out at me.

  38. Oh, Mary, an Omaha conference would be wonderful -- at least for me!

    Thanks for the great tax info, everyone, too.

  39. Hi, I'm back. Had to stop and feed the two pups and the hungry bear oops I mean my dh. We just celebrated our 41st anniversary last week so believe me, when I hear the growling tummy its best to stop and eat. I know because I'm the same way. LOL

    Ausjenny, Sorry to be redundant as I didn't see Debby's question but I am so impressed that we have an Aussie on board. Did I say that correctly?

    This Internet just blows me away that we can chat with people from other countries. My dh has relatives in Mexico and its so fun to exchange photos and news.

    Lorna, you're welcome. Glad we could share info.

    Thanks to all of you for your input. I'm excited to see who will win the book. Its a great read.

  40. yes Sandra you said it right.
    and thats ok about reasking cos we cant read every post.

    oh and this aussie is about to cook!
    Our state in in the grips of a heatwave, its day 11 for the city and my town did dip to low 90's one or 2 of the 11 days but to day over 100 again and the next 5 days they say the same! we are talking a house with no A/C!
    ok enough about me thanks for replying to me.

  41. Even though I am not a writer, I found this information very interesting. Hopefully, many things go in such a nice circle of giving. Cindi