Thursday, April 24, 2008

Today's Guest ~ Jessica Ferguson

Knowledge is Power

By Jessica Ferguson

When it comes to entering contests, we need to educate ourselves and take advantage of every opportunity.

During the 90’s I wrote a romantic comedy about an Elvis look-alike. No one wanted an Elvis book so I received some interesting rejections. When I entered contests, almost all the feedback discouraged a novel about the Kind of Rock and Roll. A friend attended a writer’s conference and witnessed an Associate Editor for Silhouette Romance go ballistic over an Elvis commercial. A true Elvis fan. Now, isn’t that all I really needed to know? I searched every contest until I found one where she was judging the finalists. I entered my first chapter, made the finals and won second place. Mary Osorio bought my book right before she left Silhouette to get married. And The Groom Wore Blue Suede Shoes by Jessica Travis was born.
In December I felt drawn to the North Texas RWA Great Expectations contest, but I missed the deadline. When I learned the deadline had been extended, I heard opportunity knocking because Melissa Endlich was the finalist judge. I’d talked to Melissa about my book at an ACFW conference. She’d requested the complete but it had taken me forever and a day to finish Miranda’s Mistake. Would she still be interested? Had I waited too long to send it? I felt very strongly that I should enter the North Texas RWA Great Expectations contest for a number of reasons:
1) I could submit my 30 pages via email. That was my first two and half chapters.
2) That the deadline was extended meant they must have had too few entries—I might actually have a chance. 3) My query could explain why I wanted to write a book about terrorism in the schools (a subject that—like my Elvis----isn’t getting any interest from editors).4) If I placed, I would have a chance to revamp my submission and my query before it went to the final judge. And the big, big, big reason:5) Melissa Endlich, of course.

I made the finals. I rewrote my query letter (no names allowed) and explained to Melissa that she had requested the complete manuscript almost two years ago. I won 2nd place and yes, she was still interested.

If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time wondering and second-guessing yourself about how to proceed in your writing career. If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time wondering if you really have a writing career. We do. We honestly do have writing careers if we take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way. Opportunity knocking might mean that your favorite author is teaching an online class and you have a chance to learn from her. Or it might mean your favorite editor is judging a contest. Only you can recognize your opportunity.
I honestly believe if we can’t get in the front door, we need to rattle the doorknob to the back to see if it’s unlocked. Sometimes a window is open—whatever it takes to get into that publishing house.

Do I sound like a conniving, weird wannabe writer? Probably, but I’m also an observer. I see a lot of sales made because of networking, friendships, being in the right place at the right time, placing in a contest. Good writing is a given but I judge a lot of contests and I see a lot of wonderful writing that never makes it to the bookshelves.

In a nutshell, my point is we need to search out that contest judge (or editor or agent) who might be an Elvis fan, or have an interest in quilting or cross country motorcycle trips, or collecting antique thimbles. We need a connection who can partner with our good writing, and yes, we need to cover that connection and our writing with prayer. I’m telling you to do whatever it takes to further your writing career. Don’t give up. Target the right editor, the right publisher and the right contest. Learn what they need and be what they want. Be what they can’t pass up.


Jess Ferguson and I met in the far distant past. What I remember is, she almost tricked me into teaching a COLLEGE CLASS.

Even with my cardiologist on speed dial I'm not up for that. But she talked me into it and after about...what was it Jess...six months of panicky emails. NO ONE SIGNED UP.

Proving the average college student is very, very bright.

But Jess and I stayed friends and now it's payback time at SEEKERVILLE.



  1. My goodness, Mary. I didn't realize this was a payback. I thought you were being nice by asking me to be your guest blogger. LOL

    I'm sure your readers are wise enough to recognize there's a lot of time missing between the 90s and December 2007. Because of Mary's strict word count, I had to cut the middle years. Here they are:

    Silhouette rejected my second book and being published made me ineligible for contests for a number of years. Now, if I’d been smart, I would have sat fanny in chair and written many more romantic comedies to enter in contests when I became eligible, but I wasn’t smart. Instead of writing, I sat fanny in car and drove around trying to sell houses to fickle buyers, and weird people who just wanted decorating ideas. That’s another story entirely.

    Thanks for inviting me to blog--whatever the reason. :) I hope I've encouraged someone.

  2. Great post, Jess!

    Thanks for bringing me to this site. I'm bookmarking it so that I can occasionally drop in and read posts.

    Pamela S Thibodeaux
    "Inspirational with an Edge!"

  3. good post. and im glad you found your Elvis fan

  4. That was excellent Jess. I love unveiling the dark side of our visitors to Seekerville.

    You did it once. You can do it again. And you inspired me. Life does get in the way. That is the reality we often don't want to address.

    I love the blue suede shoes Elvis.

  5. Jessica, your post has me pondering contests. Well, that and trying to figure out how you managed to work "nice" and "Mary" in the same sentence.

  6. Good Morning & Hi Pam, thanks for visiting The Seekers. I thought you knew about this site or I would have sent you here a long time ago. It's one of the most informative groups around. I've learned a lot.

    ausjenny, I see you like The Music Man. Uhhhh, me too. Professor Harold Hill was my hero for a long time. LOL A few weeks ago, my daughter and I watched it again--and we also found a crazy movie starring Jeff Goldblum REMAKING The Music Man. It was a docu-something...and it was hilarious! Can you picture tall, lanky, stringbean Jeff as Prof. Harold Hill? I don't think so. LOL

    Tina, Tina -- dark side?

  7. Gina, I won't tell anyone how Mary and I REALLY met. I'll stick with her story. :) Yep, she was supposed to teach a class for me... I could feel here shaking all the way down here near the Texas Louisiana line.

    And Gina, I've been told I over-analyze which might be translated to over-pondering. LOL

  8. Clearly, contests open doors for some people. I loved your odyssey, Jess. As a writer who is still becoming, I am combing the contest options for something that might move me off Unpub Island. Your story resonates with me, because I have the impression sometimes that I am writing for a non-existent audience. Yet I know that I am writing as a servant scribe. Somewhere there is a reader who needs the story I am writing. Your story encourages me to be both faithful in writing and diligent in contest/market research.

  9. Hey Jess,

    Miranda's Mistake is a wonderful book and I know you'll find a home for it someday.

    You're so on target about the networking thing. Good writing is a must, but so is good networking and motivation. It's so hard for me to package stuff up and get it ready to send off, even via email. That's why making myself follow up after having been to a conference or workshop is something I'm trying to develop into a habit.

    Love your take on contests, too. Many times, I was too random in my approach. This makes targeting a specific contest seem like common sense!

    Thanks for a great post.

  10. Katherine, thanks for your comment. In all the analyzing, pondering and research, we still have to remember 'everything in God's timing.' Sometimes that's tricky for me. :}

    I love your blog post Willing to be Surprised. Hey everyone, read it here!
    This post resonated with me. I love being surprised by God's hand in my life. So many times when I'm thinking of putting writing aside, God blesses me with something that tells me 'not yet...don't give up yet or you'll miss something truly special.' Actually, I'm surprised every morning my eyes pop open. LOL I think--Praise the Lord, He's given me another day!!

    Hey Lisa--Elizabeth Ludwig!! Lisa's one of my great crit partners. Her first book--a Barbour mystery will be out soon.

  11. It is ten o'clock and I'm already two hours behind.

    I'm also a little bit scared...the rest of the Seekers know I have a life that is...occasionally a little scary...I'll post a description elsewhere, in case I turn up missing.....

    I think I'm kidding.....

    So how DID we meet, Jess. I didn't say something awful in a contest did I?

    I can take it.

    I've still got TBL to judge...Gina this is YOUR fault. And you're not gonna see the words Mary and Nice in any sentence related to THAT.

  12. Mary, Mary... are you being contrary?

    We met on the Writer's View. Weren't you supposed to mentor me? Chip paired us up. We critiqued a few chapters for each other but then we got distracted by other things. Life, kids, weddings, loops--you name it! Life DOES get in the way.

    But I still think of your aggresive cop sitting in that class with the passive-heroine-instructor--and her soft way of handling things. Can't remember the title.

  13. Hey, Jess!! We're so glad you joined us today!

    Great post. I loved hearing your story! I don't think I ever knew how you made your first sale.

    And I can't wait for your next one. It WILL happen!!


  14. Jess, you don't sound like a "conniving, weird wannabe writer" to me. You sound like an observant, smart, savvy multi-published author.

    I like it! Taking notes...

  15. I love that book. I called it, A Soft Answer. I'm still hoping it'll sell one day.

    That whole Paul/Barnabas/Timothy thing. I remember that.

    Which one was I? Timothy no doubt. And all I really remember about my Paul (If I'm naming this group right) was I had to hunt her up by googling her, found her website, contacted her through it...well, I probably got an email address, contacted her and commented on her website and she said, "I took that website down a couple of years ago, are you telling me it popped up when you googled my name?"

    That's it. All I remember, not even a name...that might be my fault though, considering how well I remember most things.

  16. I'm being sent home at noon.

  17. Oh Missy, getting published was so stressful for me, I have to stop and wonder why I'm trying it again. I've got some crazy stories--about choosing a pen name and not being able to have the one I wanted, and taking out an ad in RT about my book, things I was supposed to do BEFORE my RT review--scheduling booksignings, speaking to women's groups. ARggghhhh! I must be crazy doing this all over again. Why am I? Well, I have an answer for that. A writer has to write. And hopefully, PRAYERFULLY, the secular AUTOGRAPHING/PROMOTING/PUBLISHING world is different from the Christian one.

    Hi Patricia - you're so sweet to tell me I'm not conniving, etc. Notice you're the only one who has said that? :-D

    Mary, no wonder we couldn't keep up with each other-- I was Timothy to a NF writer. She had a good book but thinking back, I may have come on a little strong. I'm sending up a prayer for her right this minute. Seriously. I hope I didn't say anything to discourage her.

  18. Mary!?! You're still staring blankly at those TBL entries?!?!

    Just think: You have second-round entries to judge too...said Gina nicely.


    What was the topic again?

  19. You want a tragedy, Gina? I did two already and saved a blank judge's sheet over both. So I have to START AGAIN.

    I needed a little break before I could face them again.

    And Anonymous, whoever you are, I'm so happy for you getting an unexpected day off.

    You sound like a really lovely person, too.

  20. Great post, Jess. You are so right about networking. That's how I sold my first book. I really look forward to seeing Miranda's Mistake in print. I know it's going to happen!

    Sandra Robbins

  21. Jess, welcome, welcome, welcome!

    Look at this! You KNOW Mary and you dropped in anyway.

    Gals, has that ever happened before? Once or twice, you say???


    Jess, I'm glad you filled in the blank years, otherwise Mary would have us believing all kinds of things, like homes with locked doors and padded cells, and jail cells, etc. You get the drift. Better to just 'fess up and get it out there, girlfriend.

    Now try some of this amazing sausage, egg and potato stir fry I made for the least 'uns in my care. Pretty solid, huh?

    And grab a cup of coffee, or a diet soda from the fridge around back.

    Wait. You're part of the country probably calls everything 'coke'...

    So grab a coke and kick back while I read these wonderful things today.


  22. Okay, I grabbed some fresh cannolis, too, have at 'em girls.

    Jess, you're doing great here.


    Here's to the game of Monopoly, the story of your life:

    Go home, go directly home, do not pass Seekerville, do NOT collect $200.00...

    You're such a twit.

    Our friend "Anonymous" (aka: Contract Mary) gets sent home (PAID, mind you) on a regular basis...



  23. That was Mary posting as anonymous?

    Jess when I said dark side I meant you know, when our guest are comfortable enough to share their vulnerabilities.

    Writing is such a lonely existence, it is good to know other out there go thru the same stuff.

    This doesn't apply to Mary.

  24. Ruthy! are you saying Anonymous is Mary? I had to go back and read the post again. In my mind I thought Anonymous was being released from the hospital, getting to go home after, perhaps, a very lengthy stay. I visualized a hard-working husband dressed in khaki, skipping lunch and pulling up to the curb of the hospital, and there sits his wife in a wheel chair, waiting for him. He got out of his old beat up Chevy and walked around the front of it to help her hobble to the car. His bent frame is almost as frail as hers. He gives her an awkward hug and tucks her inside the car. Don't forget the seatbelt!

    So Mary...what have you got to say for yourself after putting me through all that visualizing?

  25. Tina, I'm one huge vulnerability. LOL But unfortunately, I do have a dark side. ;-)

    Ruth, I'm hungry, girl! I just tackled a 6 oz. container of WW ice cream. Turtle Sundae. Sadly, 6 oz. only teases my tastebuds. :(

    Yeahhhhh, Sandra! Dear Sandra Robbins is another one of my critique partners. Ya'll need to watch out for her Barbour Mystery, Pedigreed Bloodlines coming out soon. It's great.

  26. Great story, Jess!

    That Mary. "How do you solve a problem like Mary? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?"

    (Sorry, my kids love The Sound of Music.) Those lyrics just fit Mary so perfectly!

  27. Jess darlin' you oughta be a writer.

    I don't know who anonymous is, but I know you should all be nicer to her. We want her to keep visiting Seekerville, right?

    Don't listen to them, Annie...(nickname)

    btw, I'm writing from home. No reason.

  28. Mmmmm, "Annie" probably thinks we're all nuts.

    Now, back to business:

    Let me pose a question for ya'll.

    If an editor rejected a proposal saying "too much angst" then what should I enter in the contest where she's a finalist judge. At this point in my life, all my mss. have too much angst. The one thing I have that has a chance of finaling has -- too much angst. :)

    I used to be funny.

  29. Always a day late and a dollar short. Jess, how come I didn't know you were hanging out over here yesterday? I could've come along to protect you.

    Great post. You always give such great advice. Seekers, I highly recommend her blog. Jessy's a treasure trove of writer information with Paula Deen hair and a Cajun accent.

    Love you Jess!

  30. Wow, Jess, I'm sure you've thought of this but.........could you just lighten up????

  31. ROTFLOL -- Marcia, Marcia, look at my picture. No more Paula Deen hair. Unfortunately, I shared the story with Mary. I had a battle with an angry stylist, and she won. LOL

    Gang, Marcia is another crit partner. She keeps me in line when I venture to far into the dark. heh heh heh

    Mary, I can't lighten up. I'm too heavy for that. :)

    Okay, off to Sears to look at Kenmores.

  32. Hey Jess, wonderful post!! Very inspiring in so many ways! I love your following comment:

    "I honestly believe if we can’t get in the front door, we need to rattle the doorknob to the back to see if it’s unlocked."

    This is what I call a very dirt-practical version of "knock (and keep knocking) and the door will be opened." Great advice for all, whether published or gonna be down the road.

    Thanks for the motivation, Jess. Gotta go rattle some knobs ...


  33. Hi Jess! Thanks for being with us today and for your great inspiration! Loved the back door, just as Julie mentioned.

  34. My feet hurt from closing the restaurant but three bright perky things happened:

    DD, who was sick, is feeling better...

    A guy tipped me $3 for makign his cafe americano (or is it kafe amerikanya? whatever) just right.

    And ... here's this good stuff about opportunties adn knocking on doors and not giving up.

    Good stuff :-)

  35. Julie and Debbie and Ann, you girls make me feel good. Thanks for popping in and especially for quoting my words back to me. For some reason, knocking on doors and rattling door knobs sounds so much smarter coming from ya'll than when I said it. :)

    Hey, Melanie -- I forgot to tell you, I really like that ... How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
    That was in Sound of Music? I love the visual I'm getting... nothing to do with Mary. ;)

  36. Jess in high school we did The Music man and i was in it. I was a townskid, red indian, part of the crowd, and one of the band players. cos i helped Marion get changed I always ended up with a trumpet to pretend to play. we had real band people play.
    I love the show its fun and gets stuck in my head. I knew all the songs and alot of the lines by the end and i didn't have to say any.
    Shirley Jones was much better in this than Oklahoma.

  37. Melanie, I love Sound of Music, too! I think I know every word of every song. And Mary subs nicely for Maria. :)

    Jess, thanks for bringing your critique partners along! Welcome, ladies.

    You know, Jess, you did have Paula Deen hair! I never realized that before. I really would like to hear the hair story. :)

    Gina, my WV is witch gig. Hmmm....


  38. No Missy, you do NOT want to hear the hair story. LOL Thankfully, it'll grow.

    I can't think of any songs from The Sound of Music. I'm with ausjenny -- I can sing everything from The Music Man.

    Seventy-six trombones in the big parade... :-D

  39. Jess,

    Here's some more: "How do you find a word that means Mary? A flibberty-gibbet, a will-o-the-wisp, a clown? . . . When I'm with her I'm confused, out of focus and bemused, and I never know exactly where I am. Unpredictable as weather, she's as flighty as a feather. . .," and there's some more stuff that more or less applies to our Mary. It ends, "How do you solve a problem like Mary? How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?"

    But we love her, even when she tries to hide and call herself anonymous.

    Do you guys who post these encouraging thoughts realize that you're the lifeline for us poor, weepy, depressed, hanging-on-by-our-fingernails unpubs? I'm not sure we could come out of our miry pits of despair and grope our way to our keyboards if it were not for you.

  40. I get mistaken for singing nuns almost daily.

  41. Melanie said: Do you guys who post these encouraging thoughts realize that you're the lifeline for us poor, weepy, depressed, hanging-on-by-our-fingernails unpubs? I'm not sure we could come out of our miry pits of despair and grope our way to our keyboards if it were not for you.

    I agree with you, Melanie. I'm a poor, weepy, depressed, hanging-on-by-our-fingernails type too. This blog--The Seekers--is such a positive place to hang out. I gave up contests long ago. If it wasn't for all the positive vibes I've picked up here, I wouldn't have started taking another look at all the contests out there, and I wouldn't have entered Great Expectations. All you Seekers have encouraged me and kept me going.

    Thanks so much for asking me to be a guest blogger, Mary. I'm honored.

  42. oh no Melanie now i have a combination of How do you solve a problem like (mary) in my head with music from the Music man like
    Marion Madam Librarian!
    add that to the song from Oklahoma
    "Im just a girl who cant say no.
    i think my head is about ready to burst.
    for some reason i cross over to carasel for "You'll never walk alone"
    Either i need to watch some musicals or find a new song.

    (have to say from the sound of music my theme song was "I have confidence" use to sing it to myself before hockey, the Oh help in it was quite applicable.)

    (Gina my wv looks like do it know)