Good morning, all, and how about that news we posted yesterday!!! You guys knew I finaled before I did, LOL!!!
Ruthy here, with your regular dose of snarkism brought to you fresh and free, delivered right to your door, better’n a milkman ‘cause there’s no bill involved.
Today’s post comes with a no-strings-attached bit of wisdom that came to me as I was reading a response to Tina’s post the other day.
We all realize that judging is subjective, that while one judge might love your work, another may not, and the truth may lie somewhere in between, right? But I think it’s important to talk to judges today, to those among us who actually judge contests, and see if we practice what we preach.
Inspirationals are a tough go for many judges. They may or may not feel qualified to assess a faith thread, or know how to measure that. In Ruthy’s world, the faith thread does not need to be dragged out or hit-the-reader-over-the-head obvious, but that’s me. Other judges will not relate to your work unless it has a strong, basic fundamentalist background. This means you may or may not get a judge who likes your style, or appreciates a lighter Christian read. On top of that, inspirationals are lumped. Long contemporaries, short contemporaries, historicals, fantasies, mysteries…
All judged together under one umbrella. It’s hard enough for a judge to separate his or her personal preferences of writing style within one category, but inspirationals (with the exception of straight inspirational contests like Genesis or TBL) are grouped together like a well-mixed greens salad. You might like how endive looks, but hate the taste, so how will you score it?
The same can hold true within straight romance categories. How often have you been told that the opening you geared specifically for Single Title or Superromance is too slow, that your story starts on page four when the hero walks into the room? Some judges want smack-down hero/heroine development from page one, and nothing else will do, regardless of target publisher or length. If your heroine doesn’t start the book inadvertently sitting in the front seat of the hero’s car (or office, or yard, or kitchen…), you get points off. Never mind that your target publisher allows you those few pages of story building, the judge may not.
(Let me interject here that I found the Yellow Rose Winter Rose to be very well done with judging subjectivity. While I didn't final, I came close and the judge's seriously took into account my target publisher and the style adopted to aim at that publishing line)
I enjoy stories that actually d-e-v-e-l-o-p rather than lay everything out in the opening three pages. Sure, the opening needs to hook, but a long contemp, Superromance or Single Title should allow more leeway than a regular romance.
And I love that in a good book. Anna DeStefano does that in her Supers, as does Kathryn Shay and Rogenna Brewer, among a cast of others. Marie Ferrarella is wonderful at laying groundwork for a story, but in contests it might be hard to get that by judges.
My friend Andrea Wilder (Fearless, Dorchester, 2007), who blogged for us in February, admits that she tweaked the story to make judges happy. When Alicia Condon (Dorchester) saw the real deal, the story written as it was meant to be, the opening was more fully developed, but Andrea had learned what takes some of us longer to figure out. Lots of judges want that instant fix, that WHAM! GMC that spills the internal organs of the story in full-blown instant fashion.
By tweaking her story to give that punch, she ended up winning the contest and ultimately was contracted. If you’ve ever entered Romancing the Tome, that’s a basic example of story punching right there. In five pages you have to sell the judges on your amazingly wonderful opening to get a seat in the finalists’ box. Five pages.
That’s a total front-load dump, but necessary for the format.
Andrea’s methods provide a good lesson for us to learn. If you final, you might get a request for a full. If so, then you lay out the story as it should be, plotted and planned for that editor’s line. Until then, many of us would be wise to adjust our strategies for particular contests. The fact is, if we don’t final, we don’t get a spot on the desk, right?
Of course, right!
Finaling is the goal, the initial confirmation of talent and perseverance. Once you’re there, you may or may not get the chance to dazzle the editor with your understated brilliance, but if you don’t get there, it’s guaranteed you won’t.
So even though it might feel like your pimping your work to someone else’s specifications, tough it out, tone it up, streamline, baby, streamline. Get the bang for your contest buck by recognizing the hidden rules. Earn your chance to shine.
Learning to adapt has fringe benefits as well. When an editor requests changes to your amazingly wonderful piece of work, today’s timely lesson helps you to remember the basics. She (or he) is paying. Smile, nod, and do what you’re told. Show ‘em you’ve got the gumption to be in the hot seat. Learning to do what it takes to succeed in contests is a great stepping stone to becoming the kind of author an editor desires. Tough enough to be good, strong enough to accept direction.