Ruthy here, pestering you all in typical fashion, but that's what I do, right?
Hey, just wanted to give you a heads up that Cynthia Rutledge will be guest blogging for us on Saturday, June 14, 2008. Yes, this very Saturday you will find our buddy Cindy hanging out in Seekerville, with her bathing suit, no doubt!!!
We'll have sweets and drinks on the deck, and the pool is ready for swimming, so come prepared.
Cindy's a talented gal who's never afraid to share thoughts and expertise with Island inhabitants and pubbed authors alike. Come on by, grab some chips, sip a long, cool drink and we'll dish...
And now, back to our regularly scheduled program...
Writing contests. Are they good? Bad? Useless? Helpful?
All of the above, depending on the entrant, entry and the contest involved.
If you’ve entered a contest, you’ve most likely run the gamut of feelings. Hope, fear, joy, despair. That awful feeling that you’ve just left your naked baby out in the rain. While especially true for newbies, it can be equally as traumatic when you know your work has the caliber to win or place, and it still doesn’t.
All that said, entering writing contests should be a well-thought plan. That's your job, Cupcake. Tweak it, pimp it, lay the entry out in full twenty or thirty page glory, making sure you touch on important topics that don't necessarily happen in the 'real' twenty pages. Today's judges are often geared, trained and/or programmed to look for complete revelation of your GMC (I think that's an acronym for some Chevy product) in the opening pages, plus they want you to reveal the H/H's inner conflict with a strong showing of external conflict. Your hero and heroine need to be embraceable from the beginning but separated emotionally and sometimes physically by seemingly insurmountable circumstances.
Good luck with all that!!!!
On top of that, make sure it's the book of your heart, that you've targeted your publisher and audience correctly, and that your family is fed on occasion.
Below are some realistic tips to help a very subjective topic.
1. Enter contests that suit your work.
Make sure the categories offer the sub-genre or manuscript length that fits your story. Other than size, a contemp is a contemp, right? Short, long, a contemporary romance will contain the elements of traditional romance with the expected plot twists that bring our hero and heroine to a satisfactory conclusion.
Oooooo. Wrong. So wrong. A short contemporary will bound into plot points, not having the weight of an additional 30,000 words to muddle things out. A long contemp has the luxury to do a slow, rhythmic dance, weaving threads intrinsically, because of that same 30,000 word cushion. Therefore, a short contemp, entered into a long contemporary contest, might miss the mark because the timing is off in the judge’s opinion.
Also, your work should fit the scoresheet involved. Many chapters have their score sheet available online. If characterization is a big factor and your heroine doesn’t appear until the last two pages of the entry, you’re in trouble. The judge is constrained by the score sheet; he or she needs to abide by the contest parameters. If your work doesn’t fit the format, you need to decide the value of entering that specific contest.
2. Know your reasons for entering.
Do you want constructive feedback? Are you willing to risk losing to gain a critique of your work? Are you thick-skinned enough to shrug off a bad judge, and thick-skinned enough to accept the advice of a good judge who points out your flaws?
Judging is subjective. I’ve seen contest results on books that I would have scored higher or lower for individual reasons. In many cases, I can’t fault that other judge’s opinion because it’s based on their preference, experience and expertise. My disagreement doesn’t make me right and them wrong. Simply different.
Judges come into contests with their own set of expectations. It’s a rare book that satisfies a wide variety of judges. When that happens, you know you have a winner. An entry that stands the test. This is an unusual circumstance that most of us can attest to, from either side of the coin.
I’ve had two entries I judged go to discrepancy in separate contests. One was the way-too-often-mentioned-here entry from our very own Mary. Although I dissed her story presentation, we became fast friends as a result. (A plot on her part to find out where I live and have me ‘taken out’… Shame on you, Mary Connealy. Murder isn’t nice, except in cozies.)
The other was an entry that dealt with an historical period I’d just read about in a lovely book that has since become a TV movie. That book was so well done that the contest entry didn’t come close to measuring up in my opinion. While some aspects of the entrant’s writing were good, the set-up and hero/heroine relationship were weak in my estimation, probably because I’d read the NAL book a few months previous. I came into that entry with heightened expectation because of what I’d experienced, skewing my opinion. The discrepancy judge loved the story and she became a finalist despite me. Right? Wrong? Who knows?
3. Take it on the chin.
You need to handle your results with professionalism and dignity. Good or bad, someone put time and effort into examining your work. If they didn’t, a polite note to the contest coordinator is in order. Coordinators want to know if contestants are dissatisfied with the feedback from an entry. If it’s simply that you disagree with the results, then stop. Take a breath.
Okay, maybe a week. Look at your work objectively. Compare it with others. Run it by your critique group or partner, without prepping them first. Then be tough enough to handle the advice given.
Does this mean you’ll always agree with that advice? No, of course not. It’s never easy to hear criticism of our kids, husbands or our work. Way too personal! But, it can hone your writing into something with a greater likelihood of finding its way to an editor’s desk, and that should be your overall goal.
4. Get over it.
Yeah, that’s what I said. Good, bad, indifferent, get over it. Move beyond. Put your chin in the air and your hands on the keyboard and get back to work. If you’re not ready to revise that particular piece, then move on. Start something else. Pouting is a waste of time and time’s a limited substance. You never know when you’ll run out! Dust off the seat of your pants, tuck in your lower lip and start anew. You are the champion of your destiny. The captain of your ship. The pilot of your plane…
You get the picture.
Contests range from good to bad and everything in between. What you take from them sculpts your work into something worth seeing. Worth buying.
Words for the wise: Enter at your own risk, but don’t be afraid to take the chance. Where else can you get a professional critique of your work for twenty to thirty dollars? Cheaper than most writing courses and maybe more valuable. I don’t know of any writing courses that end up with your thirty-to-fifty page opening sitting on an editor’s desk.
Current issues of RWR list contests. We update them in Seekerville on a regular basis thanks to Tina’s scouting efforts. Mull the possibilities, my friends. Eye the upcoming choices. Browse the net. Study the score sheets. Then make an informed decision based on what you’ve learned.
At the very least, contests get your work out there, in someone else’s hands. That’s a pretty good start. They toughen your writing and your spirit. In this profession, both are intrinsic to your success.
To enter or not is a personal decision. Either way, best of luck to you. It’s never easy to take those steps forward, but standing still shouldn’t be a viable alternative.