Wednesday, June 25, 2008

KATHLEEN BACUS: Another Contest Success Story

Many thanks to the ‘Seekers’ for inviting me to blog today. I visit this blog regularly and while I don’t always have time to leave a comment, I have been truly impressed by the support you all give each other as you work through the various stages of your writing careers. I’ve also noticed lots of discussion about writing contests. What contests you’ve entered. Who has finaled. Who’s won. I love the way you celebrate each other’s contest achievements. I’m a big fan of contests. I have to be. I’m published because of contests I entered. Let me explain.

Back when I first began to write for publication more years ago than I care to share with you nice folks, a divorced mom with a five-year-old and a set of three-year-old triplets, I wrote historical romances. Western Historical Romances to be precise. Raised with horses, liberal doses of Duke Wayne, and possessing an abundant imagination, I figured it was a good fit. I joined Romance Writers of America and my local chapter and set out to write the ‘Great American Western Romance Novel’. From my RWA membership I learned that there were fabulous contests aspiring author types like me could enter, garnering feedback from judges and, perhaps, even catching the eye of a final judge editor or agent. Sweet. So I polished up the first chapters of my rousing western and sent it off to the Fiction of the Heartland Contest sponsored by the Mid America Romance Authors chapter. Guess what? I finaled! But that wasn’t the best part. The published author who judged my entry had taken the time to enclose a lovely, complimentary handwritten note with my score sheets. That judge? None other than Cheryl St. John, Harlequin Historical author and RITA nominee. Cheryl’s letter of encouragement made me dare to believe I might actually be published some day. And, believe me. I needed a reason to believe back then.

I finished the book and began the arduous process of trying to find it a home. I had nibbles aplenty. Requests for partials and fulls. But no sale.

So much for the ‘Great American Western Novel’.

Never one to mope for long, however, I decided to try my hand at penning a Harlequin Romance. My first and only attempt was titled, CHANCE FOR A LIFETIME. In case you hadn’t guessed already, the hero’s name was ‘Chance’. I know. Lame. The manuscript is stuck away in the top of my closet rarely unlikely to see the light of day--unless I have a particularly masochistic moment and decide to drag it out just for ‘fun’.

At this point I decided I needed to go in yet another direction. I’d always tried to see the humor in any given situation, tried to keep things fun--and funny--for the kids during some pretty unfunny times. So, I turned my hand to humor. I wrote an off the wall romantic comedy titled FIANCÉ AT HER FINGERTIPS and began to send it out into the world.

While I was garnering rejections left and right, two things happened. One. I entered the Golden Heart and, two, my mother brought a newspaper article to my attention. The article was about a young man who borrowed his in-laws’ car and drove it to the mall to shop. He leaves the mall and drives back to his in-laws’ house, pulls up into their driveway and his father-in-law comes outside and says, “That’s not our car.” My mom thought the intriguing little fact that certain ignition keys also fit certain other vehicles might spark a story idea or two--and was she ever right! Once I found the perfect heroine--cockeyed cowgirl ‘Calamity Jayne’ Turner--I was off and running. In the interim I learned that I was a Golden Heart finalist for Fiancé at Her Fingertips. What a huge thrill.

With Calamity Jayne finished, I began the task of sending out queries. Again. In the meantime I noticed Dorchester Publishing and Romantic Times Book Review formerly known as RT BOOKclub were co-sponsoring the first American Title Contest with the first prize to be a book contract. How cool was that? The contest was seeking contemporary novels! What a coincidence!

So I entered Calamity Jayne and I was one of the ten finalists! It was a wild ride. Unfortunately, I was booted off the AT Island in the third round. Majorly disappointed, I came home from work one day for lunch to discover Alicia Condon, Editorial Director with Dorchester Publishing had left a message indicating Senior Editor Chris Keeslar had read CALAMITY JAYNE and really enjoyed it and would I please give him a call. Would I? Are you kidding?

The rest, as they say, is history. I’ve published seven books with Dorchester since the American Title Contest in 2005--six ‘Tressa Jayne Turner’ mysteries, plus my Golden Heart finaling FIANCÉ AT HER FINGERTIPS, released in late April which, coincidentally, had been rejected by my editor the year before. Just goes to show what persistence--and a rewrite--can do. My sixth ‘Tressa Jayne Turner mystery’ ANCHORS AWEIGH will ‘launch’ this coming November.

I didn’t win the Golden Heart back in 2005 but my life has been enriched in so many ways by the awesome group of ladies--and gentleman--who make up the 2005 Golden Heart nominees dubbed ‘The Wild Cards’. They are a constant source of support, encouragement, information, and inspiration. I count this as one of my most valued contest wins.

So, as you can see, in one way or another, contests have played a huge role in my success as a published author. Contests continue to be an important part of my writing and I’ve garnered wins and finals in a number of published contests.

Are you a contest junkie? What criteria do you use to decide whether to enter a contest--both published or unpublished? How many contests will you typically enter the same project in before you move on? Do you think the value of writing contests is declining? Are there too many contests out there?

And last, but certainly not least, any contest news to share???

Thanks again to the awesome ladies at Seekerville for inviting me to drop in. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I must state for the record that Glynna here is my wonderfully talented, brilliant cousin.

Hey. It runs in the family!


Kathy Bacus


  1. What an intriguing success testimony. Thank you for sharing it. Congratulations! I'm inspired to get back on the contest coaster now.

  2. I really only have positive things to say about my contest experiences, Lauralee. Not to say I didn't have some contest feedback along the way that made me wonder why I bothered, but the benefits definitely outweighed the negatives.

    So, go for it!


  3. Oh, Kathleen, it's so fun to get the scoop on Glynna's famous cousin!! Thanks so much for coming to Seekerville and sharing your contest success story -- further validation that contests are invaluable, not only on the road to publication, but in encouragement, improving your craft, and making friends for a lifetime.

    I particulary chuckled at the story of the son-in-law who brought the wrong car home from the mall. Gotta tell ya, it certainly entices me to read Calamity Jayne!! In fact, all of your books sound really wonderful.

    My best contest experience was the Golden Heart too (same year as you, 2005!). Like you, I didn't win, but I did come away with amazing friendships with the three other Inspy finalists who, incidentally, are all Seekers -- Janet Dean, Myra Johnson and Tina Radcliffe. Back then we referred to ourselves as "The Golden Girls," and the memories will last a lifetime. Although I didn't win (Myra did!), I did come away with a great agent who eventually sold my finalist entry, A Passion Most Pure. But I honestly credit the the Golden Heart and it's prestigious standing with a lot of the credit.

    Thanks again, Kathleen, for a great blog.


  4. Great story, Kathleen - and a great new cover! I totally agree with you about contests. Even if you don't win, there are often some great benefits. I finalled in the GH the same year as Kathy - didn't win but did become a Wild Card, and it's been wonderful interacting with that group over the years, cheering on our successes and commiserating over the setbacks. I did sell that same year, though still have never sold my GH finalist. (Still hoping!)

    I never got a request for a full MS out of a contest, but one published author judge was so impressed with my writing that she put me in touch with her agent.

    And of course I've also received some terrific feedback. I've also received some useless, hurtful and stupid feedback - but that's really in the minority and you learn to get over it. For each bit of feedback, I ponder whether there's something I could do better in my manuscript, and often there is. Now that I'm published I can't get that same kind of contest feedback, but I still rely on a critique group because I truly value other people's perspective.

    And I do enter published author contests! Now the goal is different: to get my work into new readers' hands, and to garner recognition when I win [g].

    (for sexy romance that's intense, passionate, heartwarming and fun!)

  5. Kathleen, your website, with the blonde jokes, is so fun to read. That is a real accomplishment. The books sound great.

    The connections we make through contests are a huge part of why contests are worth it. Between the fifteen of us Seekers we're subscribed to all the RSS feeds and ezines and magazines and members of all the groups there are. We can share industry info fast, contest info, people we've met can be a resource for all of us.
    And every time ONE of us learns some writing trick-- (ex. Ruthy says it's REALLY IMPORTANT to have NO TYPOS in a query letter--who knew)-- we all learn it.

  6. Oh, and i seriously, honestly, I know I should ask but, uh...Kathleen, did you REALLY divorce the man with whom you had four children in two years? Or is he buried in the backyard????

    Just go ahead and ignore this questions.

  7. I count the friendships I've made through the Golden Heart Contest among the most valuable of contest prizes, Julie. In fact, Gemma Halliday of High Heels mystery fame was also an '05 GH finalist and she also writes for Dorchester. We joined with several other 'Dangerous Divas from Dorchester' and how have a colloborate website and blog ( we have loads of fun with.

    I'd say you were in pretty good company with those other 'Golden Girls'!


  8. Hi Susan!

    I don't enter as many pubbed contests as I should.

    You've done fabulously well garnering contest wins for your books. It seems like everytime a contest announces finalists or winners, you're on the list at least once, if not more!

    I'm so thrilled with your success.

    Wild Cards rock!


  9. My son, Erick, designed my website, Mary. He's working on a new one for me at present. One of the seriously fun parts about writing the Calamity Jayne books has always been finding the perfect blonde joke for each book's opening and another one for the back cover copy. As you might expect, I have amassed quite a large number of jokes. I have friends and family send me the ones they receive.

    Another benefit of contests is that judging comments and critiques prepare you for literary and readres' reviews when you are published. You've learned how to deal with the reality that not everyone is going to like what you write without opening a vein.

    And while my backyard holds no secrets (that I know of) I must admit to thinking somewhat along the lines of the brilliant Sue Grafton when I consider plotting murders for my darker storylines. Fifty ways to off your ex. On paper, that is.



  10. Welcome, Kathy! We've loved hearing of your successes through Glynna. It's so nice to finally meet you!

    Great post. So exciting to hear your story. And all that with a house full of kids!! You're one amazing woman.

    I'm actually in a lull in contests right now, waiting to be able to enter my 2008 copyright book into pubbed contests. Once I can, I plan to enter it in about 5 contests. :)

    What pubbed contests do you like to enter? Or do you?


  11. Hi Missy!

    It's great to hang out with you here at Seekerville!

    Since I write primarily humorous mysteries, I enter my books in the RWA Kiss of Death Daphne Contest (finaled in 2007!), Mystery Writers of America Contest, as well as the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence Contest. I also love the Desert Rose Contest (I so want to get to that conference one day) and won Best First Book in '07 for CALAMITY JAYNE. I also like to enter the Write Touch Readers Award Contest. The idea is to get your books in the hands of booksellers as well as new readers.

    The contest finals and wins don't hurt either!


  12. Kathy, welcome to Seekerville! So nice to meet Glynna's talented cousin -- writing talent sure must run in the family!

    Yes, 2005 was a great year for establishing Golden Heart friendships. My connection with Julie, Janet, and Tina is what eventually led to becoming one of the Seekers (and getting to know Glynna!).

    Thanks for sharing your inspiring experiences.

  13. Hi, Kathy! Thanks for sharing your story. I agree that contests are really valuable. I think my contest finals and wins helped me get an agent, which I'm still on cloud nine excited about.

  14. Hi Myra!

    I may be a tad biased, but I think the '05 Golden Heart finalists aka the Wild Cards are an incredibly talented and sharing group of gals--and guy.

    And the group seems to be doing very well in the publishing department as news of sales come via the loop all the time. It's really exciting as you know just how everyone else feels.

    Wish I was going to SF for National to reconnect in person, but with three college bound this fall, it just wasn't in the cards.

    I'm hoping next year!


  15. Congratulations on securing an agent, Melanie! That's a huge accomplishment in establishing a solid writing career. I know of a number of writers/authors who found an agent through a contest they entered or from a conference they attended.

    Way to go!


  16. Wonderful post, Kathy! And I agree, the 2005 Wildcards are the greatest--so supportive. Your persistence has certainly brought you success! Contests also gave me encouragement that one day I would get published. And it happened! So I really can relate to all you said.

  17. And you are off to one sensational start, Kathryn! I see great things in the 'cards' for you!

    You're right. Sometimes that contest judge's compliments or that contest final or win is just what we needed to keep plugging in pursuit of our dreams.

    Nowadays, deadlines--and the quest for new contracts--work well!


  18. Thanks, Kathy. The point about entering those judged by booksellers and readers is excellent!


  19. Oh my goodness gracious sakes to Betsy, no one has so much as offered our guest a tad of refreshment.

    How remiss of us! (Means we shoulda done it, Mare...)

    Kathleen, with a fine Irish name like that I'm not a bit surprised that you're smart, talented and funny.

    And prolific in many areas.

    What a great post. Glynna brags on you all the time, like she's the ONLY Seeker with a famous relative.

    Like, right. Sure, Glynna. I've got some famous people in my family, too, scads of 'em.

    I just keep it to myself because I'm modest and humble.

    So, Kath, welcome to our humble abode. (That means simple house, Mare) And we who dwell on Unpubbed Island love to pick the brains of those who've made it over that wall. Your humor is a huge part of your books, and I'm guessing you're naturally funny with a humor not fully appreciated by your family.



  20. Thanks for the offer of a cool refreshment, Ruthy. It's 90 and humid here so it will hit the spot.

    And have you been peeking in my windows? My three still at home don't appreciate my special brand of humor--or so I tell them regularly. Okay, I do admit to going a wee bit overboard on occasion. (The time I was hooking up surround sound equipment and pretended to zapped and keeled over on the floor scaring the bejeebers out of my kids comes to mind here.) Still, to have raised four kids all by my lonesome and have retained a sense of humor--at the very least the offspring should have a little respect...

    And while my ancestry is mostlly English and Scottish, I do recognize a bit o' blarney when I see it--much to my kids' dismay. :)

    Thanks for the 'cool' welcome!


  21. Missy has Buster Posey.

    Hey, Missy, maybe he'd like to blog for us. Bet he'd bring in some new readers. :)

    And you know I never bring the imaginary food, Ruthy. That is NOT MY JOB. I'm on a diet and even imagining food is dangerous for me.

    And one syllable words are always the best choice, too.

  22. Hi Kathy! Thanks for being with us in Seekerville today!

    We love Glynna. Bet you already knew that!

  23. Hi Debby!

    Yeah, I figured you were kind of fond of Glynna here. We in the Hawkeye state are partial to her, too!

    Oh, the stories I could tell! But since she could just as easily turn the tables on me, my lips are sealed...


  24. Just wanted to pop in here to let you know I'll be away from the computer for several hours. I get to go spend the evening in a prairie wildlife refuge watching birds and identifying plant life. I'm 'this' close to obtaning my Criminal Justice degree and needed one more Upper Level Math or Science course with a lab. Since I am no math genius, I opted for the Field Ecology course.

    It's 90 degrees with high humidity. I've got a jug of Deet, bottled water, and my hot pink field lab notebook. Guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be.

    I'll check in later tonight when I get back from spending quality time among the flora and fauna. I just hope any indiginous reptiles of the slithering variety keep far away!

    'Til later,


  25. Mare, I'm working on incorporating more one syllable words every day. I'm trying, I'm trying....

    And Kath, just be sure to rub the Deet and drink the water, 'kay? Works better that way unless you want an insider's look at emergency room stomach pumping procedures which may or may not prove helpful at some point in time.

    And the Scottish blood is close enough to Irish to pass muster. Celt is Celt and other than a narrow band of water, there's not enough difference in stubborness and humor to draw a firm line, ya' know?

    And what is it with kids not appreciating their mother's humor? Perhaps the fact that we delight in embarrassing them (by our very existence, for heaven's sake) lends itself to their disdain, but really...

    Didn't we give them life? Offer them their initial options? What ingrates.

    So, Kathleen, we're really okay if you share some naughty secrets about Glynna.

    We'll keep it to ourselves. Promise. And if she tries to turn the tables, we'll stare at her in utter disbelief, knowing it's untrue.

    So, dish...

    The inside scoop on Glynna Kaye, hardworking Southwestern industrialist-slash-romance writer.


  26. I spilled a whole bottle of bug repellant in my purse recently, which accounts for the hole in the bottom, I think.

    Good luck with field trip!

    Thanks for sharing about your writing successes. I don't know how you did it with triplets!

  27. Hey, Kathy! I'm always inspired by your story of writing and working toward your goal of being published while being a single mom to several young children. That amazes me.

    Yours is also a great story of how to make entering contests work for you even if you're not the ultimate winner of the contest. A lot of the time, that doesn't matter. It's what you make of being a finalist that ends up paying off.

  28. That was really an inspiring story...especially the background on Calamity Jane and the car ignition. Thanks so much for visiting us, Kathleeen.!!!!

    By the way, your covers are just gorgeous. They pop off the shelves in my grocery store.

  29. Kathy, I'm late putting out the welcome mat in Seekerville, but want you to know how glad I am to have you here. I loved your post! Very inspiring. I think I'll ask my girls if I kept my sense of humor while raising them. NOT. :-)

    Did you find any interesting specimens tonight?


  30. Back from where the buffalo roam--literally!

    Oh, Ruthy, you are so gonna get me in trouble.

    I'll use the stock mystery writers' phrase I use whenever someone tries to wheedle something out of me.



    I will say that Glynna's drawings as a young girl always made me envious. I can't draw a straight line with a ruler!


  31. Hi Trish!

    Contests have certainly been good to me, but your successes in the Golden Heart are legend!

    And that American Title Contest was one wild ride, too, wasn't it? I can still recall reading Flavia's comment through slits between my fingers. She sure could slice 'n dice.

    I hear they're having one more go at the AT Contest. It will always be near and dear to me, that's for sure.

    Best of luck with your upcoming releases. Wish I could have made it to SF for National. Hopefully, next year!


  32. I'm wondering how the cover for ANCHORS AWEIGH will be received by readers, Tina. It's a serious departure from the previous five covers.

    I guess I'll find out this fall whether readers are disappointed the cover branding stopped with this one--and whether this one will fly off the shelves, too!


  33. Hawkeye State, Kathleen? You're from Iowa?
    I'm from Nebraska. Far eastern Nebraska.
    Are you anywhere near there?

    I know, you don't want to reveal this to the world, plus Iowa is a sizable state.

    Still, if you're ever near the Missouri River, let me know. :)

  34. Kathleen said: Glynna's drawings as a young girl always made me envious.

    I read this kind of half way and thought at first Glynna's drawing as a young girl always made me AFRAID.

    I enjoyed that.

  35. Hi Janet!

    Thanks for the welcome. I've really enjoyed blogging at Seekerville today. Thanks so much for inviting me.

    And as a matter of fact, I did see one very rare speciman out on the prairie. I actually saw a Dickcissel!!! Before anybody starts to hyperventilate, a Dickcissel is a bird you don't get to see too often. Or so I was told.

    I found myself wishing Glynna was with me as I struggled to make drawings of 12 plant species and five bird species that actually looked like plants and birds.

    With my little Field Laboratory notepad, I felt like a regular Darwin.

    Good times.


  36. I'm from central Iowa, Mary. I do the Omaha thing once or twice a year and have been to Lincoln for a couple of writing workshops.

    I'll definitely let you know when I'm in the area.


  37. I really enjoyed reading your blog, Kathleen. Very inspiring.

    I've been searching for contests for historical fiction and haven't been able to find any. The novel I'd like to enter is inspirational historical, with elements of romance.

    Any suggestions?

  38. How fun to see a new species, Kathy. Sounds like quite a feat to draw birds, assuming they don't just sit there and pose.


  39. Inspire, have you targeted your publisher? If you're targeting romance publishers, you'll need to have a strong romance thread. Once you know which publisher you want, then meet the houses' guidelines. When you look at contests note if the editor judges are romance editors. If they are and you want to enter, you may need to up the romance.