Friday, February 20, 2009

Squeezing Through The Contest Wringer

By Nicole Young
Every writer’s loop seems to eventually debate the importance of contests. I’m impartial on most writing issues, but this is one topic on which I have a definite opinion. I am completely in favor of writing contests.
If you’re a fledgling writer still sensitive about your work, still protecting your words like a mother lion guards her cubs, afraid to share your manuscript in fear of attracting criticism, and paranoid that someone will steal your idea or swipe your self-esteem, there’s only one word for you: contests.
Enter them. Lots of them. Contests are the cure for both a bloated writer’s ego and a woe-is-me attitude. There’s nothing as liberating as being told, in so many words, that your work stinks. It takes pounds off an overinflated head. And, flipside, there’s nothing more encouraging than hearing that your audience was moved to tears – in the best possible sense.
Contests develop that trait which all artists must possess to one day collect a paycheck for their work: a backbone. The purpose of a backbone is to hold your head upright when you would otherwise collapse into a pile of unsupported cells. The meltdown is generally accompanied by a wailing and gnashing of teeth as the brain rants against criticism, real or implied, from anyone who does not gush and coo over your masterpiece.
With a backbone firmly in place, an author can sift through the words of a critic for useful comments, apply the information, and emerge a more confident, succinct writer. The buffing and polishing brought by disappoint, rejection, and criticism is blended with equal parts of encouragement, compliments, and awards. And in time, the writer graduates from the amateur arena to the professional realm.
How do I know this? I’m a three-time published author whose big break was a contest win. The first chapter of Kill Me If You Can won Best of Show at a writing conference. The agent who sponsored the event found a home for the Patricia Amble Mystery Series. But that contest wasn’t my first. In my quest for progress, if not perfection, I squeezed myself through the contest wringer. And with a final turn of the crank, I emerged with a backbone and a three-book contract.
Of course there’s more to be said on the topic of contests and there’s plenty of writers out there to say it. Do some research and plot your best course. After all, if you can’t handle the comments of contest judges, how are you going to handle criticism of your newly published novel? Now get to work on that backbone!
Nicole Young is the winner of the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Noble Theme Contest (now the Genesis Contest) for Best Romantic Suspense and she won the overall prize, too. What was the name of that category, Nicole? Monster-Big Shot-Best-Book-Ever-Written, something like that. Beating…who else...ME-Mary Connealy. That’s the year I won for best historical romance. And Nicole and I were critique partners so I knew what I was up against. I love her work. After Love Me If You Must came her prize winning Kill Me If You Can and now here she is AT LAST with the third book her Patricia Amblin series Kiss Me If You Dare and I’ve loved the first two and the third just came in the mail this week. YAY! I have got to find out what happens to Patricia.


Walt Mussell said...

I submitted my latest work to its first contest last week and am submitting it to a critique workshop this week. Can't wait for the response.

Cathy Shouse said...


I entered several contests as a beginner and learned a lot from them.

Now that I'm a little farther along, lately it's harder for me to make myself enter. I'm not sure why, although the cost really starts to add up.

Would you please give us an idea of your contest strategy before you rang the bell on what is now the Genesis contest?

Approx. how many contests did you enter in what timeframe? Was it always the same category in inspirational? Was it always the same completed manuscript or did you "try out" beginnings as I've heard some people do?

Can you tell my day job freelance journalist?

I do ask a lot of questions but I think these are relevant. Contesting can leave you a little poorer and pretty frustrated without a strategy, in my opinion.

In the beginning I had no idea how important it was to choose the right category, for instance. I've also entered without sending the maximum pages (for a variety of reasons). Sometimes I've been torn between whether to enter inspirational or not.

Thanks for any details you can provide about what led to your win.

I'm in the mood for a whole wheat pita with hummus for breakfast. Anyone else feel like having something a little different this morning?


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Nicole, welcome to Seekerville! What a pleasure to have you here. And I love the strength you emit in your post. All true. Contests toughen us for the reality of readers and editors.

Thanks so much for stopping in today. In honor of all things spooky and scary I've hunted up a breakfast of interesting waffles, boo-nanas, papaya-orange juice that resembles a very necessary bodily fluid and...

Coffee to wash it all down. I got Eight o'clock coffee to see if the big coffee showdown last week was right: Is Eight O'Clock coffee the best tasting and one of the more reasonably priced coffees, beating Starbucks, Dunkin', Caribou, etc?

Okay, Nicole, I've played on your website (love the log homes, oh mylanta!) and now I'm ordering the books so you've made at least a triple sale today. Your first chapter grabbed me (my Seeker buds will attest to how often that DOESN'T happen) and now I need to read them. Absolutely. Positively.

And we're getting snow squalls and blizzard conditions here right now, so it's a perfect day to relax on the Island, visit Seekerville and work on my edits.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

My cool waffle link didn't come through...

and they're too cute not to try again. It's called the Scary Jerry the Berry Waffle.

Love it!

Tina M. Russo said...


Welcome to Seekerville.

Congratulations on your success. Your covers are simply tantalizing.

Julie Lessman said...

OMIGOSH, Nicole, I LOVE those titles!!! Did you come up with them or did your publisher???

Welcome to Seekerville and super congrats on that 3-book deal! I have my own "contest" story of a sale, although not as glamorous and immediate as yours. I was on my 20-somethingish rejection when I finaled in the Golden Heart. I was told to strike while the iron was hot and query, query, query, which I did. Thirty-Nine rejections later, that GH contest netted me a great agent (take a bow, Natasha Kern!) who sold me in a 3-book deal within 6 months after a total of 45 rejections. So like you, I am "sold" on contests and do not feel I would be published today without them.


Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Nicole! I'm applauding your no-nonsense post.

Years ago, a writer attended my RWA chapter, too afraid of criticism to let anyone see her work. She never came back. I have no way of knowing what happened to her dream, but unless she found her backbone, I suspect she isn't published today. Which is fine if publication isn't the goal. But for those yearning to see their books in print, contest feedback is invaluable. I wasn't published because of a contest, but I doubt I would have been published if not for what I learned through contests.


Mary Connealy said...

Ruthy, The books Nicole writes have a nice, thrilling little spooky thread that runs through them. I think you're gonna love them. There are images that I still remember all the way back to the first book with a little shiver.
In fact, I think we critiqued the first book didn't we Nicole?
And that goes back even further. I was delighted for the book to come out so I could see the whole thing. And it was a great, fast paced ride. The end of the second one made me DESPERATE for the third.

Kim said...

Okay - I'm on new author alert here! I have to check this series out! I love the titles!!


Melanie Dickerson said...

I still hate criticism, but after something like 22 contest entries, I can take it. But in the very early days of writing, I'm glad my first experience with criticism was not a contest. I'm glad I had some critique partners and even a mentor or two--one being my instructor for a correspondence course I took--to give me my first kindly and mild tastes of criticism. In the early days I was very unsure of myself and my writing ability.

But maybe that's just me being a mush-mouth milque-toast. :-)

But I do agree with Julie that winning contests can help you get an agent. I think my contest wins helped me get mine.

But I really credit God with it more than the contest wins. Actually, I credit God with the contest wins, too!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Totally agree with you, Nicole. There's nothing like the gritty sandpaper of contests to toughen your skin!

Cheryl Wyatt said...

These books look so good!

I did the contest circuit for a couple of years, which I know helped to grow my craft and my tough skin. LOL!

Great post,


Tina M. Russo said...

Well contests are fine as long as you don't get addicted. I mean I never have this problem at all.

I confess I live on PB&J to save money so I can enter ... and sure I keep my little contest tiara which I wear when filling out entry forms (for good luck) in a glass case..and okay, maybe, just maybe I wear contest bling like most people wear Harry Winston...but that doesn't mean I have a problem.

Mary Connealy said...

I wore my Barclay brooch just this week.

I like to polish it while I'm eating my daily bag of potato chips from my favorite brainstorming spot under my front porch.

But I'm not obsessed with contests.

Tina M. Russo said...

Congrats, Walt on your contest entry. WOOO HOOOOO!!! And submitting it to a critique workshop. Okay well, feeling a bit immortal are you?

The label on that asbestos suit does say flame retardant but maybe you want to test it a little at a time, there pal.

Missy Tippens said...

Walt!! Way to go!! It's scary but worth it. :)

Nicole, welcome! I LOVED this post. It's so true. We have to be able to take criticism from our editors without falling apart, so contests are great practice.

Man, I bet anyone who critiques with Mary is very busy!! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Tina, I can just see you in your tiara.

And Mary...UNDER the porch??? Like sitting in the dirt?? LOL

Tina M. Russo said...

"Sometimes I've been torn between whether to enter inspirational or not."

Cathy this one I can relate to. Sometimes an inspy judge for whatever reason is judging a single title category or I have wanted to know if my inspy works (I do write both) had what it takes to stand next to a single title. Seems like a crazy reason but hey, I won the Yellow Rose non inspy category with an inspy one year.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Walt, YAY for getting your entry out there!


Patty Wysong said...

I entered my first contest this month, which I 'found' right here on Seekers and I'm about ready to enter another one--requiring a full mss. You guys have been a great source of information and encouragement!

Question here for you: are you supposed to enter close to the max number of pages? (which would mean pimping your ms. in order to do that, right?) I'm new to this aspect of writing, BUT I WILL learn! LoL


Jessica said...

Great post! I love it. Contests have definitely thickened my skin and crushed my ego. LOL

Tina M. Russo said...

Patty, I love it. Pimp your manuscript. Wait--great title for a blog post. Can I use it?

Yes, use the allotted entry pages to your best advantage. Add, cut, trim and tweak so you end in a good place. If they let you play with the margins or the it.

Debby Giusti said...

Way to go, Walt!!! Let us know the feedback you get. Patty, good for you, too!!! Good luck to both of you.

Tina, good point about whether to submit in inspy or another category. With category suspense, such as Love Inspired Suspense, a shorter read can get lumped with single title thrillers. In reality, the LIS should probably go with short contemporary stories.

Patty Wysong said...

Of course you can use 'pimping your manuscript'. LoL, not that it's up to me to say that! I'm fairly positive I heard it here at Seekers, although when I googled that phrase a week or two ago nothing came up!

And I would dearly love a post on pimping your manuscript--the sooner the better! (I now see two strikes against me because I didn't know these things about contests--so pleeeeze make it soon! LoL) I would be ever-so-greatful! ;-)

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Patty, congrats to you as well for getting your entry out there!