Thursday, April 16, 2009

What I learned from the Genesis contest this year

Camy here, your friendly neighborhood Genesis contest coordinator. Well, the contest is now over and the frenzy of assigning judges, emailing judges, confirming receipt of entries, and reassigning entries when judges recognize them has settled down a bit.

(LOL Did that sentence make your head spin?)

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few things that I’ve learned so far this year as head coordinator.

1) Entrants FREAK OUT when they see all the rules and guidelines.

I KNOW there’s a lot of information, but much of it is stuff we’re required to include (as in legally for clarification so we don’t get sued). That’s why there are SO many questions on the FAQ page—those are all details we have to put out there in black and white so no one can say we made a “judgment call” or were “biased” in any way.

So, USE YOUR HEAD and filter out unimportant stuff.

For example, the Genesis is required to include in the rules things like:

“The 2009 ACFW Genesis contest is open to ACFW members unpublished in adult or young adult fiction in the last seven years (no published fiction print works of 20,000 words or more by publishers paying advances, paying royalties, and not offering subsidy contracts). Authors of non-fiction or library bound fiction dissertations are eligible. If you have been published by a small press or electronic book publisher, see the FAQ page for more information about your eligibility.”

Now, doesn’t that make your eyes cross???

But if you look closely, you’ll see: “The 2009 ACFW Genesis contest is open to ACFW members unpublished...”

The rest of the paragraph is about people who HAVE been published—in the last 7 years, and how many words, non fiction and library bound fiction dissertations, etc.

If you have NEVER been published, you can pretty much ignore the rest of the paragraph.

So be smart and filter out what doesn’t pertain to you. The rules won’t seem so daunting that way.

2) People tend to forget until the last minute.

I totally get this. I do this all the time myself.

But this year, approximately 30% of ALL the entries came in the last week before the deadline.


That’s a lot of work that last week for me and the other category coordinators. If we were a bit terse in emails, that’s why.

Also, if there were problems with the entry, entrants didn’t have much time to fix them, and if the problems weren’t fixed, their entries were disqualified. We HATE doing that, but we have to adhere to the Genesis rules.

3) Most people feel that manuscript formatting is like a stick in the eye.

This was something I couldn’t quite relate to, but I saw this frustration a lot in the entrants whom I communicated with.

As most experienced writers know, there’s a publishing industry standard for manuscript formatting. Most contests adhere to the same general guidelines as when you’d submit to an agent or editor: double spaced, 1 inch margins on all sides, header with title and page number, chapters starting on a new page about halfway down.

As head coordinator, I didn’t want to have to disqualify people. One of the most heartbreaking things about RWA’s Golden Heart contest is that they will disqualify you—without refunding your entry fee—if your formatting is not EXACTLY the way they describe in their rules.

The Genesis is not so strict—we will usually try to ask the entrant to correct formatting, if there is time before the deadline. (See point #2 above) We are also nicer in that we’ll usually refund your entry fee if you’re disqualified.

The Genesis had a formatting checklist in TWO different places on the website—at the bottom of the main Rules page and at the top of the FAQ page. So it was rather frustrating when entries came in that weren’t according to formatting guidelines.

The Genesis had formatting guidelines not to cause you pain and suffering. We don’t really enjoy torturing writers, no matter how it looks.

We had formatting guidelines because:

(a) a standard format enables all the entries to be about the same length, and so no entry would have an advantage over the others by being a page or two longer

(b) the contest mimics publishing industry standard formatting guidelines.

(c) the Genesis judges want a standard format that is easiest on their eyes. They’re judging entries on the computer, and anything that reduces eye strain is a good thing.

That being said, there was nothing to prevent a writer from “pimping” their entry. They just needed to read the rules. Writers could add extra lines to their entry by setting it to 25 lines per page rather than double spacing (instructions for how to do this were even given in the Genesis Manuscript Formatting Article). They could also use Times New Roman font to squeeze more words in than with Courier. They could also have the chapter headers come only 1/3 of the way down a fresh page rather than halfway, since that was in the rules and in the Genesis Manuscript Formatting Article. And writers could also include an optional 1-page single spaced synopsis with their entry.

So next year, please make things easier on the coordinators by following proper manuscript formatting.

My Seekerville sisters probably have more quick tips. Anyone want to share?

Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Her novel Single Sashimi is out now, and she runs the Story Sensei critique service. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels every Monday and Thursday, and she ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for monthly giveaways!


Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Camy. I love the Genesis! It's a premier contest. You and all the coordinators are doing a great job!

I brought coffee that's guaranteed to get those sleepy eyes open. And, well, cereal--frosted mini-wheats. Sorry, not the usual fare in Seekerville, but there's fiber and added nutrients. After Myra's post and spending the last couple weeks with my butt planted in the chair to meet my deadline, I'm going light.


Lisa Jordan said...

~raises hand~ I was one of those in that pesky 30% category. Sorry about that! I didn't forget, but I was trying to polish my entries in between homework assignments.

Manuscript formatting is necessary. I get that. I got so frustrated with one particular aspect of the formatting process that I had to e-mail Camy for help. She replied with speed and grace.

I'm thankful the contest is all electronic. I prefer reading printed pages, but hate the expense of printing and mailing them. I think going green is better overall.

My biggest frustration with contests is the feedback. I totally get that it's subjective. I got discouraged one year when a judge praised my manuscript, yet gave me low scores. That's disappointing. Then I had one judge who gave no feedback at all. I know it's not absolutely required, but I did enter for the feedback.

Huge thanks to Camy and her co-coordinators for the huge undertaking!

Cathy Shouse said...


Thanks for an inside look at running a contest.


Missy Tippens said...

Camy, I'm still cracking up about the poke in the eye comment. :)

You've done a great job on the contest!! So much work. And gosh, isn't this about your 3rd or 4th year to do it?

I hope the last phase (getting all the judged entries back) goes smoothly!


Jessica said...

Formatting is why I didn't enter. I just bought Microsoft Word and have been used to Works. I spent almost two hours trying to figure out how to format my entry and then I thought, erk. Maybe next year. LOL
The website did okay with instructions, but they didn't seem to go with the Word I have. I just couldn't get everything the way it was supposed to be.
Thanks for the post Camy. I'm looking forward to seeing who the finalists are this year.

Cara Slaughter said...

Hi, Camy! I think the rules of the Genesis are laid out very clearly. I particularly like the FAQ section. Thanks for doing such a great job with the whole contest. I know the work coordinating it must be endless. It's one of my very favorite contests and I enter a lot of them!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Camy, a HUGE THANK YOU to you and all the coordinators of the Genesis Contest, and to the judges working so hard right now, from me!

I guess I didn't mess up with the formatting because mine wasn't sent back. Praise God. Hate it when I can't follow rules.

But I can see how frustrating that must be for you guys, especially if the entrant isn't the easiest to work with and time is running out.

May you breathe easy now having this behind you for another year!!

Erica Vetsch said...

Camy, I loved this article. You were really under the gun the last week of March, coordinating the biggest Genesis contest to date.

And the fun's not over yet. There's the tabulating, returning of entries, etc.

All I can say is: Yay for Camy and the Spreadsheet of All Knowledge. You're a great leader!

Gina Welborn said...

I've judged more than a dozen contest entries last week (with almost another dozen to go). So when Camy says judges want a standard format, I HEARTILY agree.

One of the contests I'm judging for had formatting guidelines, but they weren't overly sticklers on making entrants stick to a specific format.

In other words, only two of those seven entries had a standard 25 lines per page (except for 1st and last page of a chapter).

I'm not really a picky person, but seeing 22, 24, 23, 23, 21, 24, and so on, lines per page is just dang annoying. So I adjusted each of those entries so they'd have EXACTLY 25 lines per page.

Some entries even began with their chapter headers at the top of the page. One had it on line 4 or 4, which was about an 1.5" to 2" down. Huh??? What made it even more of a "huh???" moment was that the last page of the chapter only had a handful to a dozen lines of entry on it. What benefit did it give to the entrant to begin her header so far up?

What I also can't figure out is how many entrants DON'T read the format rules.

And I'm not talking about reading the rules and not paying attending or not noticing your entry isn't within the rules on something.

I read the Genesis rules a number of times. Yet scatter-brain me sent in my entry with a 0.4 indent instead of a 0.5 and with 1.2" top margin and 0.8" bottom margin.

I totally knew better. I'd totally read the rules. But what I didn't do was print out a checklist of the contest entry (including formatting) rules.

In fact, after my formatting blunder that Camy graciously allowed me to fix because I'd entered weeks before the deadline, I realized having a checklist is something I'm going to ask the FHL board to add to next year's Touched by Love Contest.

Lisa, I think one of the biggest frustrations with entering contests is feedback from judges. Either it was too much, too harsh, or too little. Or the worst seems to be lots of 2s and 3s with praise comments or 4s and 5s with critical comments.

I don't enter a lot of contests, but when I do, I'm more likely to enter one with 3 or more first round judges than one with only 2 first round judges.

Yet with all that said, you also have to keep in mind that entering contests is much like playing dominoes. No matter how skilled you are, if someone else at the table draws better tiles (aka, judges) then no matter how well you play (write), you can't control the...well, luck of the draw.

Case in point: Entries that don't final in the Golden Heart one year, then final another year without a word changed on the manuscript. Or vice versa.

You can't control what judges you get, but you can control the type of entry you send it. Write the best you can. Then when you get your scoresheets back, take what you can from them to make your writing even stronger.

Gina Welborn said...

Let me add, I did have someone recently tell me that there isn't a "standard" industry format anymore.

My answer: maybe not, but you won't hurt yourself by going with 25 lines per page, 1/3 to 1/2 down chapter headers, 1" margins, and 1 space after punctuation mark.

TNR 12/14 and CN12 and any other font pretty much depends on the preference of the targeted agent or editor.

Call me crazy, but as a judge, I'd really like to get entries in Georgia 12. It feels more bookish than manuscript-ish.

I could totally get behind a LET'S MAKE GEORGIA 12 THE ONLY FONT USED IN CONTESTS movement.

On a side note, I haven't entered a contest using Georgia 12, but I know there are some contests that don't say Courier or TNR only.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

As Camy's FAVORITE category coordinator (better stand back cuz lightning may strike at any moment), I have to say that it is interesting to watch the entries come in. I don't read them, just check over the formatting. And it amazes me that with a relative standard in the industry , there are still so many variations.

At the risk of sounding like I'm sucking up, Camy is a fabulous coordinator. I wouldn't want her job for anything. She's so patient with this feeble coordinator and lays everything out for us. Then she graciously handles any problems we throw her way.

Mary Connealy said...

Camy said: We don’t really enjoy torturing writers, no matter how it looks.

I know this isn't true. Camy lives to torture writers. She's got a waterboard right next to her computer. Been there.

Mary Connealy said...

I will also add I one time got disqualified from the Golden Heart for SINGLE SPACING MY SYNOPSIS!!!!!!!

I am completely over that bunch of STUPID, NITPICKY, ANNOYING, THEY-KEPT-MY-MONEY, GARBAGE.

It doesn't bother me at all anymore.

Mary Connealy said...

And one further comment
I am so sorry to be a pest.

Mary Connealy said...

Oh, and Camy, thank you so much for your hard work. God bless you.

Mindy Obenhaus said...

I'm not buying that for a minute, Mary. You LIVE to be a pest :-)

Waterboard, eh? Hmm . . .

Audra Harders said...

Camy, I don't know how you get everything done in a standard issue 24 hour day. Everytime I email a question, or see you have ANOTHER book coming out, or more info for the Genesis -- not to mention keeping up with blogs and newsletters --whew-- you wear me out.

And make me feel incredibly inefficient : )

Still love you, though : )

Anyway, I love judging contests and frankly, I don't care much how their formatted. I guess if they pass the coordinators, I'm good to go. I care about content, not appearance.

Punctuation isn't really high on my hit parade, either. Commas drive me crazy. EVERYONE has learned a different approach to utilizing them.


I guess my bottom line, as a judge, is whether or not the entrant can tell a story (oops, sorry, SHOW a story). I rarely judge straight romance anymore, prefering to read YA and Sci/Fi categories instead. Wow, the stuff you learn from other sub-genres!!!

But that's a blog for another time : )

Anyway, bravo to Camy and her cast of thousands involved in making the Genesis the premier contest of the Inspirational world!!!

Ann said...

Waterboard -- ha.

Real torture is done via ironing board.

As a disorganized person, I just have to stand back and say "Whoa ... you rule ..." to peeps who run contests and other endeavors. Not only contests but youth programs, Sunday Schools, etc.

I think there is a spiritual gift of administration that was not given to me :-)

Mary Connealy said...

I do NOT live to be a pest, Mindy, it just sort of happens.

PatriciaW said...

Camy, thanks for all your hard work. And your patience. And your enthusiasm. And...

Well, thanks for everything!

Even with all the FAQs, which I read with a microscope in hand so as not to miss anything, it's possible to still have questions. Like the one I asked about whether the synopsis, which was to be single-spaced but otherwise like the manuscript, was also supposed to start 1/3 or 1/2 way down the page like the manuscript? I know a bunch of folks will say, "The answer's obvious", but it wasn't to me, a first-time, first-contest, entrant.

You responded to that, and all my questions, and I didn't get terse. I got encouragement, and maybe a few laughs. :) But that's cool. I'm pretty good at laughing at my self.

Julie Lessman said...

Camy, thanks for all you do on the Genesis -- and I'm with some of the others when they say they don't know how you do it all. Must be youth.

And I totally agree with Ann -- Real torture is done via ironing board.

Great post!


Mindy Obenhaus said...

Ah Mary, you know I still luvs ya :-)

Pam Hillman said...

As ACFW Treasurer, I can attest that the last few days of the Genesis contest was quite an experience!

I went to bed at 11CST, then got back up at 1CST, which was 11PCT, an hour before the contest close.

We were still receiving entries. The last came in with about 15 minutes to spare.


It was actually pretty exciting to see...if it hadn't been 2 in the morning! lol

And, yes, Camy was still up too, working her majic with all those attachments.

Pam Hillman said...

Hey, if we could locate Ronie underneath all those Book of the Year (ACFW's published author contest) books, she could tell us about the excitement of receiving approximately 1000 books at her home!

We'll see about inviting her to Seekerville ... if we ever dig her out.

Poor kid....

Mary Connealy said...

I want to add here that I truly believe that winning the Genesis contest, (then called The Noble Theme Contest) led me to publication. The attention I got, the requests I received all came directly from finalling in and winning that contest.
It's a terrific one.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Camy, remember me? I sent in not only one, but two entries during the last week.

Not only that, but in my ecstatic rush to get the first one out, I sent in the wrong file. It was one for a previous contest. And I didn't even realize my mistake until I awoke the next morning and scanned my email.

When I first saw Camy's name, I patted myself on the back but in the next instant, I was hopping around the house screaming, 'What does she mean it's formatted wrong? I formatted and re-formatted the format word for word as per their instruction page.'
I'm sure you must've heard me.

What confused me was:

(a) It was longer than 15 pages... my entry only contained 13 pages ???

(b) The margins were less than one inch... I confirmed 1" ???

(c) The header is missing the total manuscript word count... I added the word count for the first time ever. I know I did! ???

This lead me to believe I sent in the wrong file, but when I went to my 'sent' email to see what file was actually attached to my entry I had no record of it leaving my computer since it was sent via the ACFW Genesis site.

Of course, the bright side was Camy gave me 2 days to reformat and resubmit. Within hours, I resubmitted using the correct file without changing anything.

And, I promptly rec'd an email from Camy stating the indents were only 0.39 inch rather than 0.5 inch. Again I hit the roof! But I discovered something when I went to check: when the cursor was at the top of the page, it showed 0.5. But, when the cursor was on the first line, it showed 0.39. So, what I had to do was ensure the cursor was on the first line when I clicked on the 'first line indent'.

Camy's email had stated, I hope you don't mind, I just changed that for you and it didn't change the page count or anything like that. I will enter this into the Genesis contest. Consider this your confirmation receipt.Thank you, Camy!

I submitted my 2nd entry the next day without problems. (that I know of...)

So, again, thank you Camy, for working with me on this issue. And thank you to the ACFW for allowing Camy the leniancy to work with writers like me. I still can't believe I screwed it up and almost missed this chance.

You better watch out when you see me coming toward you in Denver, Camy because I just might bowl you over with my hug. LOL

Camy Tang said...

Aw, you guys are so great! Talk about an ego boost for today!

And I have to say, some of my FAVORITE JUDGES and FAVORITE COORDINATORS commented today! :)

About judges' comments: Every year I try to scan the majority of the judges' scored entries to see if any gave too few comment. I don't always get to every judge, but those who don't give enough comments, I usually will not ask to judge the Genesis again.

This year, I'm recruiting my coordinators to scan at least one entry for every judge to check for comments. If a judge doesn't comment enough, we'll email them to politely ask them to add more.

When I entered contests before, I always wanted LOTS of feedback, and was incredibly disappointed and gypped when I didn't get it.

So, since I'm head of the Genesis contest, I have the liberty of hand-picking the judges and making sure they all comment adequately on their entries. I want to make sure as many entrants are happy with their feedback as I can make them.

P.S. It's not a washboard, it's a Chinese water torture bench.

Debby Giusti said...

Thanks, Camy, for all you do for ACFW and our Seekerville blog! You're amazing!

Jaime said...

I LOVED the formatting part!! I am a rookie and always wondered how to format a manuscript. The formatting in and of itself were like a complimentary online course. LOL! :) Must've done okay too, because I got the acceptance email with no requests for resubmissions with correct formatting.

Anyway, thanks Camy for all your hard work. I can't wait to see the Genesis finalists! :)

Camy Tang said...

Jaime, I'm so glad that was helpful to you!