Thursday, October 15, 2009

OCD (Obsessive Contest Disorder)

I'm recycling this post from many moons ago in honor of the fast-approaching Golden Heart deadline.

I hope those of you who are eligible have already entered and are polishing up those first 50 pages and your synopsis!! Below are a few tips honed from years of entering many contests, including the Golden Heart.

My boss says that my attention to detail is what makes me good at my job. This trait also comes in handy when preparing manuscripts for mailing, whether to contests or editors. But if you’re not detail-oriented, not to worry. Here are some tips to help make submissions to contests easier.

Keep in mind that some of the tips below do not apply to the Golden Heart, as you will already have entered online and will mail your manuscript separately. This list of tips is to help you get in the habit of doing all the steps every time you enter a contest, so that you can whip out an entry in a matter of hours. (Actually, I haven't entered many contests lately, but I did enter an online one just last week. Old habits die hard. I saw the contest, the final judge, and decided to enter on the spur of the moment. I was done in less than 30 minutes.)

Once you’ve got the content of your manuscript and your synopsis polished to a shine and/or there’s only 3 days until the receipt deadline, then:

1) Print out the rules (if you haven’t already)
2) Print out the entry form (ditto)

3) By this time, you should have already determined:
a. If your ms fits neatly into one of the categories
b. If the deadline is a “receipt” deadline or “postmarked” deadline
c. Found out who the finalist judges are, if possible
d. Looked at a sample score sheet if available

4) Refer to the rules before you print out your manuscript and synopsis
a. Check margins
b. Check font and font size
c. Check to see if there is a title page. What needs to be on it?
d. Check header. What exactly does the coordinator want in the header?

5) Highlight important points so you don’t forget to:
a. Include a SASE if required. Double check postage requirements
b. Include a SASP if required or desired
c. Include your PAYMENT, made out to the correct person/group
d. Include the Entry Form, signed!

6) When you THINK you are completely done, double-check the rules one more time. If you haven’t done something (like write your check, or put postage on the return envelope) write it at the top of the rules and highlight it. In your excitement, it’s much too easy to get to the post office and seal that sucker up, forgetting all about the return postage and/or your check.

7) If you forget to buy postage for your SASE, then the next time you enter a contest, clip the SASE to the OUTSIDE of your outgoing package to help you remember that you need postage on the SASE.

8) If you take your package to the post office, take your rules page with you. Take a moment and glance over it. (That’s when you’ll remember to write your check.) If possible, frequent a small post office. I’ve become pretty good friends with the ladies at mine. They bend over backwards to get my contest, agent and publisher packages out the door, so it helps to cultivate those contacts.

9) Another tip: If you plan to enter more than one manuscript, and there is only one coordinator, see if you can mail them together (and write one check). They are fine with this most of the time. But you’ll still need separate SASE’s…because one ms. might final and the other not…and the coordinator would need to send one back and keep the other one.

It never hurts to check and double check everything. You’ll feel better, your package will be neat and tidy, and the coordinator (or editor) will be forever grateful.


  1. Hi Pam:

    It seems to me that you have contest entry items ready to go at all times. Do you, or any other Seekers who wish to answer, create entries just to enter a given contest or is everything a genuine WIP? I've entered four contests and I wrote four different stories for them. I'm testing ideas and approaches.


  2. Informative, timely post, Pam! I'm hoping it'll encourage someone on the fence to enter the Golden Heart.

    I brought ham egg bake and fruit this morning and strong coffee.

    Vince, my entries to the GH were completed manuscripts. I usually entered after testing them in other contests that gave judge feedback. But GH scores allowed me to see how they stacked up against other manuscripts.


  3. I'm considering entering the Golden Heart this year for the first time. Pam, your post was very helpful. Thanks for sharing. :-)

  4. Pam, thanks for sharing your experience in entering the GH. I'd already decided to enter as a way of meeting a writing deadline and look foward to hearing what the judges have to say.

    Too early to eat this morning(and you ladies bring such lovely treats to the table), but the ice cold fresca is refreshing to my dry throat.


  5. Pam,

    Great advice.

    I alway print off contest rules and check off the steps as I go.


  6. Oh, Pam, this is such a painful subject! I wanted to enter the Golden Heart the last two years but I didn't have the money. And this year I don't have the money, plus, (and some will not like me saying this, I know) I am trusting that God has a better plan, as in, I will have a contract before April. I am believing.

    But it's hard, because I really would love to enter. But the cure for OCD is having no money. If you ever want to cure yourself, that's the cure.

    My word verification is exoredit. Does that mean I'm supposed to "exor"cise my inner "edit"or? Hmmm.

  7. As Janet said the entries for the Golden Heart must be complete/full manuscripts, Vince.

    I suppose (she said with much anxiety) that creating an entry for a contest is a plausible concept. However if you never finish those entries then ....

    Contest cycles take close to a year. That's a lot of time to wait to decide if your test entry works.

    Reasons to enter a contest:

    1. Critique/Feedback

    2. Get in front of an editor/agent

    3. Bling/Prize/Cash/You are a Plaque-aholic

    4. Keep your name out there/PR/Notoriety.

    5. Addiction

  8. Grin, Pam ... OCD? How clever ... and how perfect!! Gosh, do I remember the days of OCD -- the ticks in my eye, the shaky fingers as I addressed the envelope, the taste of the stamp for the SASE, not to mention binder clips up the gazoo. And I have to admit, even though I vowed to swear off contests this year, just reading your post revs me up to buck up and try it again.

    Because bottom line, contests are, in my humble opinion, one of the best things an aspiring writer can do. Period.

    So, Lisa, DO IT -- not only is it really good experience for a writer, especially if you get judges' feedback, which, of course, the GH doesn't do, but it knits you together with a community of other writers in a way that is truly unique.

    And, Vince, I only entered finished ms. in every contest I've entered, but I have heard of some writers who "test the waters" with only three chapters written. Sounds like a dangerous thing to do to me, but then I've never been a risk taker. :)

    Mel, I'm praying right now that somehow, someway, the money will come in for the GH. Everybody needs to enter at least once.


  9. Vince, I can't remember ever creating an entry specifically for a contest, but with several completed mss. and several partials, it's not hard to find something that fits.

    But I remember a young woman who finalled in the GH once who insisted she studied her particular genre, wrote the story strictly by formula, and to the GH guidelines and finalled. She didn't win, but she did sell.

    Personally, I thought she was stretching it a bit, but in a way, we're all writing to hit a certain target market, so maybe she had a point!

  10. Janet, that's very true about the Golden Heart. Since the GH requires the manuscript be finished, my entries have always had a few trial runs before they hit the big one.

  11. Lisa! Go for it. Just send it in, and forget about it until the finalists are announced!


  12. Patty! You too? This is so exciting. More than once, I've set a deadling to enter the GH so that it would force me to plow through the ms. to the end.

    PS. If you're under the gun time-wise, concentrate on the first 50 pages and the synopsis. The first year I finalled, I had to do that because I didn't have time to really polish the last 1/3 of the was finished, just not polished to my satisfaction.

  13. Melanie.

    Hugs girl.

    I have definitely had to weigh the costs before too, and sometimes the money is just not there to enter contests.

    And you know what?

    That's okay!

    There are many, many published authors who never entered contests, and it hasn't hurt them a bit.

    There's nothing wrong with setting your eye on the prize (a contract with your dream house(s)) and bombarding them with submissions.

    Contests aren't the only way to publication.

  14. I'm outta here for the day job. Y'all have fun!

    Ruthy, what's for lunch?

  15. Morning Pam, Great post and reminder that us Seekers do love contests. That's how we all got together. smile

    Yes, they do help get your work in front of an editor and the feedback from judges is often helpful.

    So best wishes all of you on getting that entry in.

    Thanks for the egg bake Janet, but I'm still full from the smorgasbord.

  16. Right on. Thanks for this. This sounds like a great contest I'll have to check out. :-)

  17. Thanks for the timely reminders, Pam! I think everyone needs to check and re-check contest entry submissions.

    Especially the rules.

    Each contest has it's own little quirky requirements. It's so frustrating to have have an entry returned or DQ'ed just because you didn't put what category you entered in within the header!!

    Still thinking about the Golden Heart...

    Great advice, Pam!!

  18. I have probably regaled you all with my charming tale of the time I got a ONE in the Golden Heart. A ONE on a scale of one to ten, ten being good, one being--return her manuscript and then hunt her down and kill her!!!!!!!!!!!

    Or maybe the contest judge was screaming, "My EYES, My EYES, the ugliness of this manuscript has burned into my retina and I'll have to live with it for the rest of my life!!!!!!!!!"

    That would be Petticoat Ranch, the year before it sold.

    So, since I've already told you that story and I'M COMPLETELY OVER IT!!!!!! NEVER SPEND ONE SECOND BEING UPSET OR EVEN THINKING OF IT OR REMEMBERING THAT STUPID, STUPID, ONE! Since I've told you that already, I'll tell you another Golden Heart story.

    And no, not the time I got disqualified becuase I had SINGLE SPACED THE SYNOPSIS INSTEAD OF DOUBLE SPACED IT!!!!!!!
    They're not kidding about those rules people. Follow them.

    No, instead, I'll tell you about the year I finished and polish up my sweet little Montana Rose, got it all printed up. Those were in the days when you couldn't include a disk with the book in it, so a REAM of paper, all ready. All waiting. The paperwork all done and ready to mail off.

    And then I forgot to mail it. I never looked at that mountain of manuscript pages again until about a month after the deadline.

    Honestly, it was so stupid I couldn't even get very upset. I just thought it must be God's will that I didn't send it because it was so, so, so important to me and I was so over prepared, then to just go Dark-Side-Of-The-Moon on it like I did.


    I've never had much luck with the GH btw. In case you can't tell. And honestly this isn't the contest to enter until you're starting to final in some other contests. It's not a good contest in the sense that it's expensive, hugely competitive and you get no judges comments. You just get a number score.

    SUCH AS A ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    So if you've got some other contest success under your belt and you feel ready, go for it. If not, consider a few other contests first to see if you're entry is a strong one.

  19. Pam:

    Thanks for the nudge. I'm an incurable list maker, so I love your check list.

    I have never entered a contest without having a complete ms in hand.

    I've been fencing--as in ON IT regarding whether to enter the GH. I'm edging closer to a decision.

    Retirement means watching the funds--even if I weren't already a seasoned budgeter/poor preacher's wife/former accounting teacher. Fully understand.

    The reasons you list for entering are definitely my motives.

    You said some things I REALLY relate to. I hate to date myself here, but twenty or so years ago I entered and judged in the GH multiple years. Then life got so heavy that I abandoned not only entering contests, but also fiction writing. (I was too busy writing checks and having to make sure they were good.)

    Since retiring I have rejoined the contest circuit, but avoided the GH for the very reason you stated--too big and too competetitive. But this year I'm considering it because I have a ms that has been scoring well in other contests It is out right now, and I want this last set of critiques before finishing revisions to it before entering GH. But time is an issue. The critiques aren't due until just before the fee entry deadline. Wrestling whether to go ahead and send the entry fee.


  20. Oh, this is too much fun.

    GH stories.

    I couldn't afford to enter, Mel, so I'm with you there. For years, I kept thinking 'stow away the money...'

    And then it didn't happen. Year after year, watching my buds final, have that shot... Not a cheap contest by any means.

    So I strategized. Hedged my bets. Grabbed a year and thought: "Go for it, shoot the works, this could be it, the chance, the one and only, just DO IT."

    Sent FOUR entries.



    I was a shoe-in. I knew it. I'd saved $10/week for 30 weeks to have enough money to send the manuscript, the entry fees, the ink.

    2 inspys, on MSWRE and one Contemp.

    Can you say CRASHED AND BURNED.

    Totally. That cute Keli Gwyn wiped the sidewalk with me. I had to duck my chin and hide my face in Seekerville. Pretend I didn't recognize her. Oh mylanta, the poor little thing, I actually had a kewpie doll made and it didn't REALLY look like Keli, only kind of, you know, willowy, cute hair, gentle, pretty face, likes to walk...

    Howdja like that big ol' PIN, kewpie doll?

    Not that I was jealous or anything. Because I'm not that way. Of course.

    And yeah, I got a two on a book that I can't wait to be offered for sale next year so I can LAUGH IN THE JUDGE'S FACE HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    Take that, judgie-pudgie. And when it wins the Christy and the Rita in the SAME YEAR, I'm going to say Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha some more.

    And when I cash the royalty check, I'm going to ...

    You get it. What a dork, thinking I was that good that I could BUY a GH. Very subjective and that's as it should be.

    The Good, Great, Wonderful, Very Nice news is that since then, SH has bought TWO of those books as a result of the Finally a Bride contest run by Tina's RWA chapter, OKRWA.


    Electronic entry.

    Are ya' kiddin' me????


    OCD. Guilty as charged, Pammers.

  21. I entered three different versions of the opening chapter of one of WIPs in (I think) three different contests.

    I kept rewriting b/c the comments showed me that readers weren't going to "get it" the way it was; and that I seem to have an 8 1/2 by 11-inch blind spot when it comes to my own work!

    I did hear some cool comments, too, which is like Gatorade on a hot day of baling hay. Keeps you going.

    But the nuts and bolts of the story were just not working. So ... like Wile E. Coyote, I am back to the drawing board.

  22. Thanks All:

    I didn’t expect these answers.

    I thought contests existed to help a new person learn how to write.

    So many contests seem geared to specific needs. “Great beginnings”, “Hook, Line, and Sinker,” ‘First Kiss”, “First five pages”, there’s a ‘synopsis’ contest and a ‘query’ contest, and so on. In fact, there seems to be a contest for everything.

    I didn’t even suspect that when I entered a contest, I’d actually be competing with authors who have advanced to the point of having written complete manuscripts.

    I wrote my last three contest entries just for fun and to test my skill in three different genres. I received all 9s and 9.5s and the judges liked all three stories. ( I didn’t final. There must have been a lot of 10s.)

    Maybe I should actually write one of these stories. But I can’t think of any story I would want to spend an entire year working on. How do writers do that? How can you stay interested in one story for so long?

    Well, maybe I’ll find out. I never stopped my BIAW so now I’m at 36,500 words. It’s a romantic comedy so at least it has been very entertaining.

    I think that there’s a whole lot more to writing than writing.

    Thanks again. I have to get back to BISW. That Book in Several Weeks. Is there anyone else out there who can’t stop their BIAW?


  23. Hi Pam!
    Nice post! You are very prepared : ) I'm envious of that in a lot of ways!

    Those of you who follow my blog...I am doing a mini series, if you will, that is a mystery "story" with P.J. - private investigator is leading us in. If you want to check it, stop on by. Others are welcome too. I just wanted to let you know because I'm sooooo excited about it! There are 2 installments as of like a minute ago. Second one is kind of long, though.


  24. Mary, I'm lol about your GH escades.

    Reminds me of the woman who signed up for a conference and never showed up, or the one who signed up twice. Pretty funny actually!

    Contests could make a lot of money like that, couldn't they?

    Hmmm, I think I got a 3 or 4 on the GH once. I'll have to look at it again. It could have been a 2, and I need to get some mileage out of that.

    Mary does it so well with her ONE!

  25. Helen, been there too many times to count, trying to decide whether to enter or not, especially when the entry-fee deadline falls before the "send in your manuscript" deadline.

  26. Vince, as long as someone is unpubbed and eligible for contests, they will enter.

    The reason?

    If they're consistently finalling in contests, they want that finalist slot to get in front of an editor...or agent as the case may be.

    They editor probably won't even give feedback, but at least the contest has a deadline, and the finalist judge has to make a decision about which ms. to place 1st, 2nd, 3rd. etc.

    BTW, there is no 2nd, or 3rd, etc. in the GH. App. 10% of the entrants final, and then the winner is announced at the RWA convention.

    So, it's not like you come in 6th out of 5 finalists, you know!

    Which is a good thing, because I would have been pretty embarrassed the first year I finalled against Judy Duarte and Deborah Holland!

  27. Hi Pam:

    I understand why unpublished authors would enter contests. In fact, I understand how important ‘who’ the judges are to these writers. But are the Seekers typical of contest entrants?

    What percentage of typical contest entrants do you believe have a full manuscript at hand? Don’t you think there is a large percentage of new writers who are going to experiment with a contest before they spend a year or more on a full manuscript? Wouldn’t they be asking themselves: ‘Do I have any talent for this or not?’

    I’m very curious about this.


  28. Hi Pam,
    Thanks for the timely post. I just got some results back from an RWA contest and WOW it was helpful - hard to swallow, but helpful (mostly).

    Some of it was opinion, too. One judge, in particular, took extra care to give a thorough critique. I really appreciated that and it went right along with Julie's comments yesterday. WORDS.

    I'm waiting to hear from another one and plan to enter one more before the year is out (thanks to Tina's monthly contest updates -woohoo, go Tina)

    The GH is intensive. I'm new to contests, but it looks intimidating :-)

    Mary - HA! I love a woman who never holds a grudge...or one who can hold a grudge and then look back on it with an "I told you so" laugh.

  29. Oh, btw, I'm adding some vanilla cupcakes with chocolate chip icing to your evening dessert offers. Just pulled them out of the oven - and instead of smoke in my kitchen, I have the wonderful aroma of sweet bread. yum

  30. How fun, Pam!

    Vince, I always had a manuscript I was working on completing when I entered. I usually entered the same wip in several contests. I did enter a brand new manuscript a couple of times (when I only had about 3 chapters written), but those entries didn't do very well.


  31. Vince, just a wild guess would be that maybe half of those entering are new and half are seasoned. Newbies are looking more for feedback. But the seasoned writers keep entering just to get work in front of a particular editor. Especially when they don't have an agent and may have no other way to send work to that editor. Again, this is just a wild guess.


  32. Pam,
    Great advice for every contest entry!!! Check and recheck to ensure you're following the rules.

    Good luck to all the Golden Heart submissions. Fingers crossed for lots of Seekerville finalists!!!

  33. Vince asked: What percentage of typical contest entrants do you believe have a full manuscript at hand?

    Pam responds: I don't have numbers, so this would be a total guess. Other than the Golden Heart, which requires a full manuscript, I would suspect that more than half of contest entries are not completed manuscripts.

    Vince asked: Don’t you think there is a large percentage of new writers who are going to experiment with a contest before they spend a year or more on a full manuscript? Wouldn’t they be asking themselves: ‘Do I have any talent for this or not?’

    Pam responds: Yes, I do think there are many writers who will enter contests before they finish the contest, but I imagine they're thinking, "Hmmm, it'll take me 3 months to finish my masterpiece, and by then it will have won first place, and the editor will ask for the complete, and we'll live happily every after."

    And, that, dear friends, comes from experience. :)

  34. Here's hoping Seekerville gets to celebrate lots of contest finals in the near future.

    Go get 'em, guys and gals!