Monday, November 30, 2009

A Contest Success Story by Jody Hedlund

When I first entered the blogging world last year, I was completely ignorant of writing contests. It wasn’t until I started reading the Seekerville blog that I became aware of all of the writing contests, especially for unpublished writers.

The Seekerville contest lists were easy to read, well-organized, and extremely motivating! (Great job, ladies! Keep up the good work!)

Finally, in January of this year, when the Genesis contest for unpublished authors through ACFW showed up in the list of contests, I began an internal debate: was my writing ready to enter the Genesis or should I wait one more year and polish up my books even more?

At that point I had one completed manuscript and another book about half done. I decided to wait. What was the rush? I would finish my second book, and then take time to edit both of them and get them ready for the round of contests the following year.

However, my dear, sweet mother paused when she heard my decision, and then so very gently asked, “What do you have to lose by entering this year?”

That one question needled me night and day, until finally I decided I had nothing to lose if I entered this year. In fact I had everything to gain. For a very reasonable cost I would get critiqued feedback on my manuscripts and would possibly be able to gauge where I was at in comparison with other writers.

As I started preparing the first 15 pages of my manuscripts for the Genesis contest, I came across a couple of author/editor blogs that offered “contest specials.” I decided the more feedback I could get, the better I would be as a writer. So I paid for a critique, tweaked my contest entries, and then sent them off with more confidence.

I determined to forget about the contest and put my energy into completing my second book. But as the day for the announcement of the finalists loomed closer, my mind raged with the “what ifs.” As much as I tried, I couldn’t forget about those manuscripts under the scrutiny of three judges. How would my ego survive if they didn’t like my writing?

One day in mid-May I arrived home to the blinking light of my answering machine. As I listened to the message I started screaming. Both of my entries had finaled in the contest. It was a huge boost to my moral, and I was honored to final alongside so many other talented writers.

But that’s NOT the end of the story. It’s actually only the beginning. After the final, I contacted the agent who had my manuscript in her slush pile. She took a look at both books and within a day offered me representation. A month after that, she sent a proposal to Bethany House for a thirty day exclusive. Approximately a month later, after several committee meetings, Bethany House offered me a three book deal. In early September I signed the contract, and just recently finished rewrites on my first book of the deal, The Preacher’s Bride, due to release October 2010.

So, what are the lessons in my contest success story?

1. Enter contests. As my mother said: What do you have to lose?
2. Find a contest critique special. Take a little extra effort to polish up your entry.
3. Make the most of the judge’s feedback. Scrutinize every comment and let it carry over to the rest of the story.
4. Make sure you finish your book. I personally don’t think it’s essential to have your entire book completed before entering the contest. BUT make sure it’s done by the time of the awards. I met too many finalists who came to the conference with incomplete manuscripts. Big mistake. Why? Because. . .
5. Remember, a contest final is only the beginning of the success story. We need to be ready to take advantage of the spotlight while we’re in it. If your manuscript isn’t complete or ready for agents and editors, you won’t be able to take full advantage of the opportunity the contest final gives.

If you haven’t visited my blog yet, I invite you to swing by. It’s a gathering for the writing community—a place where we have open discussion about many of the various aspects of the writing life and publication, both the joys and difficulties. Author, Jody Hedlund .

Today I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you entered any contests? And if so, what lessons have you learned as a result?


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jody, thank you so much for being here today, Sweet Thang!!!!!

You exampled not only a great reason for entering contests, but that God's timing is always there, always right, despite our doubts. Good job, girlfriend.

Super, mega congrats on your contest results, your agent, your sale...

When it happens, it can be a domino effect IF you're ready. Having the book done: huge.

Having more planned: Also huge.

Working hard: Triple huge.

Okay, I brought a FULL COFFEE and ESPRESSO bar because:

It's Monday. Yawn... And after a four-day holiday weekend filled with way too much food (Can you say WEIGHT WATCHERS????) we need coffee.

And let's go sensible this morning because of all that yum Thanksgiving food.

A selection of high grain breakfast cereals grace this morning's table. Wheat toast or rye?

Skim milk. (Okay, I wouldn't be caught dead drinking skim milk, my mouth's puckering to even THINK it, but as always I put our guests first, so in case YOU GUYS want the evil stuff, it's there!)

And oatmeal to fight gravy-related cholesterol counts. With brown sugar, if you like, because dark brown sugar rocks the big kahuna.

Jody, welcome to Seekerville, Toots!


Jessica said...

Great post, Jody!

I love contests but have really slowed down lately. I've learned tons of things from contests and enjoy getting anonymous feedback. Even when it hurts.*cringe*

Your story is amazing, Jody! Thanks for sharing it. I can't wait to read your books. ;-)

Katie Ganshert said...

Jody!!! I LOVED seeing you on here today! I got all excited when I saw your picture in my dashboard for Seekerville!

Loved reading your story again! Just htink if you wouldn't have listened to your mother!

Lesson to learn: Mama's always right. :)

Happy Monday!

Tabitha Bird said...

Great post. I am posting on contests on my blog today too. And I agree. What have you got to loose?

Jenny said...

Congratulations! Will be looking forward to seeing your name in the future! Great tips!

Cathy Shouse said...


Congratulations on your successes. I was extremely green when I entered contests so yours is a different strategy to consider. They helped me to figure out my genre, to get a reaction to my characters and to force me to polish something up.

You've given me some ideas about how to make a contest work better.

Would you please explain more about getting a contest critique before submitting to the contest? I haven't heard of that and don't understand how to go about it.



sherrinda said...

Yay Jody!!!! I never tire of hearing your story! It is always encouraging to read about your hard work and discipline...and your passion for writing! I loved your blog post today, btw! :)

Ann said...

I love success stories.

What have I learned today ... no, wait, that's "Veggie Tales ..."

Listen to Mom ;-)

Based on contests, I'm starting to get more positive feedback. So, God bless judges who take a moment to say they liked something, or what worked for them. Can be like a drop of water in a dry and thirsty land.

I feel like the story is in there somewhere, I just need to keep working on it -- to translate the scenes in my head to words on paper. Must keep chipping away at it.

Tina M. Russo said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Jody and thanks for sharing your inspirational thoughts on contests.

Congratulations on your sale!!!

Heather Sunseri said...

Awesome post, Jody! You are such an inspiration and encouragement!

Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Everyone!

I just love the enthusiasm on this blog! I get such a rush reading the comments every day! Maybe it's all of the virtual coffee. :-) And Ruth, oatmeal? Really?!? I need donuts or something sweet! Please!

Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Cathy,

You asked: Would you please explain more about getting a contest critique before submitting to the contest?

My answer: As I was getting ready to submit, I ran across a few various editor/author blogs who ran contest specials. They offered to critique the first 15 or so pages of your manuscript to help get them ready for contests. I used Tiffany Colter of Writing Career Coach. She had a special on her blog last January.

Even if you don't find a "contest special" you still might considering hiring an editor to critique of the first 15-30 pages. Just my two cents.

Lisa Jordan said...


I loved meeting you at the ACFW conference. If only I had spoken up sooner, we could've had a longer chat on the plane. :-)

Huge congrats on your writing contracts. Love your blog!! Right up there in my fav top 5!

I entered the Genesis, hoping for solid feedback, but ended up with a final, a second-place certificate, and then 2 requests for the full manuscript. God's timing is what it's all about. Thanks for sharing!


Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Jody! Wow, your contest success story is amazing and proves moms are always right. Love that! Congratulations on the three-book sale! If you feel like sharing, give us a preview of The Preacher's Bride.

Ruthy, thanks for the healthy breakfast. I'm off to decorate our church for Christmas. The oatmeal should keep me going until lunch.


Cara Lynn James said...

Jody, welcome to Seekerville! I'm drinking a latte and I think I'll make some blueberry muffins. Forget the wheat toast, Ruthy.

Jody, congratulations on your contract! And keep on writing--those deadlines come up fast.

Jill said...

Great post, Jody. Thanks for sharing your story. I love your blog too and always read your posts. Now I'm headed out to find some donuts. I can't take the oatmeal!

Pepper Basham said...

Oh Jody,
What a great entry!

I'm like you. I'd never entered a contest until Mary Connealy invited me to visit Seekerville last May - and the wonderful ladies here introduced me to the world of contests.

Woohoo for you and your sale!! That's great news and such an encouragement to those of us who are learning, growing, and hoping as writers :-)

thanks for the advice about critique specials. I'm looking that during Christmas. What a great idea!

I've entered 4 contests this year - so I'm learning a lot from those judges critiques. Very insightful!

Your mom's a smart lady!



Sarah Forgrave said...

Jody - Great to see you here at Seekerville! :-) Your story is so encouraging! I've never heard of contest critique specials, so I'll have to search those out.

Julie Lessman said...

JODY!!! Soooo great to see you here today, girl ... and MEGA CONGRATS on the 3-book sale to Bethany House. You're with the big dogs now, girlfriend.

I couldn't agree more about contests. In fact, I credit contests as the #1 reason I am published today. I entered TONS and never finaled, but prayed and applied judge's feedback and before long, I started finaling in contests left and right (talk about judge's feedback being good for your story!). And it was my final in the Golden Heart in 2005 that caught the eye of my agent, Natasha Kern, so this is one chickadee who is a HUGE contest advocate.

Congrats again on your amazing success. Gotta strong feeling it's only the beginning ...


Walt M said...

Jody, go with the oatmeal and add brown sugar.

Can't wait for your book.

Currently waiting for the results on two contests at the moment and judging one (my first one).

mary bailey said...

Jody, your story is so inspiring. Good for you for listening to your mom's wise words. When I complain about how long something will take, my mom's famous words are "Well, that time is going to pass, anyway, so you might as well_________." She's always right!

I'm excited about reading your book and look forward to buying it next fall. I've visited your blog a few times and I plan to read more of your background story. Congrats, again!

Jody Hedlund said...

It's great to see so many friends here today! And I'm enjoying getting to meet some new bloggers! Thanks again, you wonderful Seeker ladies (Julie, Tina, Cara, Janet, Ruth, and everyone else!) Hugs to all of you!

Walt, I'm leaving the oatmeal for you and Ruth!

Mary Connealy said...

Entering these contest...and yes, if you overdo it, it can get expensive, but one at a time they don't cost so much.
Entering these contests is great for meeting deadlines. It's great for toughening up your hide so you can take criticism.
It's great for getting your work in front of an editor (if you final). And it's great for meeting people because THAT'S HOW I MET MY SEEKER BUDDIES!!!!!!!!!!!!

Winning the 2005 Nobel Theme contest, now called the Genesis, led DIRECTLY to my first sale. So I'm a believer. But I did have to put up with a whole lotta abuse before that fateful day.

Jody, I'm worried about you, you may not have been abused enough to fit in with other authors. We here at Seekerville will be glad to heap abuse upon you until you have enough Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome to feel comfortable at the usual author gatherings.

Just ask. We're here for you, Darlin'.

Mary Connealy said...

Nice try with the skim milk, Ruthy.

Jody Hedlund said...

Heap it on, baby! Heap it on. :) Seriously, what I didn't share about my story today is the years of rejection BEFORE the contest win! My kitchen is wall-papered with my rejection letters.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Jody, WElcome to Seekerville. Thanks for sharing your amazing story. I'm trying not to turn green. LOL

Ruthy,--Going healthy. What a shame. And skim milk. Yuk.

Its too late for donuts, but Jody I stopped by the Sees Distribution Center in downtown Phoenix and loaded up with boxes of chocolates. So have at it Yummmmm

Dark chocolate, truffles, soft centers, nuts and chews. assorted--you name it. Yummmmmm

Mary Connealy said...

Really, Jody? You've got the same wallpaper I do. I'm surprised they don't sell it in books at Home Depot.

I feel closer to you, now. Also, more at peace with the universe.

Pepper Basham said...

How much chocolate syrup can I put in my skim milk ;-)

lynnrush said...

I love this story. How fantastic.
I've learned so much by entering contests. I believe in them big time! First ones scary. . . but totally worth it.

Thanks for sharing this story. I love reading stuff like this!

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Hi Jody, thanks so much for being here and sharing. Your mom has good advice! I was having the same issue...was thinking of waiting until my second WIP was finished. Who knows maybe I will jump right in next year to see how I do! Hmmm you gave me much to think about!

Hope everyone is enjoying all the apple pie leftovers from Turkey day!


Sheila Deeth said...

Maybe I'll make it a resolution to follow the contest links on Seekerville.

Carol J. Garvin said...

I followed you over here, Jody, and am cautiously sipping my orange juice as I read. (I'm not a breakfast person so I gag at the thought of oatmeal or donuts right now.) It's great to get this recap of your experience with contests. I've only entered two but they were for short stories. I finaled in both, which was a huge boost, but since they didn't involve my novels I didn't see a beneficial connection. Obviously I should be looking at different types of contests. Thanks for introducing me to Seekerville!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

You, Jody, are one major success story!!

Congratulations on finishing that edit round. May you gain steam for the next round, friend!

Susan Anne Mason said...


Thanks for sharing your story. It's always inspiring to hear another writer's journey.

Congratulations and much success.


Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Thank you, Jody, I really enjoyed reading about your experience with writing contests.I totally agree with getting a professional edit/ critique of your submission beforehand and also using the feedback from contests' judges when resubmitting elsewhere. Major congrats to you. You are inspiring. Pat

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Okay, okay, I'm gagging myself with all this healthy food nonsense.

Ranks right up there with a colonoscopy and NO...

Do not lecture me in public!!!!

Back to real, live, honest-to-goodness Ruthy food, starting with...

Chocolate chip cookie cake, decorated for Advent, with little cherubim and seraphim and stars...

Can I hear an "AWWWW......"


And I used my famous buttercream icing which is PERFECT on chocolate chip cookie cake.

Dig in, guys, and I tossed the skim milk too. Yup.


Creamers. Real cream. International Delight creamers in flavors to tempt everyone to that next cup of coffee, fight the afternoon dirge....

Jody, my humblest apologies. I should have known that anyone with that smile, needed A.M. sugar. I'm right there with you, girlfriend.

Someone pass the M&M's please. Might just as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.



Jody Hedlund said...

Sandra, I'll definitely take those chocolates, especially dark chocolate truffles with soft centers! Those are my fav!

And peace, Mary. I'm one with you now too. Groovy! ;-)

Thanks everyone, for your encouraging comments. I'm an ordinary writer without any fantastical talents or fairy dust (even though I'd love to find some!). The cool thing is that if I can break in, than really anyone can!

Blessings to everyone who commented today!

Jody Hedlund said...

Ruth, Chocolate chip cookie cake? With real buttercream icing?! Now that sounds absolutely perfect! I'd take that for breakfast, lunch, and dinner anyday, everyday! Thank you, darlin'!

Audra Harders said...

What a wonderful story, Jody! I do so love happy endings : )

I'm glad you listened to your mama. We are rarely wrong : )

Super congratulations on your finals, your agent, and your SALES!!

Ahh, contests. Where would we be without them??

Tamika: said...

Thanks Jody for solidifying my thoughts on contests! Soon dear friend, soon!

I pray your continued success.

PatriciaW said...

Jody, more congratulations on your success. Following a writer friend along the journey from contract to release is kind of like hanging out with a pregnant friend. I'll be just as proud when your "baby" is born as if I'd carried it myself, just less tired.

Edna said...

All I enver enter is these book contest, everything else takes accepting something to buy before you can enter the contest, but I love these book contest.


Vince said...

Hi Jody:

They say ‘fortune favors the prepared’. Did you have much writing experience before you entered your first contests?

Unless a contest is very big and expensive, I’m not sold on the idea of paying someone to judge my writing before I mail it in and pay someone else to judge it. I think that may be a little like paying someone to clean my house before my regular maid comes over to clean it because I don’t want the maid how messy I really am. : )

Of course, I’m just a guy.

BTW, I’ve now had three contests with very high scores and lots of encouragement from the judges. I didn’t final but it gave me the motivation to write over 120,000 words of my WIP. I really don’t think I would have written an entire romance without those judges encouragement.


Missy Tippens said...

Jody, this is such an exciting story!!! I'm so glad you shared it with us today.

And great advice, too!

I'm really looking forward to your books! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Okay, I'm taking up for skim milk. Let's hear it for skim milk!! Rah, rah!

Of course, I put the fake flavored creamer stuff in my coffee. Would never put skim in it.

But for drinking and going with cereal, it's skim all the way in the Tippens household. :)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

okay...the therapist is here to take care of whatever post-traumatic stress you author folk have. i'm taking appointments, jody (and mary!). :)

great hearing this story over again, jody. it really is such an encouragement...and seems to mirror some of the other stories shared in the comment sections! that's also encouraging. blessings!

The Character Therapist

Erica Vetsch said...

Congratulations on all your success, Jody. I can't wait to read The Preacher's Bride. :)

Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Vince,

Great question: Did you have much writing experience before you entered your first contests?

My answer: Yes, years and years. I wrote before my kids were born and when they were young. Then I had twins and stopped writing altogether for quite a few years. After my long writing hiatus, I finally started back up again about three years ago. I didn't enter any contests until just this year.

Everyone has to decide for themselves at what point to start entering contests. But as I said, what do you have to lose?

Melanie Dickerson said...

Sorry I'm late! Jody, what an amazing story! When your God-ship comes in, it's more than great! So happy for you!

See? I've been preaching contests for years now, and here's another reason why!

Sandra Heska King said...

I'm even later than Melanie. But I'm so glad I discovered this blog. I might not have if I wasn't a Jody groupie. So maybe I'll think about a contest...