Monday, April 19, 2010

Writing Contests~ My Story by Vickie McDonough

Writing contests can be both beneficial to a young writer and hurtful, depending on the judge that you happen to get.
Early on in my writing career, I started doing contests so that I could get feedback on my writing.
Was my story great? Did it stink? Yes, and yes. It all depended on the judge’s opinion. You’ve heard judging is selective, and that is so true. One of my stories got a 99 from one judge and a 77 from another in the same contest. So what does that mean? I’m an 88? I’ll admit the results can be confusing at times.

When you receive a contest entry back, you have to remember that it is just one person’s opinion, especially if you receive a low score. But, do look at the judge’s comments with an open mind and see if there is truth in them. Learn from them, but don’t let a low score cause you to quit writing. Keep entering, and learning, and improving.

Before I was published, I knew I wanted to target Heartsong and Steeple Hill because I liked writing shorter books. So, I’d enter the contests where the final judges were editors from those two houses. I was more than willing to pay $25 to have one of those editors look at my story, but the trick was, I had to final.

I surprisingly won the first two contests I entered, the TARA First Impressions and ACRW’s(now ACFW) Noble Theme. The year after winning the Noble Theme, the editor/judge offered me a contract for Sooner or Later, my first novel length book, at the ACRW conference in front of a huge group of my peers. That was nerve wracking and exciting!

I truly feel that entering contests led to my being published. You need to carefully consider how a contest can help you and target the ones that could potentially move your writing career forward.
To get your name in the drawing for a copy of The Anonymous Bride leave a comment about writing contests. They're the heart of what inspired us to start Seekerville so, love'em, hate'em, learned from 'em, never been near 'em. Tell us anything. Uh....just remember that what you say will live for all eternity online. But with that in mind...tell us anything.


  1. Vickie I was there at ACFW when you got your contract!!! That was so totally awesome to see!

    Thanks for visiting us in Seekerville today!


  2. Vickie, thank you for sharing this. I was just noticing, recently, that there are so many contests out there. This information is both encouraging and scary to me. I have yet to publish a novel, and am considering entering a contest someday. You have helped me put the idea of entering in the "just do it" column. Congratulations!

  3. I just love Vickie McDonough. She's.... delightfully normal.

    Although my family protests that MY take on normalcy is skewed.

    Vickie, welcome, sweet THANG!!!!!

    Thanks so much for hangin' with us today. Just note that Cheryl and Mary are having some possible languishing leftover effects of a VERY SELF-INDULGENT weekend, so beware. I'm just sayin'...

    I'm on a Tim Horton's run today. I've got the food table supplied with thick-sliced hickory smoked bacon, croissants, scrambled eggs and Irish potatoes O'Brien in honor of havin' The McDonough with us, ye ken!!!!

    Pastries and donuts courtesy of Tim's. Thick, Texas toast to balance the carbs in the potatoes with more carbs. YUM.

    Vickie, I love your take on contests. Short, sweet, succinct and accurate. I could take a lesson. But I sold my first book as a result of the FAB, and I'm so grateful to the judges, the coordinators (been there, done that to both) and the time and effort they put in to make this possible.

    They are Dream Catchers.


  4. Did I start coffee????

    I didn't.


  5. I love Tim Horton. I love Vickie M.

    This is going to be a good week.

    And eat your hearts out..I cannot win books in Seekerville but I accidentally won, meaning I didn't think about winning a book, when I stopped in at Pepper Basham's blog to comment. I couldn't help but mention how delightful the cover of The Anonymous Bride is.

    Praying for continued success for you Vic. And how serendipidious (yes that IS a real word) that it all began with a contest.

  6. Thanks for the inside scoop on contests, Vickie. I haven't entered any yet -- I never seem to have my act together at the right time.

    Thanks for the great tip about targeting contests that are judged by editors from the publishers you are interested in. That's something I would never have even considered! Sigh -- I have so much to learn! Thank goodness for seekerville and all the the 'been there, done that' authors who are willing to share their collective wisdom.


  7. Thank you for your advice about writing contests and the need to be selective. I've fanned through novel-length contests, which became a tad overwhelming. But I did enter two separate short stories in two separate contests. The story which everyone who read it loved didn't do anything. The other one, which I thought was good but...*shrug, shrug* ended up taking second place. I'm glad you mentioned how subjective the judging process is. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Mornin' Vickie and welcome to Seekerville. I can see Ruthy has the coffee on and I've added a basket of strawberries muffins, complete with real creamery butter : )

    You nailed the trials and tribulations of the contest obstacle course. I've had scores ranging from 98 to 66 in a single contest.

    Well meaning friends told me that was great! People either loved my work or hated it. I made an impression.

    Sooo. I'm supposed to take comfort in this?

    Always remember it's just one judge's opinion. Like Vickie said, look at their comments. Did they understand what you were trying to convey in the scene? Would a few simple words or sentences help make your story intentions clearer?

    Sometimes it's the low scores we can learn the most from.

    Thanks Vickie and enjoy your day in Seekerville!!

  9. I just love that title, The Anonymous Bride!! Very cute. :)

    Thanks for being with us today, Vickie! Great post.

  10. I can chime in here with Vickie & Ruthy -- I got my first contract via an editor/judge of the Golden Pen asking to see a full of the manuscript. It was actually the first contest I'd entered this particular story in. But prior to that I had several other stories making the rounds of contests and learned so much about the craft of writing from the feedback.

  11. Great post, Vickie and good advice for anyone trying to decide if entering is right for them.

    When I first started writing, I had a love/hate relationship with contest. I had better luck with editors than I did with contest judges--every editor would ask for a full while my chapters would never final. After kicking some cabinets and chowing down major loads of chocolate, I realized something very important.

    Those judges were my focus group--they were readers who would pick up the book and eventually make that purchase. If I couldn't get them to fall in love with the book in the first chapter, I needed to re-evaluate my writing.

    Since then, my contest expereinces have improved considerately--I've finally in a couple and won the Genesis for Historical Romance.

  12. I loved contests, Vickie! I did get some feedback that was horrible--or at least made me feel horrible! But I also finaled several times and won a few. But the best thing about my good contest experiences was the helpful feedback I got from judges. It was great to find out what was working and what was not, if my heroine came across as too weepy or too rude. And most judges don't pull any punches. They tell you like it is. Then you get to go back and figure out how to fix it. But often I would get a judge who would explain to me exactly what I didn't understand but needed to know, an aspect of writing that I just hadn't learned yet, and those contest entries were like gold in settings of silver! Invaluable.

    I'm ineligible for unpubbed contests now, but I had already weaned myself off of them a year ago because I had no money and I'd quit my part-time job, which was financing my contest habit. Now I will be able to enter pubbed contests by the end of this year! I'm so excited!!!

    Congrats on your new trade length novel, Anonymous Bride! Woohoo! Go you!

  13. I have been wanting to read this book....please enter me! Not a writer! Thanks!!

  14. Though I'm not a writer, I became a book lover as soon as I learned to read! :) One of my favorite childhood memories is my Mom taking us to Story Time at the library every Friday, then getting to check out books.

    I can't wait to read your Texas Roadhouse Brides series--they all sound wonderful. The covers make me think a few laughs are in store, which makes a romance all the better imo.

    Thanks for a chance to win!

    sugarandgrits at hotmail dot com

  15. WELCOME to Seekerville, Vickie, and thanks for lighting a fire under us about contests ... uh, espcecially seeing that contests are not only directly or indirectly responsible for the Seekers blog, BUT for the publication of thirteen of its authors!!

    In another words, I think most of us would agree -- contests are an IMPORTANT component on the road to publication.

    My story is very similar to yours, Vickie in that I got a perfect score and a 50% score in the same contest where one judge LOVED the subordinate characters and the other thought I gave them too much attention. Win some, lose some ... except that in contests, you ALWAYS win, whether you final or not. Because the guts and initiative it takes to enter, the feeling of accomplishment after you do, and the feedback you generally get are SO worth it, win or lose.

    And I, too, credit my publication with a contest. It was my Golden Heart query letter that brought me to the attention of one of the best agents in the biz, Natasha Kern, who, in turn, sold me six months later in a 3-book deal after 39 rejections on my own.

    And I'm with Tina -- I love Vickie M. too! Thanks for being here today, Vickie, and I can't wait to read The Anonymous Bride!


  16. I've never entered a writing contest before, though I have thought about it. Your advice will definitely come in handy when I decided to bite the bullet and do it!

  17. Good morning, Vickie!

    Wish I'd been there to see you get your contract. That's my favorite moment of the conference!

  18. I agree whole-heartedly on the importance of contests. Finalling in the Golden Heart was the high point of my writing career (so far). It put me in with a wonderful group of women who continue to inspire and encourage me.

    In the Golden Pen contest, I came in second and got a request from the editor at Steeple Hill. Although sadly they rejected the ms, I at least have a better idea of what they're looking for!

    So yes, definitely worthwhile.

    Thanks for the advice,


    sbmason (at) sympatico (dot) ca

  19. I was there, Vickie. The year they gave you that contract was my first year in attendance. And you'd won the historical category the year before and were nominated again, with me, that year.

    You got the contract before they announced the contests winners.

    After they gave you the contract, well, I'm actually sort of a social dunce but for some reason...feeling very bold...I went up to you and congratulated you and said something like, "I'm not even going to pretend to root for you. I need this contest win waaaaay more than you do, girl."

    The next year I got to go up and get that contract.

    We are like partners on the journey. Or two mules hitched to the same cart. Not sure which. :)

    Only, of course, I'd been writing for TEN STINKING YEARS.

    I had no idea that was the only the second contest you'd entered. Way to go, girl.

  20. And guess who won the then-Noble Them, now Genesis Contest the year after me?

    Our own Seeker Sister Cara Lynn James.

    Then the next year? Erica Vetsch got the Heartsong Contract.

    ACFW and their wonderful traditions. Love it.

  21. Although I found the feedback from contests invaluable, the range of scoring (way low - to - way high) left me confused. Which is why I don't enter any more (that and funds LOL)

    Thanks for sharing this info!
    Please enter me into your drawing.


  22. Welcome to Seekerville, Vickie! How fun to hear your contest experiences and the joy of your sale! Congratulations!

    I learned more from judges' comments than from the scores. Though a contest didn't lead to my first sale, it did pave the way. We earn name recognition when we final, even if that particular story doesn't meet editorial needs at the moment.

    Thanks for breakfast, Ruthy!


  23. Great post. My next contest entry will likely be the Maggies. Still polishing my entry.

    My experience is that looking at the worst score can be helpful. In one of my first contests, I had a judge tell me how different my book was from "The Last Samurai." The first thought that went through me head was "Well, no kidding. They're 300 years apart." Later, I realized I hadn't done a good enough job of presentation in my WIP, so that the judge had needed to fall back on something like "The last Samurai" to provide more imagery.

    Please enter me as wmussell(at)hotmail(dot)com.


    P.S. Note to Sheri Larsen. Love the way you did your name with the angled smiley face. It took me a second though, as it resembles the Japanese syllable for "tsu."

  24. Hi, Vickie! Always great to have you visit Seekerville!

    Vickie and I are in the same ACFW chapter, so I know firsthand what a sweetheart she is! We are sharing a booth this coming Saturday at the Edison Spring Market in Tulsa, and THIS MORNING I happened to glance at the TV and there was Vickie's new book on the channel 8 morning show! They were plugging the Edison fair and showing a sampling of what would be available. Fun, fun, fun!!!

  25. Vickie, I'm so glad your contest entries paid off! That's very encouraging for those of us still trying.

    I usually enter contests based on who the final judges are as well. But, like you said, you have to final in order to get your work to that editor.

  26. Thanks for the advice on contests. I will definitely keep it in mind if I choose to enter one. And I love Tim Horton's too!

  27. Very good advice. I have never entered a writing contest--maybe someday.
    I would love to read The Anonymous Bride. I have read such great reviews.

  28. Hi Vickie,
    Please don't place me in the drawing, I've already read and reviewed the Anonymous Bride :-)

    Thanks for the contest encouragement too. I just started entering contests last year, and some of the comments stung...especially the first time. I'm sure veteran contest entrants have grown tougher against the suggestions, because even in my short time with them, I've gotten a better handle on my emotions.
    Do I still want to throw the entire manuscript in the trashcan?
    But I eat chocolate instead.
    Then reread them later. :-)

    Actually, if I have three judges, I take the comments in which they all agreed and really focus my attention on those aspects. I've learned a lot that way.

  29. Thanks for sharing Vickie! What a joy that must have been to receive your contract in that way. Fabulous!

    Because of you wonderful Seekers, I entered my first contest this year. It was... er... humbling...

    But interesting also in that one judge quite liked it actually. The other, not so much.

    Please enter me: ksf895 at citlink dot net

    also a big loud THANK YOU to the Seekers (again) for your graciousness on so many fronts, including the gift of a critique by the now famous worldwide Ruth Logan Herne, author of Winter's End.

    I learned a LOT from it and am working to incorporate her ideas.

    Thank you all for being so generous.

  30. i am not a writer...however, i have great respect for your craft ...thank you all for sharing your gift of words w/ us.

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  31. I've never enterted a writing contest--just a hobby writer. But I'm fairly sure I would be frightened to hear the judges' scores. LOL!


  32. I've wanted to enter my writing in contests but haven't researched this option very much. I usually hear about them 2 days before the deadline and have nothing to enter.

    Hopefully that will change in the future!

  33. I entered my first contest this year! Actually, I entered TWO! I'm not looking to final, but am wanting some feedback. I figured it was time to get some tough, thick skin. (eeewww, that sounds kinda gross....something I go get a pedicure for!)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your contest journey! I love to hear all about this writing journey!

  34. I hope you gals will forgive me for not responding sooner to your kind messages. I've been buried in my latest wip and just finished it. Yeah!

    Camy, I remember getting that contract well. It was so wonderful--but such a long, scary walk to the front of the banquet hall.

    Bethany, Don't let contests scare you off. They can be very helpful if you get good feedback from the judges.

    Hey Ruth! Thanks for the Irish vittles!

    Thanks for the prayers, Tina!

    Kav, I'm glad I had an idea that you hadn't heard before.

    Sheri, I know just what you mean. I entered a book in a contest and thought the judges would love it, but it didn't even place, while another book I wasn't so fond of got 2nd place.

    Audra, sorry about your 68, but I'm glad to hear you have a good attitude about it and hope the judge gave you some helpful info.

  35. Missy, Glad you like my title. I was hoping for something that would intrigue readers.

    Congratulations on your contest success, Glynna!

    Woohoo, Patty! What a great example of how you can learn from a contest.

    Melanie, PTL for helpful judges, and good luck in the published author contests!

    Jackie, I hope you do get a chance to read TAB. It was fun to write.

    Lori, I don't think I'd know how to write a book without some humor. It's too much a part of who I am.

    Hey, Julie! Wow, I can't believe 39 houses were dumb enough to reject your fabulous series. It's their loss.

    Kaitlyn, When you're ready, go for it. Contests can be very helpful to a writer.

    Erica, watching people get their contracts at ACFW is one of my favorite parts too. I wish other publishers would join in on the fun.

    Susan, Congrats on your contest success. Rejections are part of writing. The trick is to keep at it and keep sending in proposals.

    LOL, Mary. I sooo remember you beating me in that contest. But I'm happy for you--at least now I am. :)

    Pamela, I do agree that contests can be confusing. If only there was some way to toss out those really low scores, we'd all be happier. I guess some judges are just tougher than others.

    Janet, You bring up a great point that people often forget. Just finaling in a contest is an honor and can bring you the attention of key people.

    Walt, You have a great attitude toward contests.

    Hey, Myra! Oh wow! My book was on TV. Awesome!! See you Saturday!

    Dianna, I'm glad that I could encourage you. :)

    Eva, You're very welcome.

    Pepper, Thanks so much for the wonderful review. I will admit, I've shed some tears over contest scores, but then I smack myself and get back to work.

    KC, Big congrats on entering your first contest. The next one should be easier to swallow.

    Karenk, Thanks for stopping by today!

    Courtney, I think it's cool that you write for a hobby. I'm sure it blesses you and gives you an outlet to express yourself.

    nmetzler, There are loops you can get on that will notify you a month or so in advance of a contest.

    Good luck, sherrinda. I hope you get some excellent feedback from the judges.

  36. I could never write a story if I wanted to so I have never been around writing contest! Thanks for the info though


  37. Hey Vickie !! I am so excited that your here! I just got home from work and thought I would drop in and say Hi!
    Contests I have never entered one that I had to pay for, but I did enter one that was just for fun, and I really appreciated the feedback it helped me to see the areas I needed to work on, it was very helpful, and I enjoyed hearing everyone's opinions
    And I beg you please add me In the drawing for your book!! Because I honestly cannot wait to read it! I just have got to get my hands on it!:)
    Thank you so much for the chance!:)

  38. Vicki:

    Ditto what Pepper said about entering contests. I started about two years ago. Instead of eating chocolate, I drink Coke for solace when they're tough.

    I'm being selective about which ones I enter. Sure, you gotta final to get to that editor you're targeting, but you gotta enter the right contests to even get that chance!


  39. I have been thinking about where to start in terms of getting feedback and your words definitely give me something to think about. The thing about writing contests is that they do give you a place to start that doesn't leap into sending off a manuscript into the great beyond never to be seen again.

    Thanks, Julie

  40. I absolutely love this blog site. There is always so much information given and I really appreciate you all giving of your time. Someday I hope to enter a writing contest but I'm not close to being ready yet.

    I would love to win a copy of The Anonymous Bride. Thank you for the opportunity.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.


  41. Hi Vickie,

    I've only entered short story contests.


    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

  42. Hi Vickie! Great blog today!

    Since I'm coming in late, I'm bringing homemade fajitas with green and yellow peppers for a late supper, or early if you live on the west coast.


  43. Vickie, thanks for sharing your contest experience. I entered my first contest this year. I have been a category coordinator for the local chapter contest so have seen the range of judge comments. Fortunately the judges I had were very tactful in telling me how much I need to improve!

  44. Vickie,

    I haven't entered that many contests, but my experiences mirror yours. Interestingly enough, the judges that scored the lowest gave me the most feedback, which was invaluable. The last contest I entered I won, but because of matching comments from two low-scoring judges (one in the first round and one in the final), I revamped the first four chapters of my book, making it stronger (according to one of my crit partners). Winning the contest (my first win) boosted my confidence, but I still entered the first 35 pages in another contest that will announce the winners next month. Why? For the reasons you mentioned: Get valuable feedback about those new chapters and get my work before editors.


  45. Hi Vickie, I was at ACFW when you received your contract too. What an exciting adventure.

    It was great having you here today. Thanks for the tips.

    I'm late today, so have brought baskets full of Godiva chocolates, chocolate covered raspberries, blueberries and coffee beans for those who want to stay up late and write.

  46. Vickie, I was there when you won the Noble Theme and also when you got your contract. I think that was the year right before Mary won it and got hers.

    That moment is forever branded in my brain and it has been so wonderful to see your career soar. It really encouraged me to continue to work hard, just seeing the stunned elation on your face, and the relief of a long-held dream FINALLY coming true.

    And getting to share it with your closest writing awesome!

    Thanks for spending time with us in Seekerville!


  47. Thank you for sharing. I'm very interested in entering a contest one day, but as you said, sometimes it's very intimidating. Keep up the good work!
    I would love to be entered into the drawing for a copy of your new book!

  48. I just love your blog and all the authors that you feature. I also love to win books as I read a lot, review and collect them.


  49. The Anonymous Bride, great title - sounds very intriguing.
    Enjoyed your post Vickie!

  50. I want to encourage y'all to not be afraid to enter contests. Of course, only you know when the time is right for you. But you can learn a lot of you have the good fortune to get a helpful judge--and you never know--you just might snag the interest of an editor.