Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Best of Seekerville From The Archives and First Five Pages Critique

Savvy Submission Strategy by Debby Giusti

"Finish the book before you submit," editors say over and over again.

When I started out on my writing journey, I thought the same rule applied to contest submissions. I'd complete the manuscript before I submitted to contests only to find the story didn't work -- saggy middle, unrealistic premise, limp conflict -- according to the feedback from the judges. Of course, I'd wasted time trying to perfect something that had started out flawed.

Then I had a Eureka Moment! I heard a multi-published author say she grew weary of writing complete manuscripts and having them rejected by the editors. Being a daringly adventurous person, she decided to write three chapters and a synopsis and submit the partial to publishing houses, hoping she could complete the manuscript in a timely manner if she received a request. Her strategy paid off and got me thinking. Why not use the same approach with contests?

From then on while I was completing one manuscript, I'd pull together the beginning chapters and synopsis for a new story and send it out on the contest circuit. In a relatively short time, I'd have feedback from knowledgeable judges, which helped me gauge whether the beginning hook drew the reader into the story, whether the plot was well-defined and could sustain a full-length manuscript and whether the characters were compelling. Using the judges' comments and suggestions, I eventually shaped the story into a polished manuscript.

Eventually, I submitted to contests where the final round judge was an editor in a house where I felt my story could find a home. I had always written suspense, but when Steeple Hill senior editor Krista Stroever came to my Georgia Romance Writers chapter and talked about expanding the Love Inspired Suspense line, I decided to weave an inspirational thread through a manuscript I had originally targeted for Harlequin Intrigue. Almost immediately after including a faith element, I knew I'd found my niche. But I still had to catch the editor's eye.

Using my Savvy Submission Strategy, I entered three contests judged by three different Steeple Hill editors, including Krista Stroever and executive editor Joan Marlow Golan. I won the contests and received requests from the judges. Not long after that, Krista called to tell me Steeple Hill wanted to publish one of the winning manuscripts. My debut novel, NOWHERE TO HIDE, was released in May 2007, and the other winning story, SCARED TO DEATH, came out in August.

Did contests help me along the road to publication? You bet! The feedback from judges allowed me to identify problems and their suggestions often provided solutions that turned weaknesses into strengths. For me, the road to publication was paved with contests.

I hope my Savvy Submission Strategy helps you on your writing journey!

Wishing you abundant blessings!

Debby Giusti

This post first appeared in Seekerville October 25, 2007.

Debby Giusti is a medical technologist who loves working with test tubes and petri dishes almost as much as she loves to write. Growing up as an Army Brat, Debby met and married her husband--then a captain in the Army--at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Together they traveled the world, raised three Army Brats of their own and have now settled in Atlanta, Georgia, where Debby spins tales of suspense that touch the heart and soul.

Debby’s work has won numerous awards, including the Daphne du Maurier Award for Inspirational Suspense, the National Readers’ Choice Award, the Golden Quill, the Beacon, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence and the Write Touch. In addition to full-length fiction, Debby has written magazine articles for Southern Lady, Woman’s World, Our Sunday Visitor, Army and Family, and served for over twelve years on the editorial advisory board of ADVANCE for Administrators of the Laboratory. Visit Debby online at and email her at

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  1. Debbie, I loved your article.
    I agree completely. The synopsis (or for me, general story line) and first chapters are the skeleton.
    I'd hate to try to flesh all that out to find out my skeleton won't support it.

    Please enter me for the critique.

  2. Coffee pot is brewing.

    Oh, boy, do I relate to this. I've always sweated to have a completed ms before submitting anywhere. But this past year I entered a couple of contests with incomplete manuscripts. BUT I had them far enough along that I calculated I could finish them by the time finalist announcements were scheduled, just in case an editor judge should request more.

    Maybe this year I'll try your strategy and enter when I've only got a partial.


  3. I have a saggy middle but let's not talk about it.


    I am waiting to hear back on a contest. And still waiting on a proposal I sent over a year ago. And I do have my series contract, so I'll have to get more edits in. I still have a hard time sending in an unfinished manuscript though.

    Would like to be entered for the critique.


    Tina P.

  4. As a bona fide slacker, I found that sending out a partial and a synopsis, then getting a request for a full really helped me get my behind in the chair! :D

  5. Smart lady!

    Great strategy Debby.
    And I'm still so grateful for your writer's prayer. Thank you.

    Congratulations on your successes. We sure appreciate you and your family's service to our country!

  6. Deb, I'm seconding K.C.'s kudos about service to country! You guys rock, totally. God bless you and that wonderful family.

    I used this same strategy as my writing improved. It's how I learned to "work ahead of the curve" and that avoids deadline stress, because working ahead of the game buys time.

    Love it! Deb, this is the best explanation of this strategy that I've seen. Wonderful! And can't wait to get my hands on the new book.


  7. Your "Savvy Submission Strategy" makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the good advice.

  8. Debby, this is great the second time around! Such a good strategy. And it also trained you for keeping proposals in the pipeline--very important for published authors.

    Thanks for sharing again!

    I hope you're all having a great weekend.

  9. DEB, you "savvy" little thing, you -- you broke a "rule" and won -- WHOO-HOO!!!

    A publisher can tell everything they need to know from a great synopsis and three chapters, which is how I sold my current 3-book series and the next 3-book series, so it's great to put your energies there first.


  10. Debby, I did not realize you and I had so much in comon, I lived in ky as a kid and left after graduation then met and married a sailor from Ga and have lived in and near Savannah Ga since the 60's. I got your LI suspense book about military investigations and was excited to read the story and see how exciting you make the mystery. I am hooked I will read more of this type books now that I have seen yours. Thanks for sharing your talant with us.
    Paula O(

  11. Great article, Deb. Is that a new picture of you?

    It's so NATURE-y. Love it.
    See you next week.

  12. Thanks for sharing your Savvy Submission Strategy, Debby. I love stopping in here for such great tidbits of wisdom. Blessings!

  13. Debby, that is super-duper good advice regarding contests! I submitted my first ms to a contest, got back some good advice, which I never used to fix the ms.! Instead I started another book, and labeled the first as hopeless! Now ten years later, I just sold that first ms on proposal as part of a 3 book series. I sure hope I still have that contest judge's advice lying around....Thanks for the posting.

  14. Wow, Mary Ellis!! That is an inspiring story.

    A good lesson there.

    How many of us have had opportunities to resubmit or fix a msc and have let that opp. slip on by?

    Today I am traveling back to Denver. I sure miss Seekerville.

  15. Debby, thank you for the savvy submission strategy you've used. I wrote the synopsis and 3 chapts. of a novel and entered a contest with the first chapter. Never did this before. Always had a full. Well, the feedback was invaluable. I have a new direction and am motivated to finish it and write a proposal. Such an exciting life you've led, Debby. Enjoyed learning about it. Congratulations on your successes. Great weekend everyone. Safe travels to those attending ACFW. Please enter me for the first 5 page critique.

  16. Thanks Debbie. I'm like Virginia. When my partial and synopsis drew interest it gave me the motivation I needed to finish.

    We've missed you Tina!

  17. Oh - do I LOVE this idea. Thanks so much!

    Please enter me for the critique.

  18. Last critique? Wow! :-) I'd love a chance to win the critique. I could use some advice again.

    Thanks for all the help y'all give us writers, ladies! I love reading your VERY helpful posts!

    ~ Katie

  19. Sorry for being so late getting to the blog today. We had a reunion day of reflection for my Christ Renews His Parish group...35 of us--all women--had done the retreat weekend seven years ago. We have a book club and meet socially, but today we came together in a retreat setting to focus on our spiritual journeys and where God is leading us in the future.

    The day was lovely except I wanted to get to Seekerville earlier!

    I'm grabbing a cup of coffee--thank you, Helen--and ready to read your comments.

  20. Hi Nancy,

    I find the skeleton you mentioned of the synopsis and first chapters frequently changes. I may start out with certain things I want to weave into the story and then realize some of my initial thoughts aren't necessary and may, indeed, slow the story down.

    Case in point, the current manuscript I'm working on, THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER, a Love Inspired Suspense scheduled to be released in AUG, started out with an engaged heroine. Arthur was the other guy. My dear and very knowledgeable editor Emily Rodmell suggested I cut Arthur. She was right. He wasn't needed, and the story is stronger without Arthur, nice guy though he was! :)

    IMHO, stories evolve. Often we have to work with them and get some pages written--sometimes many pages written--before we realize the direction the story needs to take.

    And that's what contests did for me early on. The judges' comments helped me fine tune the story before it was completely written.

  21. Helen, I do think it's a good idea to have a completed manuscript when you get to the point of finaling time after time. You know you're close, and The Call could come at any moment.

    But when first starting a manuscript those initial comments from judges help form the story into a saleable product. The contest submission strategy worked for me. I hope it does for you, as well!

  22. Hi Tina P,
    After a year of waiting to hear back on a proposal, you should send an email or letter to the editor asking about the status of your submission. Actually, most editors will tell you to contact them (but not by phone) after six months. Good luck!

  23. A friend from my local chapter pretty much went through the same things you did.
    After writing many manuscipts that finaled, but didn't get picked up by an editor, she started only writing the first 3 chapters. This last year, she finally got the call.

    I love contests and the competition, but I struggle w/completing my manuscipt. So if I ever get better at putting the pages out, I want to use your strategy.

    Please enter me into the 5 page critique.

    bcountryqueen6 at msn dot com

  24. Saggy middles...I can relate. Tina P. I was more or less stalled on my WIP and really pushed yesterday to get into the final chapters of the story. Looking back I realize some of my procrastination was due to being bogged down in the middle. Once into the climax, I also realized what action needs to happen to keep the middle from sagging.

  25. Ah, Virginia, sounds like you work better under pressure. So do I. Except I don't like pressure! :)

  26. Sending hugs, KC!

    Glad you like The Writer's Prayer. I'm having more copies printed for ACFW. Hope everyone will make sure they pick up a copy. Take some home for friends too.

    God gave me that prayer right after I received The Call. He knew I needed it! But it's not mine to keep. It's for everyone.

  27. Hi Ruthy,

    Right now, I'm using the business model called Just In Time. You, on the other hand, are always ahead of schedule.

    I need to learn your strategy!

    See you soon! :)

  28. Hi CaraG,
    Thanks for stopping by Seekerville today! Hope the Savvy Submission Strategy helps!

  29. Missy, you're right about keeping submissions "out there" in contests or on editors' desks. A manuscript locked in your computer will never sell! :)

  30. Hi Julie,
    You're right! Those first chapters are so important. If the story doesn't have a good foundation from the onset, it won't come together.

  31. Hi Paula,
    Sounds like we're kindred spirits! Thanks for your kind words about my story!

    Thank your hubby, too, for his service!

    Savannah is one of my favorite cities. So much history and beauty. Lucky you to live in such a charming location.

  32. Old pic, Mary.

    Can't wait to see everyone! ACFW is always special because of the people who attend.

  33. Hi Renee,

    We love having you stop by Seekerville! Thanks and hugs!

  34. Mary, how exciting that your first manuscript found a home! The time was right, no doubt.

    Bet you won't even need those contest judge's remarks after ten years of writing!

  35. Safe travel, Tina! Hope you're enjoying your week of birthday fun!

    (What would we do without Tina!)

  36. Oh, Pat, thanks for sharing your contest experience. Isn't it wonderful when a judge provides suggestions that lead to a stronger story!

    Fingers crossed for your manuscript. Remember to pray as you write. The Lord knows how it will end! :)

  37. Hi Jamie,

    Motivation is so important. That's the purpose of a deadline. It motivates the writer to finish the book! :)

  38. Hi Joanne,

    You're in the contest! Glad you like the strategy!

    Good luck with your writing!

  39. Hi Katie,
    You're in the critique! Glad you've picked up writing tips from Seekerville. We all try to share info that helped us on the road to publication.

  40. Oh, Debby!!! I can't wait to see you next week! I am going to the conference! YAY! I still can hardly believe it. I need to start packing.

  41. Great post, Debby! (I must have missed this when it was originally posted). And your strategy sure makes a lot of sense--thanks for sharing. ~ Hugs, Patti Jo :)

  42. Debby, I can't remember a particular Seeker post - more like a combination of them - that got me started entering contests several years ago.

    From those suggestions, I made my own list of contest criteria with the most important being the final judges. Of all the contests I've entered (12 or so), they all had final judges I really wanted to work with.

    Thank you Debby for lighting the way for the rest of us.

    Anita Mae.

  43. Great advice! Although, most people have to know you CAN finish a book. Even just one. That way, when you get that wonderful request, you know finishing the book isn't going to be a problem :)

    I see books win contest after contest, year after year and I wonder: Is that book even finished? What's happening with all the requests from those contest wins? You know?

  44. Melanie,
    What good news! Yes, we all need to think about packing. Didn't we have some archived posts on packing tips? I need to search Seekerville!

    Looking forward to seeing you this week!


  45. Hi Patti Jo,

    Enjoy the weekend with your beautiful family and all your cute kittens! :)

  46. You're right, Anita Mae, the final round judges are so important, especially as a particular manuscript starts to do well in the contest circuit.

    Also important are the first-round judges. Are they published authors, such as with the Maggie? Are they booksellers, as in the Booksellers' Best? The judges should know what makes a story work in order to help those seeking advice.

  47. Sherri,
    Yes! Yes! Yes! The first thing a writer needs to do is finish the book. Then pat themselves on the back! Job well done. Then start submitting and get busy on the next story. That's when the strategy I wrote about can be used. One book under your belt; next one taking shape.

  48. This is great! I have learned SO much from contest judges' critiques! What an encouragement to know that contests can be helpful on this road to publication.
    Please enter me for the critique. Thanks!

  49. Oh, hello, what a great Saturday, Debster! I was in Buffalo today meeting with the amazing Holly Jacobs (Superromance and Avalon author extraordinaire...) and we got to spend the afternoon with the WNYRWA chapter. What a great bunch of gals. We talked writing, contests, Harlequin, planning, working, and we had a few gals there who come by Seekerville... Great, great day!

    And sold a puppy.

    Therefore a GOOD DAY got better, and "Jake" has a great home! ;)

  50. Ruthy, did you check with Pam on Jake? Yikes!


    you know, please enter me for the critique also. I'm into book 2 now, and a Seekerville critique would be most welcome.

    I survived one a long time ago with shhh - her initials are RLH... and she's not nearly as mean as she makes out to be... :)

    Thank God for Seekerville!

    Safe travels Tina! and all going to the conference too. If you are ever going to be in Nashville again, I'll swing over and meet you guys!!!

  51. KC,
    hush - Ruthy is exactly as mean as she pretends to be.
    Are you trying to ruin her image?
    Intimidation? ;-)

    Good tips and strategy.
    I love contests (most of the time) and have learned so much from them.

  52. Pepper's right.

    We love contests--MOST OF THE TIME.

  53. Debbie, this is a unique way of learning.
    Thank you for the roadmap.

    Please enter me for the critique.

  54. KC, the first ACFW conference I attended was in Nashville. My son was stationed at Fort Campbell. He and his wife met me in the city for dinner just a couple weeks before he left the USA for Iraq on his second deployment. The conference was wonderful, and that night with son and dil was so special.

    Hope ACFW is back in Nashville soon!

  55. Pepper and Helen,

    I hear you, girls! And I agree. Sometimes contest judges can be so painful.

  56. Hi Janet,

    I'm happy to share all roadmaps!

    You're in the drawing.

  57. Great post, Debbi! I needed that advice. I plan on entering a contest next month and a synopsis isn't required, but I just realized I desperately need an experienced opinion about the strength of my plot. Best to hear constructive criticism from a judge now and possibly prevent a future rejection from a publisher, right?

    Oh, an if any of my above comment sounds strange, I'm blaming it on cold medicine. :)

  58. It sounds like a good strategy, but do you ever fear you'll get writer's block?

    Please enter me for the critique. (So sorry to see you're ending it!)