Tuesday, January 17, 2012
My First Contests
The most important thing to me when I share about myself is to deliver the message that is deep in my heart. That message for me will always be to never give up. I believe it and I live it.
My contest history began in 1997 and spanned 12 years with my last entry being the 2010 Golden Heart (those entries were in the fall of 2009). I sold to Love Inspired in January of 2010 and was agented when I sold.
During my contest period I entered 158 contests. (Averaging 13 contests a year for 12 years)
Of those, I finaled in 66. (The Golden Heart twice and the Genesis once)
I won 22 of those I finaled.
(I won the Maggies twice, the Stepping Stone twice, the Heart of the Rockies three times and I also won Fire and Ice, Desert Dreams, Touched By Love, The Lauries, Put Your Heart In A Book, Ticket to Write, Winter Rose, Beacon, Tara, Golden Acorn, and the Linda Howard Award of Excellence and The Barclay.)
I contested with a total of 10 different completed manuscripts.
From those contests I received only 3 agent requests and 7 editorial requests. (Of course at the same time I was submitting.)
Looking at the numbers, those aren't exactly amazing results, but a slightly greater than one third percentage isn't too shabby either, considering the competition included all of the Seekers.
However, what I have concluded about contesting is that often it's not about the results. It is however always about the motive and the goals.
The first memorable writing advice I ever received from a contest was from author Elizabeth Sinclair regarding a manuscript now called The Last Bachelor. She told me my hero was an unsympathetic alcoholic and my heroine was too perfect.
She was correct on all counts.
But she didn't simply criticize my writing, she provided direction with her feedback. Direction for my synopsis as well.
I took that wonderful direction and ran with it.
That was my motive as a very, very new writer. Direction.
My daily life at the time was like most of yours- consumed by family, the day job, and toss in a life altering catastrophe that made meeting with a critique group or attending a local chapter nearly impossible. Often I had to choose between my own writing time and a writing group or meeting.
Then consider this: you're a new writer and you're meeting online or in person with a group of people whose writing expertise is as limited as your own. That scenario makes growth difficult.
Contests provided a cold read, and an honest interpretation of my goals in the form of the contest score sheet and comments.
Another value in contests is that they developed patience. The life cycle of a contest is close to a year. I learned how to enter and move on, forget about that manuscript while forging ahead to the next goal. This is a skill that will come in handy as you wait for responses from industry professionals later in your career.
Another goal for me toward the end of my contest years was submitting a new completed manuscript each year to the Golden Heart. By this time I had narrowed my target to only two genre's and submitted a total of four manuscripts.
The last few years before selling I entered far fewer contests as my goals had shifted. I had become more confident about my skills thanks to contests and had discovered resources (often thanks to contest judges recommendations) for honing my craft. Now I was only entering contests for two reasons: to keep my name out there and to get a manuscript in front of a particular editor or agent.
Were all my contest judges kind, fair and constructive? Of course not. But to tell you the truth I didn't let them stop me. I had a methodology when I received contest results. I glanced at them and then set them aside.
When I was ready to do edits I took the contest pages and applied them or discarded them as my gut instinct told me while I edited each page of the manuscript without looking at the scores. All I cared about was the feedback.
I'm a writer, I'm all about looking at my words and growing. A strong and long history of contest critiques and commentaries has also provided a handy shield against the negative side of this business. I can honestly say that today-most of the time- I am able to respond as I did during the contest days and take a negative response and set it aside without internalizing and move on. (I also avoid reading reviews. Why look for trouble?)
One of the final contest critiques that I recall was brutally honest and caused me to pause. I later discovered it was done by Camy Tang. Trust me, it was a tough critique and because of her objective comments I had the courage to move to another level in my writing and make some serious changes to the manuscript that sold, A Place Called Home (it sold in January 2010, to Melissa Endlich at Harlequin Love Inspired,and became The Rancher's Reunion).
Here's a little secret about me too, I'm very competitive. With myself. I am the hardest critic I will ever have. I don't give up. I also find a peace that passes understanding in resting in the knowledge that the Lord put me on this path and he is in charge of my destination.
But I'm not perfect, I also ascribe to a little quote a Colorado writing friend, Amy Sandrin, once told me: "Success is the best revenge."
So today I challenge you to consider what you can get out of contests. Consider this too: what do you have to lose? Why not make 2012 the year you step out and enter contests for you and your writing career?
Today two commenters who express and interest in this opportunity will win a 15 page manuscript critique to prepare your pages for a contest. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.
Also, here are links to a few archived contest posts to assist you on your own contest journey.
Pimp Your Contest Entry
Exploring Contest Mood Disorder
Contests, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Finally, I want to thank each and every one of you who has ever judged a contest. Thank you to those of you who suffered through my early, plot-less wonders with the telling and not showing, the information dumps and those perfectly flawless and equally boring heroines.
I know who you are, because some of you even signed your names. Trust me, there is a special place in writer heaven just for you.
Tina Radcliffe is entering only a select few contests in 2012 and is concentrating on writing faster. You can always find her in Seekerville or at her home at www.tinaradcliffe.com. She is happy to answer any of your pressing contest questions at tina at tina radcliffe dot com