Janet here. Always fun to have friend Cathy Shouse in Seekerville. Today she is sharing tips for surviving contests and some exciting news for the Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest!
When I joined the Indiana Romance Writers of America several years back, I had only one immediate regret. I would no longer be eligible to enter their Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest, which has a great reputation for giving helpful feedback and for contributing to the success of finalists.
Although I have never entered the IGO, I have entered many contests. Today, I'm thrilled to be here to make three important announcements about the IGO!
First, my fabulous chapter members realized how the industry is changing and took the time to revamp our Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest. Seeing the growing area of e-pub, the IGO now offers two acquiring editor judges for the finalists in each category, using both traditional print editors and e-pub editors.
Second, the 2013 IGO contest now has an inspirational romance category! Don’t you just love to root for a debut of any kind? Entries are accepted from May 1, 2013 to July 1, 2013.
Third, Indiana RWA members also took a look at the scoresheets and fine-tuned them to provide entrants better information and feedback.
As anyone who is experienced with contests knows, the scoresheet is critically important. So, I'm going to let you in on the highlights of this year's IGO scoresheet. But first, I'd like to share some of what I learned as a writing contest newbie. The good news is that even if you make many mistakes in your contesting attempts, you will still learn at lot. At least I know I did.
My Top 5 mistakes:
1) Not reading the scoresheet before entering In my first contests, I didn't know to look over the scoresheet ahead of time. I know Seekerville has emphasized this very point, but it cannot be over stated. Once, I received my scoresheet back and they offered 5 possible points for the strength of the hero's character. My entry was in first person P.O.V. and gave very little about the hero's character by the end of the excerpt. I got 1 point in the category. Not only did my score suffer, I got no comments to help me strengthen the hero. Had I known what they were judging me on, I could have inserted more about the hero early on. Needless to say, that change would have also made my story stronger. And by the way, an entry should fill up the maximum pages allowed, even if you have to change your chapter lengths just for the contest. And end on a hook if you can. Ending in the middle of the sentence as I did early on? Um, no, not a good idea.
2) Not following formatting rules/Submitting at the last minute.
If I had a dime for every contest entry I rushed into the Post Office in the last hour of the last day to be in time to enter, or hit send within minutes of the midnight deadline, I could afford that return trip to London I've always dreamed about! By continuing to tweak until the last moment, there have been some formatting "issues," should we say? Back when we had paper entries, paragraph indentions sometimes would get "lost" from the software to the printed copy. But my worst experience was when I had typed an underline across the page while writing the manuscript, and Word not only refused to allow me to remove it, but morphed it into some double line thingy. Rather than forgo entering, I printed the entry with those lines in it. The judge wrote in large print by those lines "What is this?!?" The temptation to respond back "I wish I knew!" was oh so strong! Another time my hero Wade had a name change mid entry. "Who is Wayne?" the judge wrote. The bottom line: Format, Format, Format. And give yourself time to polish the work.
3) Confusing contest categories/Not writing within a specific category
It may be fine to mix genres in the publishing world (although maybe not, because contest categories have an uncanny resemblance to how publishers like to label and “shelve” books) but it can hurt you in contests. Entering the wrong category is the kiss of death to getting a good score. I once entered in a suspense category a manuscript that was a mystery, or even a slightly mysterious romance. After wandering around way too long, my entry ended with "Do you think someone killed Aunt Madelyn?" One judge scrawled after that last line, in all caps, "IS THIS THE SUSPENSE!?!" Oops! And yes, I have noticed the tendency for judges to SHOUT at my entries!
Here’s some advice straight from the horse’s mouth, or more specifically, from IGO contest coordinator, Lynne Greeley: Our chapter has educated our members on the definitions of the categories because there are always a lot of questions, especially with entries that should be paranormal. If a story uses time travel, for example, then it’s a paranormal—even if the entire story is historical.
By the way, our chapter members judge every first round entry, and we are trained within an inch of our lives! J
4) Being afraid to enter, and missing out on some much-needed encouragement
Despite some low scores and judges who implied my middle name was Clueless, I only regretted the contests I didn’t enter. By entering, there were judges who said "You have talent." "Don't Give Up." “Keep Working on Your Writing.” They recommended titles of writing craft books for me to read, and some even signed their names, letting me know these were real people making the comments. (Waving to Ruth Logan Herne!) People who cared. People who wanted me to keep on writing and improving—and I did.
5) Letting some of the judge’s comments crush me.
Keeping every contest judge's comments in perspective is critical. “I would not read this.” “The character is shallow.” “This isn’t funny.” At the time, I thought I was taking the comments okay, but looking back, my confidence and motivation took a serious hit. I am the personality type which tends to pay WAY more attention to the “suggestions” to improve than to praise. (Just ask my husband!), That slowed me down. Discouragement and doubt are enemies of a writer. So, having writer friends help interpret what the judges are saying, and what they aren't saying, is important. I wish I had made a priority of getting advice from more experienced writers after those much-awaited scores came in. Keeping one's perspective is so important, both good and bad. I once received almost a perfect score from a judge. Unfortunately, she made almost no comments, and now that I've been a judge and know how hard it is and how time-consuming, I have to conclude the judge had possibly not read my entry. And, sometimes, a judge scrawling across the page is simply a judge who is having a bad day so the criticism is perhaps not that constructive. Don't give judges unlimited permission to take over your brain. Just keep learning!
Okay, Lynne insists on stepping in again here. Sheesh, she wants to take over this post, I tell you!
Lynne says: Even some of the most critical judges taught you something. Sometimes it hurts to read what the judges write, but often if you take a step back and a day away, you realize what they were trying to say. Bottom line . . . Believe in yourself.
Now, I really am going to let Lynne take over this next part. These are the highlights of the 2013 IGO scoresheet. I encourage you to review these carefully, polish that entry, and get some important feedback for your WIP (Work in Progress) or polished manuscript.
Each category in the IGO contest has a separate scoresheet specific to the category. To see the actual sheets, go to indianarwa.com.
Here are the various sections on the Inspirational Scoresheet for IGO.
Professional Impact – (10 Points) Does entry meet the category definition? Is it formatted correctly?
Reader's Initial Reaction – (15 Points) Does the opening scene capture the reader? Are the characters believable and intriguing? Is the plot effective and not confusing?
Writing Mechanics/Craft – (50 Points) This is a BIG part of an entrant’s score. Is the entry free of typos? Does the author show not tell? Are the senses used to create a vivid experience? Do the scenes flow smoothly? Is writing clear and distinct?
Central Romance/Characterization – (30 Points) Are the characters active? Do their actions affect the course of the plot? Is the romance believable in relationship to the inspirational elements?
Secondary Characters – (20 Points) Do they add to the story and are they well defined? Do they affect the plot?
Conflict & Motivation - (25 Points) Are the motivations of the characters genuine and not forced? Are internal and spiritual conflicts strong enough to carry this story? Do the conflicts challenge the characters, follow the tenets of the faith or show growth into love?
Plot – (15 Points) Are the events believable? Is the plot free of logic lapses?
Point of View – (15 Points) Does the POV enhance the story? Is it free of head hopping? Are POV transitions clear and smooth?
Setting – (10 Points) Is there a clear sense of time and place? Does the setting add depth or conflict to the spiritual experience or journey of the characters?
Dialogue – (30 Points) Do the characters have distinct voices? Are dialogue tags used correctly? Does dialogue move the story forward?
Synopsis – (40 Points) Another big point section! Bottom line on the synopsis is that after reading it, there should be no questions left about the story. All questions, plot...everything should be answered here so the judges can see how your story will move forward and conclude.
Lynne has left now and I’m back. Wow. With this scoresheet and her expertise, I may have to lapse my Indiana RWA membership to enter IGO 2013!
Well, I’ve pretty much spilled all my
secrets. So now, it’s your turn. Do you enter contests? “What do you like and dislike in
contests? What would your dream contest be?”
Cathy Shouse is the author of Images of America: Fairmount, and has published hundreds of stories for newspapers and magazines such as Family Fun, Indianapolis Monthly, and The Saturday Evening Post. A former contributing writer for Focus on the Family, she's written a novel, Recipe for Love and serves on the planning committee for Midwest Writers Workshop, an annual writing conference in Muncie, Indiana. Follow her on Twitter @CathyShouse, and visit her at www.cathyshouse.com or www.midwestwriters.org.
Janet again. I’m sure lots of us have contest stories to share. I’m making omelets with all the fixings this morning so grab a plate and let’s talk contests. Those who comment have a chance to win a copy of The Bride Wore Spurs, Love Inspired Historical, April 2013.