Friday, April 28, 2017

Best of the Archives: Pimp Your Prose! Contest Advice Withstands the Test of Time

Happy Friday!

We started "Seekerville" with one goal in mind: To help aspiring authors become more aware of the ins and outs of publishing, and maybe avoid some of the pitfalls we stumbled into along the way... and contests were a big part of bringing the Seekers together... also a great way of getting your work critiqued by multiple people, and assessing what strikes a note with readers... and what doesn't!

I've tweaked this somewhat to make it more up to date, but the basic advice is solid: Don't be afraid to "pimp your prose" to make it shine in a particular contest... and then you can adjust as needed if you get the chance to be on an editor's desk! 

Adaptation... if adaptation was easy, the world would be crawling with dinosaurs today. :)  

Here you go, back into the archives...

Good morning, all, and how about that news we posted yesterday!!! You guys knew I finaled before I did, LOL!!!

Ruthy here, with your regular dose of snarkism brought to you fresh and free, delivered right to your door, better’n a milkman ‘cause there’s no bill involved.

Today’s post comes with a no-strings-attached bit of wisdom that came to me as I was reading a response to Tina’s post the other day.

Judging differentiation.

We all realize that judging is subjective, that while one judge might love your work, another may not, and the truth may lie somewhere in between, right? But I think it’s important to talk to judges today, to those among us who actually judge contests, and see if we practice what we preach. But first, a word from our sponsor:


Inspirationals are a tough go for many judges. They may or may not feel qualified to assess a faith thread, or know how to measure that. In Ruthy’s world, the faith thread does not need to be dragged out or hit-the-reader-over-the-head obvious, but that’s me. Other judges may not relate to your work unless it has a strong, basic fundamentalist background. This means you may or may not get a judge who likes your style, or appreciates a lighter Christian read. On top of that, inspirationals are lumped. Long contemporaries, short contemporaries, historicals, fantasies, mysteries…

Often they are all judged together under one umbrella. It’s hard enough for a judge to separate his or her personal preferences of writing style within one category, but inspirationals (with the exception of straight inspirational contests like Genesis, Touched By Love, Christy Awards, etc.) are grouped together like a well-mixed greens salad. You might like how endive looks, but hate the taste, so how will you score it?

Not well.

The same can hold true within straight romance categories. How often have you been told that the opening you geared specifically for Single Title or Superromance is too slow, that your story starts on page four when the hero walks into the room? Some judges want smack-down hero/heroine development from page one, and nothing else will do, regardless of target publisher or length. If your heroine doesn’t start the book inadvertently sitting in the front seat of the hero’s car (or office, or yard, or kitchen…), you get points off. Never mind that your target publisher allows you those few pages of story building, the judge may not.

I enjoy stories that actually d-e-v-e-l-o-p rather than lay everything out in the opening three pages. Sure, the opening needs to hook, but a long contemp, Superromance or Single Title might need more leeway than a category romance. The difference of 25,000 words between my Love Inspired books and my 85,000 word single titles and longer series is a big difference... and gets tweaked a little differently! 

Did I mention that this wonderful story, with a great Romantic Times review.... (the review begins with "Swoon alert ahead!")... releases in FOUR DAYS??? It feels like I've been waiting so long!!!

A friend of mine admits she tweaks the story to make judges happy. (Yes, I have a friend.... Two, actually!!!)

When a publisher saw the real deal, the story written as it was meant to be, the opening was more fully developed, but my friend had learned what takes some of us longer to figure out. Lots of judges want that instant fix, that WHAM! GMC that spills the internal organs of the story in full-blown instant fashion.

By tweaking her story to give that punch, she ended up winning the contest and ultimately was contracted. If you’ve ever entered a "Just the Beginning!" contest, that’s a basic example of story punching right there. In five pages you have to sell the judges on your amazingly wonderful opening to get a seat in the finalists’ box. Five pages.

That’s a total front-load dump, but necessary for the format.

My friend's methods provide a good lesson for us to learn. If you final, you might get a request for a full. If so, then you lay out the story as it should be, plotted and planned for that editor’s line. Until then, many of us would be wise to adjust our strategies for particular contests. The fact is, if we don’t final, we don’t get a spot on the desk, right?

Finaling is the ultimate goal of entering contests, the confirmation of talent and perseverance and applying critiques to "grow" your work. Once you’re there, you may or may not get the chance to dazzle the editor with your understated brilliance, but if you don’t get there, it’s guaranteed you won’t.

So even though it might feel like your pimping your work to someone else’s specifications, tough it out, tone it up, streamline, baby, streamline. Get the bang for your contest buck by recognizing the hidden rules. Earn your chance to shine.

Learning to adapt has fringe benefits as well. When an editor requests changes to your amazingly wonderful piece of work, today’s timely lesson helps you to remember the basics. She (or he) is paying. Smile, nod, and do what you’re told. Show ‘em you’ve got the gumption to be in the hot seat. Learning to do what it takes to succeed in contests is a great stepping stone to becoming the kind of author an editor desires. Tough enough to be good, strong enough to accept direction.

And that's a plus in any editor's stable!

Did I mention that Peace in the Valley is on sale 5/2/17 NATIONWIDE??? :)

This article was first posted 5/8/08 and that seems like so long ago!!! But in general, this advice is just as true today as it was nine years ago.  Comments are closed for today so we can write uninterrupted. Enjoy your writing time, my friends!

Ruth Logan Herne is loving life and living her dream of writing sweet stories for multiple publishers... and on her own, too! Send her a friend request on facebook (She loves to talk: BEWARE!) or follow her on @twitter @RuthLoganHerne. Or stop by her blog or her website She loves to chat it up with readers and writers!