Recap of the 2014 Contest Workshop and Tips From the Contest Chair

Workshop Recap
Think You’re Ready for the Colorado Gold?
March 15, 2014 with Contest Chair Chris Devlin

What’s new at the Gold

After a lot of discussion and consideration, we’ve decided not to create a category for short stories this year. We’ll look at this again next year with an eye toward creating value for finalists in a short story category.

We’re putting together new contest pages on the RMFW website (rmfw.org). The scoresheets will be available to view online as well as a FAQ. This should be in place in time for contest opening on April 1st.

This year, it should be easier to submit to contest as entries can be uploaded directly onto the submission site, without sending a separate email.

A word or two on social media
Be careful where you talk about contest, or anything having to do with writing professionally. Many contestants and judges know each other or have friends in common on Facebook and elsewhere. When you complain about your judge’s comments or about the final judges on social media, this could very easily make its way back to the source even when you think you’re protected.

This year’s final judges:
We’re very excited to announce the editors and agents who’ll be picking the winners in each category! Find them on the contest page at rmfw.org

Genre project
We’ve updated and clarified the categories and subgenres in order to achieve more consistency in judging and more direction for contestants as to how to submit their work. A full list of the new definitions will be available on the website shortly.

Live Judging
We heard 2 pages of an Action/Thriller entry and 3 judges commented, looking at how much the opening grabbed the reader and pulled them in and whether the writing fit the genre. One judge focused on dialogue–try to have the characters talk in natural ways to each other rather than have them speak in information to the reader.

We heard a synopsis and suggested the writer get to the story question sooner and also sympathized with how difficult it is to write synopses.

See below for more tips and suggestions.

Thanks to all who came and to Mark Stevens and Nikki Baird for helping out with Live Judging. Contest opens April 1st.

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What hasn’t changed? Writers should still submit their best work and make it shine. Here are Contest Chair Chris Devlin’s top 10 tips:

  1. Don’t panic. Try to look at this as an exercise in learning the ropes of professional publishing. Try to have fun.
  2. Follow the 2014 Rules and Entry Instructions carefully. RMFW is for writers of commercial, novel-length fiction, so the guidelines are geared accordingly.
  3. Enter early. If there are major errors with your entry and we have time, we’ll send it back to you to fix. You might save some points this way.
  4. Read Terry Wright’s synopsis-writing tips. Then Read Laurence MacNaughton’s synopsis-writing tips. Laurence’s tips are good not only for writing a synopsis of any length, but for identifying why writing a synopsis was so hard for me: My main character wasn’t doing his job. Once I reworked that problem, I finally created a synopsis that didn’t lose me major points in a writing contest.
  5. Read my blog entry called “The Writing Feedback I Give Over and Over.” Colorado Gold rates entries using standard criteria: manuscript presentation, genre, opening, characters, dialogue, narrative strength, viewpoint, all of which is covered here. This advice goes for critique groups, beta reading, and contest entries. It covers a lot of the basics, so I hope you don’t find it indulgent that I linked to my blog. Pay particular attention to the links on scenecraft, not only for the contest, but for mastering one of the building blocks of great storytelling.
  6. Have at least one other human being lay eyeballs on your entry. Preferably someone who is also a writer or has an English degree. Spellcheck won’t catch everything, and you don’t want small, easily fixable errors to detract from your writing.
  7. Here’s a big secret that might help your score. Shh, don’t tell anyone I told you this. The contest judges won’t actually know what’s in your book other than the twenty pages and what you tell them. Don’t have a great hook after a few thousand words? Rework the opening so you do. Your antagonist doesn’t appear in the first twenty pages? That’s between you and your muse; however, your villain could make an appearance for long enough to satisfy the judging criteria. Who knows? You might decide these alterations work well for your story. You might make them permanent.
  8. One simply cannot stress enough the totally subjective nature of this contest, and all contests. You might get judges who just don’t connect with your work at all, or you might get ones who love it like chocolate. It’s like that in the publishing industry, too. All you can do is to make sure you write the best story you can and that you pay attention to the basics.
  9. Entering more than one manuscript ups your chances of making the finals.
  10. Is it worth it? Does it really matter? I say yes, and this is from someone who took twenty years to final in a writing contest. Look at it as practice for submitting your stuff to agents and editors, most of whom won’t give you specific feedback. See it as an opportunity to get feedback from people you wouldn’t otherwise have contact with. Practice not taking anything personally and toughening up your writer’s hide. Beats not trying, in my estimation.

Finally, here are some more thoughts and advice from judges and writers involved with Colorado Gold: