Recap of the 2015 Contest Workshop and Tips From the Contest Chair

Workshop recap
Get Ready for the Colorado Gold
March 7th, 2015 with Chris Devlin and Monica Poole

What's new at the Gold
Besides your amazing entry? There are some pretty cool changes we want you to be aware of. Drum roll, please... After much discussion and time spent looking at other contests, we decided to raise our prize money.
1st place: $150
2nd place: $100
3rd place: $50
2 remaining finalists: $30 each

We've changed from a page count to a word count to add more consistency to the entry process and, we hope, simplify preparing your manuscript.This eliminates the adjusting of margins, line spaces, and headers to squeeze in those last few lines. Here’s the breakdown. We're asking for the FIRST 4000 words of your novel. That’s it. It can be less. If your amazing stopping point comes at 3958 words, send that. But if your last sentence pushes you to 4068 words, try to do some rewriting so the entry ends where you want it to. The synopsis is allowed 750 words.

We've added a new option to include a short pitch at the beginning of your entry. This isn’t mandatory, and there are no points awarded or deducted for the pitch. But your judge might have some helpful comments. Then, when you go to the conference and someone asks you what your book is about, you will have a place to start. It’s a win/win.

We also made a few changes on our scoresheet. All judging categories are now worth 7 points. What! No 8’s? No worries. Our judges now have the ability to add bonus points. For instance, a manuscript might have a really fantastic opener, but say there are a few typos and the synopsis, that dreaded beast, is a little unclear. That’s okay; the judge can give a boost.

We're adding to and updating our contest pages on the RMFW website (www.rmfw.org). The new scoresheets will be available to view online as well as a FAQ. We'll have links to pitching tips and some formatting advice from one of our judges, former contest chair Terry Wright. This should be in place in time for contest opening on April 1st.

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. It doesn't feel good to get back pages with a lower-than-you-thought-it-would-be score or to read a comment that you feel is unwarranted. You want to ask, “Does this so-called judge know anything about writing?” They do. It’s perfectly normal to want to vent. Call your mom or your critique partners. Don’t get on social media.

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 http://rmfw.org/contest/

Live Judging
Wow! The live judging was awesome. Thanks to all who got a chance to read. Clearly this is a popular addition. Next year we'll discuss ways to allow for more readers. So look for updates to come out in February 2016.

Thanks to Nikki Baird, Chris Devlin and Monica Poole for helping out with Live Judging. Contest opens April 1st.

Any questions contact us at contest@rmfw.org

Good luck everyone! May your writing be inspired and productive.

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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 2015 Rules and 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 tips from the 'helpful links' section of the contest page. 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 opening 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, be brave and dream big! I hope you get everything you want out of our contest.

Chris Devlin
2015