Why I Entered the Colorado Gold Contest

I was thrilled to hear this week that I was a finalist in the Colorado Gold Writer’s contest, but why should you care? Well, if you are a multi-published author, you probably don’t, and shouldn’t. But if you’re a writer struggling to get your work in front of agents and/or editors, maybe you should.typewriter winner

Colorado Gold, and other contests like it, is a GREAT way for you to get your work exposed to acquiring editors and agents. They are also really good at making you hone your craft. And teach you to be careful with submission guidelines (I lost 2 of 5 points for submitting a DOCx file instead of DOC).

The score sheets and comments on the manuscript are really helpful for seeing if there is a consensus that something may need to be tweaked, and they make you look closer at your writing. I always have to read them, rant just a little, then re-read and determine which comments I have to (sometimes grudgingly) agree with.

I’ve entered several contests over the years, with my scores starting below 50 (out of 100) and gradually, as I improved my craft, rising until I’ve finaled in the last four I entered, with three different manuscripts. So far, always a bridesmaid, never a bride – but I have high hopes for Gold.

I’ve learned that not all judges are great, and some are truly fantastic. One judge became a mentor for me, reviewed my edited submission, and gave me a blurb for my novel (which, alas, hasn’t sold enough to prevent me from qualifying for Gold!). I’ve also learned to thank my judges, if I’m given a method for doing so, and to NEVER dis a judge. Reading is subjective. I can’t always explain why I love or hate a book, scene, or character, while others rave about them. Judges are human, and have likes and dislikes; one judge may give you very low scores, while two others are much higher. Those same judges might be sitting next to you at a conference or workshop. They won’t know whose pages they judged, but if you’re sitting there telling them about your story and how bad the judge was, trust me, they’ll remember. Likewise, if you talk about how much you learned about your writing from the judge’s scores and comments, they might just be willing to open a door that helps your career along.

My biggest challenge now is to make sure I put as much effort into the other 350 pages as I did those first 10 the judges saw. I’ve heard a lot of stories about editors and agents who can tell, to the word, how far into the manuscript the writer had polished for submitting to contests and critiques and then didn’t bother with the rest.

winner imageIf you didn’t submit, and you do qualify for the contest, consider it, or others, in the future. For the small price of admission you get new sets of eyes on your work, and get a feel for how you fit within your genre in relation to other writers. If you, like me, notice your scores are rising, it’s a great feeling to know that you are improving as a writer – plus the plaques look really pretty on the wall.

So, as always, I urge us all to Write On!

Writer’s Stew and the Snake

I might be the only writer suffering from information overload, but I doubt it. I subscribe to several writer’s blogs, as well as RMFW, RWA, etc. I read a ton of great information on writing every week including mechanics, marketing, story structure—you name it. I go to as many workshops as I can, glomming on to handouts and PowerPoints, because it’s such fabulous information from seriously experienced writers. I know I have issues with my writing that need to be fixed and I’m getting amazing How-Tos for it.overload

But all this information causes its own problem. Here I am, trying to figure out how to write the best possible novel, and I’m assailed by things I know I need to consider in order to make sure MY novel is head and shoulders above YOURS (sorry, but that’s real life, man). It leaves me thinking I’ll never be able to absorb, let alone remember, it all.

And then I think, maybe I don’t have to. There is this really cool secret technology I know about. I’m sure you’ve never heard of it so I’m going to give it to you right now. You’ll thank me forever. It’s called a “save” command. You use it to save those words of wisdom on your computer (or you can “print” – it works for hard copy if you roll that way). You can even sort & index the articles by topic.

I know, right?

If this “Great Computer Secret” isn’t enough to cure your info overload, there’s always the fact that YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ALL IN THE FIRST DRAFT. You can refer back to that wisdom when you’re at the end of the story and want to make sure you used that serial comma correctly, have Mother capitalized in the right places and not capitalized in the wrong places, can review your story arc, or see if you used the full range of senses.

Wow. Who’d a thunk it?

I know there are those truly remarkable authors who write from beginning to end, write THE END, and send it off to their editor/agent who can’t find more than a comma or missing quote to complain about. But I’m not one of those, and odds are, you aren’t either.

I have a file on my computer I call “writing tools.” I have it sort-of indexed, enough so I can skim through the articles and pick up pertinent items that struck me as weaknesses in my writing when I first read the article. I read through these when I’m in the “stewing” mode—when I’ve gotten to the end of the story and am letting it stew for a week or two before starting to edit with fresh eyes. I’m sure (at least I hope) that over time, because I’ve recognized them, I’ll overcome most of my weaknesses. But until I do I need to be reminded of them. BEFORE I hit SEND and have that cringe-worthy moment when I re-read my submission and just notice that I just have that issue with using the words “that” and “just,” or wrote “sit down” or “stand up” when you can’t really do it any other way, or all the other simple but ingrained ooopsies we each have.

Crystal skull snakeI’m not going to stop reading those blogs or going to those workshops because I know I have a lot to learn about writing. But I’m going to strategically use the tips I glean, and apply them if/when I need to, instead of letting that overload suck me into a quagmire of information. In case you have the same problem, I’m throwing you a snake (hopefully, you watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and get that I’m doing you a favor here and, by the way, you’re welcome). Now, get going and Write On!

Getting to Know You: The RMFW Member Q&A Project #2

The Getting to Know You Project is intended to introduce RMFW members with short responses to three questions, a photo, and a few social media links if available. If you would like to participate in the project for future months, please email Pat Stoltey at blog@rmfw.org

Terri Benson

Website: http://www.terribensonwriter.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/terri.benson.104?fref=ts

Terri Benson11. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I’ve been published in historic romance and have several manuscripts “looking for a home”, and am currently working on a “amateur sleuth” mystery series that I’m really excited about. I love history, so it’s likely that no matter what I write, there will be an historic bent to it. I work full time and have a large yard and serve on a couple boards (including RMFW), so I have to work hard to find time to write. Usually I write in the living room with the laptop and a TV show in the background. I don’t listen to music when I write, but I don’t like it to be too quiet. I’m a binge writer. I can write for 8 hours straight and never even notice I missed a meal or two (but my husband does!).

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

I have a fetish for garden gnomes and other yard art, after owning an “outdoor” store for several years. I love to find little faces peeking out at me from under shrubs or bright blooms, and can’t pass up a weird statue or other item that I think might find a home in my yard.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

Camping and hiking with my husband, Rick, and dog, Tank, and any friends or family we can talk into heading out for a weekend. There are so many great places to visit in our neck of the woods. I usually find some time to write if it’s just my husband and I, so that’s a bonus.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Margaret Mizushima

Website and blog: http://margaretmizushima.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/margaret.mizushima
Twitter: https://twitter.com/margmizu
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8446201.Margaret_Mizushima

Margaret Mizushima1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I write the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series which has KILLING TRAIL out now, and STALKING GROUND releases this September. Each morning I tread upstairs to my home office with a cup of herbal tea, and I write for three to four hours. I work at my day job in the same office in the afternoons when I'm brain dead.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

I'm a cattlewoman. (Is that a fun fact?) I was raised on a cattle ranch and my husband, a veterinarian, and I started our own ranchette with 3 registered Angus cows about twenty years ago. We now have over a hundred head and produce breeding stock for other cattle growers.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

I love to hike and try to go into the Colorado high country whenever I can. Since writing has become my main priority, I don't get away as often as I used to, but it's my goal to figure out how to work that habit back into my schedule. It nourishes my soul.

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Steven Moores

Website: http://stevenmoores.net/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/steven-moores-ab371118
Steven has a low profile on the web. He collects manual typewriters, somewhere around 25, at last count. He's poised to become a publishing tycoon when civilization collapses and there's no more FaceBook or MyFace or other internet.

2016_Steven Moores1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I’ve finished four romance novels, one middle-grade fantasy, and two mysteries. Basically, I write stories that interest me, regardless of the genre. I have a day job, so I write in the mornings and on weekends. Because I have ADD, I find it hard to write in a quiet space. Give me a bus station or a busy coffee shop where I can let the never-ending circus in my mind run free. Needless to say I don’t do a lot of plotting up front. I just watch the scenes unfold in my mind, then I describe them as well as I can in words before I lose them.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

While I don’t claim to have any such talent what-so-ever, I’m on YouTube a couple of times singing St. James Infirmary with the Mile High Community Band. Actually, I can't say it's me. I’d never have the courage to sing in public. I just channel Louis Armstrong.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

I’m learning to play the saxophone and pondering the mysteries of jazz improvisation. I also plink around on the trumpet, ukulele, and guitar. After a long day at the office, playing music changes the brainwaves almost as nicely as a cold beer.

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Terry Odell

Website and blog: http://terryodell.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/terry.odell?fref=ts
Twitter: https://twitter.com/authorterryo
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/897369.Terry_Odell

2016_Terry Odell1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I write mystery and romantic suspense, but I call them all "Mysteries With Relationships." When I started writing my first book, I thought I was writing a mystery, but my daughters told me it was a romance, which surprised me because I'd never read a romance. I'm a "pantser". I set a minimum word count goal of 1000 words a day. I'm usually able to get there, although I'm often distracted by watching the sunrises and sunsets, birds at the feeder, or the wildlife in the yard.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

I doubt anyone knows we have a skull collection in our home. I'm not divulging what kind.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

If I'm not writing, I'm either reading (I normally have 3 books going at once), or enjoying the outdoors with our shelter dog, Feebie. I also love testing recipes for the What's Cooking Wednesday segments on my blog.

 

Many thanks to Terri, Margaret, Steven, and Terry for volunteering for the Getting to Know You Project. If you'd like to participate in future GTKY posts, please email me at blog@rmfw.org

I’m Guilty – Throw the Book At Me (I really need to catch one!)

JudgeYep. I’m guilty. I didn’t mean to do it. It just happened. I stopped writing and started doing yard work. With a shovel. I became enamored with a battery-operated sprayer for my weeds. I couldn’t resist the siren call of the annual plant displays at every store in town, including the pharmacy. I found a cute little raised bed garden kit and made it my own. And I didn’t write.

In my defense, I did manage to submit two already-written stories to Colorado Gold, but I don’t think that will be considered justification for letting me off. My self-imposed sentence is to put my butt in chair and shackle myself to my computer and get some words on the page.

I know that if we, as writers, were truly judged on how easily we are led astray, the docket would be filled with regretful authors being handed long sentences (hah! I didn’t even notice this the first time around!). Whether it’s catching up on all your recorded Game of Thrones or Walking Dead shows with a box of pizza, summer vacation planning, gardening, or another fun in the sun summer activity, it’s all too easy to convince yourself that you’ll write later. But then you’re tired, or it’s time to fix dinner, or pick up the kids at the pool or summer league.

Hold up your right hand (if you’re writing, you can skip this part), and repeat after me: “I solemnly swear to set up a schedule to get at least 5,000 words on the page per week.” Ok, maybe 2,000 words. I am swearing, I guarantee (but then I do that all the time). Are you with me? Can we make a pact to close the curtain to block out the beautiful sunshine, turn on some music to drown out the birds singing, and turn up the A/C so we have to wear sweaters and pretend it’s deep, dark winter and there’s nothing to do but write? Or, I guess I could just put on some sunglasses, take the laptop out to the patio with a nice cold drink and hang out with the nice birdies and butterflies while I write. gardening graphic

Yeah, like that stupid weed that had the gall to grow over there will let me. Or the lawn that grew two inches overnight….

Sigh. It’s going to be a long hard row to hoe to keep on the straight and narrow this summer. But I’m going to try, because I want to be good and ready for Colorado Gold. How about you? Let’s Write On!

 

Terri Benson Sets Fire to Words Along with Genre Con (Literally)

I’m coming out of the closet. Yep. I’m an…introvert. What, you already knew?

That’s a pretty simple reveal. Most writers are introverts, and since writing is a fairly lonely job, it can have theWhy-Introverts-Are-Like-Cats makings for hermithood (you know, like motherhood—no wait, it’s not at all like motherhood unless you’re a mother and don’t have any friends with kiddies). Anyway, you know who you are, and what it’s like to try to network in a busy room, or to stand in front of a group and say things that make sense: right up there with a trip to the DMV.

I’m learning to come out of my shell. And the major reason is that I volunteer for RMFW. It started perfectly innocently, helping Vicki Law with the Western Slope workshops. Then, when Vicki decided to run for President of RMFW, she asked if I’d be willing to step in to run the W/S workshops, and be the Education Chair. Innocent that I was, I accepted, thinking it would be a piece of cake. Hmmm, maybe an upside down cake. I quickly realized I would have round up speakers, arrange a venue, stand up and talk in front of large groups, and all kinds of scary things.  And guess what? I survived. OK, except for the fire alarm and smoke and firetruck at the annual event last month in Golden. But there was that hunky fireman….which sort of made up for it. And despite rumors, I DID NOT set e fire. So our romance workshop got a little hot…it wasn’t my fault.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say (oh, no, there goes that song again) is that to grow as a writer I believe you have to do two things: learn to do new things, and get yourself out there. Become an ambivert - that’s someone with a little of both introvert and extrovert. The perfect place to debut the new you is at Colorado Gold. It’s too late to present, but you can still submit your story to the contest (until the end of May), which can be a little scary, but might get you a read by an agent or editor, or at least will be a good learning experience. And then there’s the Gold Conference itself. Three days of non-stop immersion in writing. You’ll be surrounded by other intro/ambi/extr-overts, all of whom are writers like you. THEY have the same worries, fears, and interests you do. They want to talk about their WIP just as much as you do. They want to discuss genres, protagonists, POV and all that ad naseum, just like you.

Take the plunge. Go to Gold. Don’t make excuses. It’s the best money you’ll ever spend. You will learn more than you ever imagined about the craft of writing and marketing, you’ll make friends that will last as long as you do (and if they put you in their book, longer), and you’ll have a chance to strut (or show) your stuff to agents or editors, but only if you DO IT.

Come on, if I can do it, so can you. It’s much more difficult to take that first step than it is to be there, in the moment. Trust me. And Write ON!

Real Life Research

I’ve always written historical fiction, mainly romance, which required a great deal of in-depth research, digging around in old documents, looking at ancient maps, reading tattered journals, even finding out what they ate that last night on the Titanic. Google was my very best friend. But after the latest “thanks but no thanks e-mail” I’ve decided to start working on a more contemporary series, and suddenly a whole new world of research opened up.

Now, I can actually find living, breathing humans who’ve been there, done that. I’ve used in-person interviews before, quite a lot, actually, for articles published in magazines and newspapers. Now it’s time to put those interview skills to work for book research.Interviewing

I started out like I always do, with a list of questions that I knew I needed answered to be able to fill in holes in my story. But the fun part was that several of the answers actually started a chain of domino reactions that took my story in different and exciting directions.

If I’d been sticking to internet or books for my research, I would have missed out on that. It’s a little out of my comfort zone, because it means going to places I wouldn’t choose to normally, like the police station. Putting myself into uncomfortable situations, like having a martial arts specialist show me what to do if I’m on my back, an assailant sitting on me, being strangled (NOT fun). But it also meant finding out some cool tricks of the trade for restoring classic cars.

Phaeton with title copy

My point is that in-person research is hugely valuable. Not only do you get information you need, but you see expressions and hear inflections in their voices that give you insight into their emotions. All of that can help your story be more realistic.

I also received more information than I needed, but since I’m working on a series, I’m pretty sure the “extra” will be useful somewhere down the line. I have a couple more people I need to meet with, and some of them are going to be difficult to find, but I’m persistent, and I can write around the missing pieces for a while. I could end up having to re-write some parts once I get that data, but I usually do with my historicals, as well, when I find a tidbit that I just can’t leave out.

I think I’m going to enjoy being in the real world again. But then, there is that paranormal, historical part of the series that will give me my history fix….

How about you? Do you use in-person interviews to add realism?

Why Do You Write?

Voices-In-My-HeadIs it because you can’t stand all the voices in your head shouting to be heard, fighting with each other for dominance, pushing and shoving to get out (oh, is that just me?). Do you write because you want to be a best-selling author with a bajillion dollars and an agent and editor who send you chocolates and good wine weekly? Or is it just because you like to write, think you’re pretty damn good at it, and know there are readers out there that want your stories?

Personally, I DO want to make money writing. So far my book sales have, at best, kept me in Happy Meals. My newspaper and magazine articles have provided a bit more revenue, but not much. It costs money to be a writer – you know, those pesky expenses like membership fees, contests, ink, paper, conference and workshop registration, etc., and I sometimes struggle just to break even.

So, what’s a writer to do? I know I have decades of writing ahead of me - like I said, there are a lot of voices in my head just waiting to get out. I can wait to make my writing fortune, but I DO intend to make it. What I’m not going to do is write AT the money. I won’t chase what’s hot right now, because readers are inherently fickle. They can turn on a dime. I’ll write stories about characters and events I like, because that’s the only way I can make myself sit down and put tens of thousands of words on paper. I’m not saying I don’t occasionally write an article for a publication that’s about something I’m not terribly interested in, but that’s a couple thousand words, and I consider it honing my craft to be able to distill two hours of interviews or a day’s worth of research into those few thousand words.pencil-stump

I’m not selling out, I’m doing what has to be done in order to do what I really want to do. Personally, I can’t afford to pay for my writing habit out of my household budget. Our family’s income just doesn’t allow it. Yet.

How much writing income is enough for you? Do you just want to see your name on a book cover – no matter if it’s E-book or print or if you don’t make a dime on it? Do you need it to be on the shelf at your local bookstore? Do you want to hit the bestseller list? Have a framed copy of a ginormous royalty check on the wall? For me, it’s each of the above, and all in good time.

I wish all this for you – or whatever it is that floats your writing boat. And I hope that you remember the other writers around you when it happens and that you revel in any success they have. Offer them your help, advice, hope, and a shoulder to cry on, just as other RMFW’s have done and will do for us. Maybe volunteer for the organization? And, most of all, Write On!

And how was your day….?

helplessI had a different blog in mind. Really. But something happened tonight that reinforces what my life as a writer is like. I thought it might resonate with some of you.

I was at the annual RMFW and board meeting this last Saturday (I don’t think I saw you there?). The 250 mile trip home was near blizzard, and my car ended up covered with road salts. I decided to stop at the carwash on my way home from work tonight. You know the kind— you pay, drive inside, and let it do its thing for five minutes.

Only today, the carwash had something else in mind. I ended up locked inside the car wash. Yes, that was me, sitting there with my bumper six inches from the rollup door, the dryer shaking my car like a tornado, but only drying the front three feet. Thinking it's just a matter of time before the door opens. Then sitting and waiting after the blower stopped. And waiting some more.

The whole fifteen minutes reminds me of my writing life. Where I write a great (hopefully) manuscript, clean and polish it, and when it’s nice and shiny, submit it to an agent or editor. And wait. And wait some more. Worry and second guess myself. And worry some more. Acting like it’s the only thing I can do.

But all I had to do was get out of my car, open the side door, find someone who knew what to do, and let them help me. Just as I am not some helpless old lady, I am not a helpless writer. All I need to do is gather my fellow writers around me for advice and comfort. And start writing something new while I wait. Have my critique crew give me input. Anything but just sitting and waiting for the agent to love me. For someone to rescue me.

I don’t need rescued. I can write my characters out of any situation, and I can handle these painful “wait” periods with a little help from my friends. The moral of this (long) story is…you don’t have to do this alone. You’re part of a tribe, or a seahorse herd (Susan Spann, you will forever be quoted after that epic Gold speech!). We’re all in this together. We understand each other. We’ve been there, done that, and survived. So don’t hibernate, fretting over ”will they like it or will it be a rejection”? No matter which way it goes, you’ll learn from it, and all your RMFW writer friends (even the ones you don't yet know) will cheer your successes or commiserate with your “Thanks But…” letters. Because we’ll be the ones who need it next time.

Don’t wait to be rescued. Open the door and ask for help from your fellow authors. And Write On.

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Write!

holiday imageSince it’s the holiday season, I thought I would explore that mystical, magical, time-honored literary event known as THE HOLIDAY NEWSLETTER.

You know, that multi-page bit of fluff that shows up this time of year, sent by some high-school cheerleader who only spoke to you once during your senior year. Thirty years later you don’t even recognize the name (but that might be because she’s on her third husband).

That newsletter is followed by others from distant relatives (third cousins twice removed…or aunts who had your cousins removed?) and possibly misdirected mail since you still don’t recognize any of the names or events listed.

Now come on.  Do these people really think you’re going to believe their first born has just been accepted to Harvard’s kindergarten prep school, or husband #3 is a Italian count and they just finished remodeling the family castle, or they’re vacationing this year with Prince William and his family, or the home-based business they started for $69 last month sold to Microsoft for a gazillion dollars?  I mean, they’re safe to say anything since you haven’t seen them in years (if ever!).  It should be a law that newsletters have to be notarized to prove factualness (hmm, I wonder if that’s a real word?). IF I were to write a holiday newsletter, I’d at least be realistic. Maybe something like this:

The Family Newlaughter

     Well, it’s another year gone by. I swear this one was only 265 days, but the calendar disagrees.  I didn’t want all of you to think my life was so boring that nothing of note ever happens and now that our gag order expired, I’m free to write about it. If you hadn’t heard about that little faux pas, just forget I mentioned it. It wasn’t any big deal. We’re not even really sure how that video ended up on YouTube.  People are just so touchy about things like that these days.  But hey, stuff happens, right?

Rick and I are still married (38 whole years – could be true love…or we’re just naturally lazy). The Garage Mahal is nearly done (I think it might officially be an antique before it’s fully functional), although Rick has recently realized you can’t get a 400 pound saw up a winding staircase without factoring in the cost of a hernia operation – so modifications are pending. He’s going green, converting some of his power tools into running off beer and that’s why I keep finding all those cans and bottles in the shop. Who knew!? We did a small remodel on the house, replacing the roof which didn’t leak until AFTER we fixed it.

Our oldest, Jimmy, and his wife, Hannah, have been married a dozen years and we have two great grandkids we really enjoy, with the added bonus of being able to send them home when they get tired and grumpy, or Grandpa feeds them too much sugar. I think Hannah has finally resigned herself to being one of “the family”, but I have noticed she still wears big sunglasses whenever we’re all out in public. I keep telling her it’s not us up there on the Post Office wall – it’s just an uncanny resemblance (I don’t think she believes me).

Our youngest, Ryan, is still in college, and we’re thinking about an intervention so he’ll get his degree and be able to move on before he’s older than the professors. He joined the National Guard after an impressive spiel about how they’d “help him be can be all he can be” and what not, but I think they had him at “explosives.” What guy wouldn’t want to blow things up and get paid to do it? He and Stephanie have been married for two years and are content to raise animals rather than children, although sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference (feel free to interpret that any way you want).

It’s been a while since we’ve taken a vacation because the post office hasn’t come up with a big enough “If It Fits, It Ships” box for both of us. But just in case, if a big COD package shows up on your doorstep, be sure to accept it and open it pretty quickly.  You might want to do that outside though, because things could be a little messy, if ya get my drift.

We’ve been putting a lot of thought into our retirement plans, too, but there are a lot of things to consider, you know? There are literally dozens of those scratch tickets to choose from these days!  Besides, we can’t get find a location to enjoy our “golden years” until we figure out what kind of décor goes with large cardboard refrigerator boxes – maybe shabby chic?

Well, that pretty much brings you up-to-date on the family. Hope you’re all healthy and happy (rich would be good, too, especially if you’ve named any of us in your will), but, hey, two out of three is pretty darn good!

The Benson FamilyChristmas image

And so to all of you, my friends, a Merry Christmas,

Happy New Year, Kwanza, or whatever, and Write On!

To Contest or Not To Contest…that is the question

Do you enter contests for your writing?

Over the last couple decades, I’ve entered many contests, both for full-length novels and short stories. I belong to RWA (Romance Writers of America), which includes multiple chapter contests in their monthly magazine, both for unpublished and published authors. I think most genres have something similar, or you can easily find them on-line. RMFW has an annual contest for unpublished authors. Writer’s Digest and other publications and on-line sites have contests for short stories. There are a couple different reasons for entering contests, and your decision may hinge on where you are in your writing career.

If you’re unpublished, contests can:

  • Help you identify problems with your writing that you’ve become “word blind” to.
  • Educate you on craft (one judge highlighted each point of view in a different color, which really helped me to understand why I kept getting comments on staying in POV).
  • Get your work in front of published author judges and, if you final, agents and editors who are actively looking for books in the genre they’re judging.
  • Give you a low cost way to get more input on your writing.
  • Generally you’ll get 3 preliminary judges so you get 3 different points of view on your writing; usually they’ll post comments on the judging form, as well as on the manuscript.
  • Some contests will send you graphics you can use on your website/social media if you final/win.
  • Finaling or winning is great to include on your query letters or during your pitch appointments; it might be the final push to get someone to request pages or a full read.
  • Most contests post their winners in multiple places, getting your name, and your book title, out into the world – priceless publicity.

2015PagesFromTheHeart_FINALIST2

 

Contests are great for Published Authors as well because:

  • Winning a contest looks great on query letters and in pitches, as well as on your website and author platform.
  • Finalists and winners get free publicity in genre newsletters, writing group social media, etc.

Contest negatives:

  • Some judges may not read, or even like, the genre they’re judging – resulting in unhelpful comments.
  • Judges have varying degrees of expertise, and may give you poor or incorrect feedback.
  • There is some cost involved (usually $10-$30, with from 1 to 50 pages judged).

No matter if you’re unpublished or multi-published (Nora Roberts STILL enters RWA contests), you can get something out of contests. But as always, it’s YOUR story. Don’t make changes just to please a judge. However, to get the most from judge notes:

  • If you get more than one judge commenting on the same issue, pay attention, especially if those comments are similar to ones your critique group have mentioned.
  • Read the comments, but if you don’t agree with them, give it a day or two. Don’t be hasty to toss the judging sheets out, or make a lot of changes.
  • If more than one judge is saying the same thing, and/or echoing critique comments, copy the pages into a new document and see what happens if you make the changes/start in a new place, etc. Sometimes what seemed like an impossible job, or a horrible idea, ends up making a much better manuscript. Don’t discount the comments just because you don’t like them at first blush.
  • Don’t make the mistake of thinking everything the judges say must be correct. One of my first contests had a judge telling me all my chapters had to be 12-13 pages long. Because I didn’t yet belong to a writer’s group like RMFW, and didn’t have anywhere else to go for information, I turned that manuscript inside out trying to make all the chapters come out at that length. I later found out the judge had one self-published family memoir as their sum total of writing experience. That doesn’t mean the judge couldn’t contribute good suggestions to help me improve my work, but they weren’t familiar with my genre, and probably didn’t read enough fiction to know chapter length is one of the most variable parts of books these days.

Whether or not you want to enter contests, consider volunteering to judge. You’ll get educated on the judging process, and you’re likely to make great contacts, as well as networking with other writers/judges interested in your genre. Judging can help you find your herd/tribe and possibly friendships that will last forever.

So, happy contesting, and Write On!