Thursday, January 17, 2013

Contests: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?


Do you enter writing contests? If you do and you’re one of those rare people who always receive glowing feedback, today’s blog isn’t for you.

But if you sometimes receive your entry back with comments that sting or get you down, my friend, the fabulous and multi-published author, Angi Morgan, has sage advice for you. Her experience will encourage and cheer you.

Please join me in welcoming Angi.

SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO CONTESTS?
By Angi Morgan

THANKS so so much for asking me to visit today. I have to admit that today’s my deadline and I’m suffering through the end…but I’ll be popping in to answer questions. Mia asked me to share my contest experience and how it led to my first sell with Harlequin Intrigue. But the contest experience --at least the way I used it in 2009-- was a series of events and taught me a very important lesson.

Let me start by stating that judging is extremely subjective. When we write, we bring our life experiences to our work. It’s the same for a reader. Joy, stress, promotions, family problems--anything that’s happening in the life of the reader affects their interpretation of the writer’s hard work. Reading the story at a different juncture in their life, a reader could interpret it a different way.

Have you found your inner voice? The one that’s not telling you to jump off a cliff? Mine came when I wrote a 1000 word chapter for eHarlequin® Round Robin (details on my book page). I wrote that chapter without letting anyone see it. Chapter 7 of The Rancher and The Rose was for fun, just for kicks, totally spur of the moment. And yet, it won. Winning gave me the confidence to trust my own writing a bit more, but it also surprised me that I liked to add a splash of humor into my stories. My attitude toward my own writing changed a little that year. I wish someone had told me to listen to my gut and write MY stories the way I envisioned them.





The following are exact quotes (type-os included) that SEE JANE RUN received from 2009 judges. Each contest received exactly the same entry. No significant changes (only corrected errors) were made to the manuscript when it sold. I am neither endorsing nor condemning any of the following contests. This is my personal experience that I’m sharing, but I have found it’s very typical of any writer’s journey.

Great Expectations (130) WON FIRST PLACE, Editor requested Synopsis
127: “Most everything reads very well, with the exception of needing more setting and clarification on setting in several places.”
120: “The first scene needs to be simpler and some of the motivations of the characters could be tweaked a bit.”
130: “The story grabbed me from the beginning. I was intrigued.”

Dixie First (100)
78: “It’s disingenuous to save the Tah-Dah about the child until page 25. The sheer number of names you’re throwing around makes it hard to keep up.”
69: Grammar and punctuation need a second look. If you’re not in a critique group, you might want to consider joining one.”

Sheila (100): Just a note, I received these scores AFTER the book had already won the DAPHNE.
95: “If the rest of the book is written in the same fast paced, snappy dialogue, intriguing characters, sexual tension and suspenseful emotional impact as the chapters I have read, then I believe this book will be published. I look forward to seeing it on the book shelf and reading the full book.”
98: “This is excellent, well thought out and developed. The GMC for both the H&H seems appropriate and with proper depth.”
84: “Because of the long passages of narrative and internal dialogue things get a bit slow at times.”
46 --this is not a typo--it really is a 46: “I had a hard time believing she doesn’t just tell Steve that Rory is his son. She would have done it the moment they were in the cabin together.”

Connections (200/20)
139/8: “I'm not getting an original 'voice' here.”
198/20: “Wonderful Opening Scene”
156/14: “Double check your vocab and word usage. Also with internal thought dialogue or brand name’s, I believe you should italicize instead of underling.” 
(When you judge a contest, double check your spelling…especially if you’re counting someone else down)

Great Beginnings (4 ranks between 1 & 10)    
8 - 8.5 - 8 - 8: "Well written and interesting."
9 - 8 - 7 - 8:    “I would have like to know a bit about the connection between Jane and Steve.”
8 - 8 - 9 - 8.5: “While the characters were interesting, I didn’t feel connected to them.”

Daphne (123)
123: “Interesting. Guess I’ll have to wait for the book. Great story. I wouldn’t be able to put it down.”
121: “Gosh, what can I say?  Your story really held my attention, good action and interaction.”
119: “This was a fantastic read. I would definitely pick this up if I saw it in a bookstore. Good luck finding a home for it!”
88: “somewhat enjoyable”
WON FIRST PLACE, Editor & Agent requested full manuscripts
Received offer from Agent October 1st
Sold to Harlequin Intrigue on November 12th
No editor changes to story or sentence structure, no major edits, December
Won the Golden Heart July 31st 2010
Went on sale at midnight August 1st 2010
RT nominee for Best Series First Book
Booksellers Best top five Best First Book & Best Series Romantic Suspense

Molly 1st Round (100): 95, 83 ADAVANCED TO SECOND ROUND
95: “Good sense of time and place.”
83: Make sure action and plot stay believable.
Molly 2nd Round (100): 86, 83
86:  “Jane’s conflict is great.  She has the promise of being quirky but doesn’t quite come off as interesting as I think she could be.  Steve might need a little more work too.  There’s nothing unique about him.  ”
83: “Make Steve someone I want to love – right now there’s nothing extra special about him.”

Rebecca (100): 73, 98
73: Judge made no comments, just re-wrote sentences.
98: “The pacing is fantastic. Just the right blend of action and narrative.”

Maggie (no scores or score sheets returned): two published judges
FOURTH  PLACE, by Susan Litman, Silhouette
“Thanks so much for a very enjoyable read. I hope someday soon I’ll be able to read the rest.”
“Send it to a publisher!”

Daphne 2008 (123)
I mentioned that I have entered the Daphne several years. I used the same basic entry in 2008. What changed? The number of pages for the entry.
                2008: 15 pages, 1 page un-judged synopsis
                2009:  5000 word entry, 675 word synopsis
Words worked in my favor, I entered 5 additional pages in 2009. I have a lot of white space in my work.
119: “I love your story. I’ve judged this contest many years and the entries as a whole are much better this year. You have stiff competition. Good Luck.”
99: “Bitchy I know, but I’d like to see a little more of where they are.”
108: “Tightening your pacing will give the story more impact.”
101: “The writer should try to get out of her own skin and into the skin of the hero, heroine, and (most-importantly) the reader.”

SO, should you listen to contests?
Honestly, you have to listen to yourself first. WAAAYY back in 2003, I wrote a book called See Jane Run. The entire conflict turned on the lie that the heroine kept from the hero: he was her son’s father. At the time, numerous judges and critique partners reflected the opinion of my low-scoring judge above: I needed to have the heroine tell the hero immediately. I listened. I changed the book. I did not sell the book. No matter how I changed the book, I couldn’t get a strong conflict onto the page. It was hard to pin (even for editors) exactly what was wrong with the book.

I set SJR aside for several years. I talked about it. Threw the idea around. Was fortunate enough to find a new critique partner who didn’t mind reading SJR. We talked some more. The book finaled in a contest and received a request. But I hadn’t made changes. I knew it would ultimately be rejected again.

Several years have passed since I changed my original story. For some reason--call it experience or gaining confidence in my own opinion--I knew I had to rework SJR back to its original plot. I did. And each time I received comments back in 2009, I stuck to my guns: my opinion, my vision for the book, my instinct that *I* knew the story better than anyone else. And it definitely helped that I had a critique partner (waving at Amy) who supported me and continually told me the story was mine.

Can contests help? Certainly. I love comments and seeing how others view my work. I’m actually missing them.

Can contests hurt? Yes. Definitely. We’ve all experienced the hurtfulness of a stranger’s words regarding our work. I can’t say that the initial hurt ever stings less, but this past year, I laughed more than I cried. Especially when the book sold to Harlequin without me changing anything.


IN THE WORDS OF YOGI BERRA: "If you don't know where you're going, you might wind up someplace else." Seek the opinion of others all you need to, but always remember you’re telling the story.

Angi Morgan writes “Intrigues where honor and danger collide with love.” She combines actual Texas settings with characters who are in realistic and dangerous situations. Angi is a finalist in the Bookseller’s Best Award, Romantic Times Best First Series, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence and the Daphne du Maurier.

DANGEROUS MEMORIES, available February 5th


“From the echoing shots in a cemetery straight through the hair-raising conclusion, this story of missing memories and murders will rattle readers from the opening pages, as they guess and guess again who the real culprit is.”  4 1/2 stars from Romantic Times Magazine
~ ~ ~

FIND ANGI
Website   Facebook   FB Fan Page   Twitter @AngiMorganAuthr
A Picture A Day   Goodreads  (separate book give away)

ENTER TO WIN a basket of Angi’s favorite things (picture available on her website--eventually).  The January Giveaway ends on January 31st, winner announced February 2nd. Registration will be through Rafflecopter.  



47 comments:

  1. Great post! Congrats on your contest wins. I've always shied away from contests. Maybe I need to take the plunge. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Thanks for the inspiration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're very welcome, Adelle. Before you enter a contest, determine 1) if the final round or editor will benefit you. And 2) if your work will shine through the score sheet. Some contests have score sheet wording that can be misinterpreted by judges and some may repeat an element that might be missing or weak in your work.

      Do your homework and make contests work for you! It's your money, time, and effort!
      ~Angi

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    2. Adelle,
      It's something to consider. :) Thanks for stopping by.

      Delete
  2. Angi,
    Thank you so much for coming and being an inspiration for us. I'm with you about studying a contest before you enter it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Loved the post. I stopped entering contests. The judges either loved my entry or hated it. Fortunately, my agent loved it, and now my editor does as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ella,
      That's wonderful news. I'm glad your writing found a home.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Ella! Congratulations on your sale!

      A friend once told me that if 2 out of 3 readers love your work, that it's a great fan base. And to get a strong emotional reaction (whether good or bad) out of all your readers--well it means that your writing is very strong !! Good luck on your adventure.
      ~Angi

      Delete
  4. I loved this piece. I had a bad experience with a contest. The comments were all glowing but the overall scores were low. I just could not get over how one judge could comment, "I was on the edge of my seat reading this," then give my hook a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Needless to say, I haven't entered a contest since. It completely threw me into a state where I questioned my own abilities.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marguerite,
      Yep, some contest feedback can be really discouraging. It's good you pressed on.

      Delete
  5. Well, I think in the end you have to realize that you are proving them right if you quit. It's the same way with critique groups. There will always be one or two that enjoy nothing more than shredding someone's work either openly or with backhanded compliments. Once you understand the motives and take the critics with a grain of salt, you can come to a symbiotic working relationship, but only as long as you keep everything in balance. Give any one thing more "weight" than it deserves and you will be thrown off every time

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. TOO MUCH of anything's bad for you. Right?

      Writers have to listen to all these voices in our head to get the story on the page. THEN we have to listen to ourselves to make certain it remains the story we want to tell.
      Best of luck, Marguerite!
      ~Angi

      Delete
  6. What a great post! Thanks for sharing your insight and perspective on contest. Also, the book sounds great. I'm going to add it to my TBR lists.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's what I love to hear! Thanks and I hope you enjoy it. I had great fun writing DANGEROUS MEMORIES.
      ~Angi

      Delete
    2. Thanks Renee,
      I'm eager for your book to come out, but I'm also adding Angi's to my TBR lists.

      Delete
  7. Thanks for sharing your contest experiences. I am unpublished and have finally completed my manuscript (planning on doing some final polishing up the manuscript over the next couple of weeks).

    I have been considering entering several RWA chapter contests for unpubbed authors that are coming up over the next couple of months while also sending out my ms to a few publishers and agents.

    I was hoping that the contests would provide some useful feedback.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Regina! Do your homework.

      Some contests provide feedback and others don't. And again, I can't stress getting a copy of the score sheet to make certain your writing will do well. You might even run the questions by a crit group and ask for their honest opinion.

      Put on your thick skin, keep writing, and don't wait on the results. Just keep writing. If the contest has the editor that you want to get in front of...go for it. It's even worth the pain of modifying the contest entry to fit (nothing drastic).

      Best of luck,
      ~Angi

      Delete
    2. Regina,
      Sounds like you have a plan. Remember contest judges as well as agents and editors are subjective. Weigh their words and continue to believe in yourself and your story.

      Delete
  8. Thank you for this honest sharing, Angi. Your comments have encouraged me to put myself out there again--with a tougher hide.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're very welcome.
      I have to admit, that it's easier to share since the story has a happy ending. :-)

      Good luck putting your words in front of people.
      ~Angi

      Delete
    2. Me too. I'll be out there with you, Ana.

      Delete
  9. Hearing what others think of your work can be beneficial, but it can also be damaging if you forget that it's all subjective. Every reader brings something different to the story they read, and what one person likes another may not. Good for you for listening to your own inner voice and finding your way to publication!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely. I hope everyone can accept the criticism, but also stay true to their voice. Finding your voice--that uniqueness that makes your version of any story your own--is hard to find and deserves to be kept.

      ~Angi

      Delete
    2. Heather,
      Yes, if Angi,gave up because a few judge's negative thoughts, she'd never be multi-published. :) I know I can learn from her story.

      Delete
  10. I've never won a writing contest but I have helped judge a couple before. I may have entered one or two back about 30 years ago. Never made high school cheer leader either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Never made the cheer squad either. But if the cheerleaders wanted the crowd to yell, they always stood in front of me... hahaha. Guess I have a loud voice.

      ~Angi

      Delete
    2. But Colleen, you're a fine poet. I wonder how many writers were cheerleaders?

      Delete
  11. FYI -- I'm very close to writing THE END...can we type...avoiding the hard part?
    ~Angi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Angi,
      I'm excited for you being that close to the end.

      Delete
  12. EXCELLENT post!!! I've entered a bunch of Pitch/first 250 contests, but no writing contest where the whole book was judged--with the exception of ABNA. I JUST entered that and i know it's really hard to even make it to the second round, much less get the whole book judged...so I'm not holding my breath.

    I really like the reminders about subjectivity though!! What one person might love another might hate and, in the end, we have to do what we feel is right for our books!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. GOOD LUCK with the ABNA, Tamara ! You're a braver woman than me !

      ~Angi

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    2. Tamara,
      I wish you the best in ABNA. Just entering is a rite of passage. :)

      Delete
  13. Hi, Angi,

    I loved this post. I have entered writing contests in the past and whether positive or negative, the feedback has always been helpful. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are very welcome, Angela !
      Good luck with future contests or publication !
      ~Angi

      Delete
    2. Angela,
      I'm glad you've had good experiences with the contests you entered. I'd say my experience has been mostly positive too.

      Delete
  14. Great blog. I had 60 pages of my WIP critiqued and I mixed my tense, I need to go back to school for a refresher on grammar. But I did get some good points, the conversations moved forward and she liked my sex scene. I still have a long way to go before I enter a contest. But someday soon, I will. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mary Frances,
      Each time you write, every word you write, improves your skill and makes you that much better. Keep trying.

      Delete
    2. Good luck with your WIP, Mary Frances! Great dialogue is the key to fast-paced story-telling. Great that you have a leg-up on it.
      ~Angi

      Delete
  15. Hi, Angi.

    This will be really helpful to a lot of people. I've been writing for 12 yrs (still haven't sold any of my novels) and entered contests for about 4 of those yrs. I love getting judges' feedback. Sometimes it's glowing, sometimes it's negative, sometimes I feel it's on target, and sometimes I feel it's way off the mark.

    I'm glad the contests exist, but I've talked to some writers who really seem to feel injured by negative comments. I recall at some point reading a piece of advice that went like this: Anything that makes you write more is good. Anything that makes you write less--anything that blocks you--is bad. I think contests fall into the second category for some writers.

    I'm glad you posted comments for a book as successful as SJR. Maybe this will ease the sting of judges' comments for all those writers who wish they'd never opened their scoresheets. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. WELL SAID.
      I admit that opening some of the judges' comments earlier in my career would just make me cry. And some I'd sit back and say, What the heck did they read? Even now, I got a copy editor who wanted to re-write MY voice and style. It was bad. Severely bad! I could edit two pages and be so mad, I'd have to walk away from it for hours.

      Thick skins are a requirement in this business. And both sides of publishing need to remember...it ultimately IS a business. So I put my thick overcoat on and pull up my big girl panties...and go to work.
      ~Angi

      Delete
  16. Anonymous,
    You're right. It's great to realize that despite some negative reviews/ comments Angi's book/s went on to publication and success.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Fascinating! I loved seeing the break-downs with the scores and feedback. (I guess visual aids help.)

    Thanks for your candor, Angi.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are very welcome Holley. I'm glad to share.
      ~Angi

      Delete
    2. Holley,
      I liked seeing the scores laid out too and I love the happily ever after where Angi did actually go on to be published and published and published. :)

      Delete
  18. Fascinating. I've only entered a very few contests, but so far the results have been favorable. I know that streak cannot last, however.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Miss Meliss, you might just be the exception. I definitely hope you are! Keep up the good work and good luck on publication !!
      ~Angi

      Delete
    2. Miss Meliss,
      I'm with Angi. Maybe your wins continue.

      Delete
  19. It seems like a good healthy mix of comments. I'd be down if the good ones were'nt coming too.

    ReplyDelete

 
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