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.”
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.”
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.”
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”
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
“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
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,
Award of Excellence and the Daphne du Maurier. Wilson
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
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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.