Monday, May 5, 2008

Contests and Conferences: Confessions From an ‘Almost There’ Writer

When the gals at the diner came up with the idea of blogging about contests and conferences, I figured the conference topic would be a no-brainer, since I just came back from an awesome one (God bless Jeanne Adams and the rest of the WRW Writers Retreat committee -- you’re amazing!) But since I’m also up to my eyeballs in contest entries I need to judge (Why does every chapter I belong to have their contests fall in the spring?), I might talk a bit about them too.

I have never been, nor will I likely ever be, a contest sl*t. You know who they are. They’re writers who enter every contest out there. Frankly, I don’t know where they get the money. Entering contests is an expensive business. But I do know why they do it. There’s nothing better than finaling and/or winning in a contest. It tells you you’re writing does not bite wienies. Sometimes, you just need that unbiased validation from someone other than your friends or your family. Granted, it’s a crapshoot and you’re going to get some judges who hate your voice and tell you not to quit your day job (shame on those judges -- you can be honest without being cruel). Unfortunately, we all learn sooner or later that the proverbial rhino skin is a fashion necessity in our business, because once you start putting your work out there, you’re going to get brutally honest comments from editors, agents, reviewers and readers, too.

After I started finaling in about 50% of the contests I entered, I decided to stop entering contests for feedback. Instead, I started entering contests for one reason only -- to hopefully final and get my work in front of a specific editor I prayed would buy it. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t (hence the 50%). I don’t enter contests any more because now I have an agent who can get my work in front of multiple editors for me (and he’s faster and a whole lot cheaper than any contest could ever be). But I do know some unpublished authors who are agented and still enter contests. Why? Well, some say they do it for the feedback, to test the waters with a new manuscript before sending the proposal off to their agent. Me, I think they’re also doing it for the validation. It’s hard to be *almost there*, having an agent but still not selling. Getting the pat on the back from a contest final goes a long way to remind you that you and your agent are not wrong and your writing does not bite wienies.

Just as with the contests, I’m no conference groupie either. Again, it’s about the money, but also about the time. Being a SAHM with 2 small children, I’m not free to jet set all over the country. I have to pick and choose the conferences I go to. So why do I go to the ones I do go to? Well, to be honest, it’s not for the workshops they offer. Since I’ve been writing for over 10 years, there aren’t many workshops out there to teach me anything new. It’s also not to pitch to editors and agents, although it’s always great to chat with them when there’s no pressure on either side. I already have the agent and I’ll meet my editor face-to-face *fingers crossed* when I sell.

So why do I go? It’s for the energy boost I get from being around so many enthusiastic writers at one time. It’s my way of refilling the well once or twice a year. Lately, I’ve had little-to-no desire to write, even though my latest manuscript is so close to being finished it should already be stamped and in the mail. Holed up in my house all day with no one but my poor blind dog for company, the fire of motivation tends to die down and cover my laptop in a thick layer of ash. When that happens, I find I need to be in the company of writers. If you want to know the truth, I think my muse runs away from home every now and then and I have to go to one of these conferences to find her. The little lush, she’s typically hanging out in the karaoke bar with writer friends I see only once a year. But being in that creative atmosphere for a whole weekend with fellow authors re-energizes her and she comes home willingly, albeit tired and a tad bit hung-over. *G*


  1. Keep working at it-- you obviously have a knack for writing and I think you'll get there soon!! I tagged you for a meme, btw :)

  2. As a SAHM I know how it feels to just have the dog for company. The problem is, my dog thinks it's his duty to lay against my chest as much as possible. Ever try to type with a dog in your face? It ain't easy!

  3. I'm headed for the Lori Foster conference at the beginning of June. It's my one for the year, and I'm pretty excited! I had strep during my annual RWA chapter retreat this year so I missed that energy infusion.

    Jody W.

  4. I love your title "an almost there writer." I think that describes a lot of us." Good post! Good thoughts.

  5. Bethany

    You're talking to a techno idiot. I know enough to be dangerous out here in cyberland. I haven't got a clue what being "tagged for a meme" is or how to respond to it.

  6. Hey! I think I know that Karaoke machine! LOL!

    I thank God every month for my local RWA chapter that provides my adrenaline shot for my muse.

    Another reason I love a good conference is because there I am recognized for myself. I leave my various titles of "wife of," "mother of," and "daughter of" at the door.