Friday, September 01, 2006

On Contests

What I'm reading: I've been going through the freebies from RWA Nationals. Trouble in High Heels by Christina Dodd, and The Marriage Trap by Elizabeth Thornton. I try to avoid my own genre when I'm writing to avoid having the other author's voice bleed through.

What I'm writing: Breaking my own rule and going backward to edit. I'm getting mixed signals from one of my characters, and we're going to have to sit down and decide what her real role is in this book.

Today's topic was inspired by finding out that Rescued Hearts has finaled in another contest. That also eases the 'one point short' pain of the previous one. So, now I'm two-for-five with this manuscript. I've got one last contest out there, but these will be my last, since I signed a contract with an RWA recognized publisher and won't be eligible for most contests anymore. Not necessarily a bad thing!

In honor of my third Wild Rose Press short story release, I'm having my own little 'contest' on my website. This contest is nothing like the real topic for today's post. But check out my website. You can win a free download of one of my stories.

Contests are a fund-raising staple of so many RWA chapters. As a frequent entrant, a judge and a coordinator, I've learned a lot.

Why enter?

If you're just starting, it's a way to get feedback from fresh eyes, and since judges remain anonymous, they might be more honest than your critique group. Critique groups can be great, but they have their own limitations, especially if you've worked and reworked the manuscript. Also, if you're new, there's a good chance the judges will know more about the craft and point out things you need to work on.

Once you're a few steps farther along the writing path, becoming a finalist gets your pages onto the desk of an editor or agent, without having to write a query letter or sit in a slush pile. And, you're likely to get actual feedback rather than the "sorry, this isn't right for me" boilerplate.

Sometimes, you'll get money. I didn't ever realize the Suzannah had a cash award for first place until I won. I felt like a 'real' writer!

So, you're going to enter. What do you look at?

If you think you're ready for the big time, look at the final round judges. Contests can carve big holes out of your budget, and if you final you want to make sure your work is in front of someone who can acquire it, or send it to someone who can if the judge is in a house or agency that shares.

Next: Look long and hard at the score sheets. This is what the judges have to use to mark your manuscript. You can have a great story, but if it doesn't fit the questions, you're not going to score well. You're only sending up to 30 pages, usually less. Be sure the score sheet doesn't make a judge give you points for things that aren't going to show up until chapter 17. One of my pet peeves is any score sheet that deals with secondary characters. They're just not going to be fleshed out in chapter one.

On that note—is it a one size fits all score sheet? Look for those with special sections for each category. Hero and heroine might not both be on the page in chapter 1 for single title. There might not be a hero in Strong Romantic Elements, or Chick Lit. Make sure you won't be penalized before you start.

After that, it's pretty much up to you to decide on the remaining factors. Cost. There's postage and printing to consider. How many judges? Three is better than two, simply because it's easier to judge feedback with that 'tie-breaking' opinion. Contest reputation. Have a lot of entrants had their work requested by agents and editors? Gone on to be published? If you plan to parlay your finals and wins into writing credits in your query letter, the bigger contests carry more weight.

Enough for today. Next time: You've sent your entry. Now what?

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