SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO CONTESTS?
Hello again. I’m really glad to have the opportunity to be a reappearing guest of SCWW. It’s giving me a fantastic opportunity to share some things that have affected my road to publication. Not much happened in the last three weeks, so I though I’d share some specifics about contests and their subjectivity. Because I’m sharing quotes from each contest I entered, the post is a little long.
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.
The following are quotes that HILL COUNTRY HOLD UP 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.”
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.”
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”
WON FIRST PLACE, Editor & Agent requested full manuscripts
Received offer from Agent October 1st
Sold to Harlequin Intrigue on November 12th
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 unjudged 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.
This Week’s Lesson Learned: Seek the opinion of others all you need to, but always remember you’re telling the story.
Have you found your inner voice? The one that’s not telling you to jump off a cliff? >LOL< Let me know your “aha” moment. When did it dawn on you that you could write?
‘Til next time,
Some upcoming topics of discussion:
An On-Going Behind the Scene Look at Getting Ready for Publication
(revisions, promotion, copy-edits, AA’s, character sheets, log-lines, bios, etc.)
How I Chose My “Dream” Agent & Editor
My Hero Has Brown Hair?
Targeting Your Book & Choosing Your Market
Seeing Your Cover For The First Time