Thursday, May 31, 2007

Want to be a Writing Contest Winner?


"You're living in sin?" the salesman shouted in the middle of his real estate pitch. He stood rooted like a sapling behind the moveable podium, his mouth slightly agape.

His horrible question echoed in the suddenly silent waiting area of Camelot Feast. Seconds earlier, it had been filled with a deafening din of trade chitter chatter.

The mixer to promote small town local businesses had just turned Freddy Kruger ugly.

Dara Carlton buried her head in her hands. They should’ve lied and said they were married, then politely refused his mega bargain offer.

She peeked at her boyfriend's face. It mirrored her horror. Samuel Brady III closed his mouth with a tooth chipping click and his eyes reduced from bulging orbs to small slits. His lips twisted into a grim frown as his comforting hand slipped from her waist and curled into a white knuckled fist.

Something within him flashed, as if a bright red light had gone off and he'd realized where he was and what he was about to do. He’d finally sensed everyone’s heated gazes assembled like he had a bulls-eye on his back.

The brief glance he flicked her way held no affection or love. Only contempt reflected in his oversized irises.

Astonished by the ferocity, Dara whispered, "Samuel?" What had happened to her charismatic, loving partner? The one she shared everything with. Who'd supposedly brought her here for the same purpose, to introduce her to the most important people in his professional life.

Behind them in the throng, a man cleared his throat.

It was Samuel's cue for action. He took her hand, then hauled her out the theme restaurant’s iron doors in his wake like a captive.

“I still have some great offers for you!” the salesman called, trying to close a sale.
When I entered this manuscript's opening chapter I got back a comment saying, “This would never have happened.” Guess what I did? I laughed. Because that moment had in fact taken place almost word-for-word at the Medieval Times in SC. I was afloat on my 3 year anniversary and getting ready to fulfill a dream since teenager-dom by seeing the show. My bf and I walked into the “holding area” and got accosted by a timeshare salesman who truly did ask us that horrid personal question with his face screwed up like a prune. Talk about mortified, especially with it happening in front of a hall full of people who turned to stare.

This just goes to show that not all comments from contests are good, nor are all contests. As a writer you have to know what characteristics—a hot scene, first chapter, last chapter—plays up to your strengths. And you have to have a goal to make paying the entry fee ($10-$50) feasible, especially if you’re living on a shoestring budget. So if there’s an agent or editor judging you’ve been dying to get your work in front of then submit. But be aware that your manuscript will have to FINAL to make it to their desk.

So how do you increase your chances? Submit your manuscript (as in a chapter/ scene) to smaller contests. The big ones are hard to crack, because hundreds of people enter for the prestige. I’m not saying that’s all bad, but think about your newbie self as the ugly ducking in a sea of swans. That’s what you’re up against, though that doesn’t mean your writing isn’t as good as anyone else’s!

It all boils down to the judges, who are at liberty to hate, love or be indifferent about your entries. My past scoresheets run the gambit, even on the same entry. I’ve had one judge adore everything about an entry, a second think it was average, and the third to trash every detail. Some published authors say that it’s good to have extremes—as in one loves it, one hates it—because it’s a sign the “reader” felt passionate about the work. And usually any manuscript that elicits this type of adoration/loathing is on the straight and narrow to publication (though it may take a while for a publisher to realize what a gem you have).

TIES OF VALOR was scored low from one judge because it had too many “dictionary words”. I chuckled over that, but refused to dumb down the book for my intelligent audience. Then after I sold, my editor tried to add more! On that same manuscript I also had several judges say they wanted to feel more emotion. Because of that overwhelming “flaw” I did a re-write and am convinced to this day that’s what helped it sell. No matter what comments you receive, be smart enough to know that you don’t have to make any changes a judge proposes unless they truly do fix a problem or if they make sense for your manuscript. You know your book inside and out, and the judges are only seeing a snippet of the whole.

So don’t worry if you finish second, third or even with honorable mention credits, you still made it to the finals! And that means you used your smarts to get your work in front of an industry editor/agent’s peepers. (Hint, hint about the smaller contests!) Plus, if you attend the awards ceremony you can be along for the ride, but not in the hot seat. As such, you’ll still get noticed by the publishing Who’s Who and be a winner to boot.
If you are an RWA member, please let the Board hear your voice about the Golden Heart/RITA proposed changes to the contest. Only you can tell them what you want them to put into action! For the details click here.


Lynda K. Scott said...

Great post, Skylar! And, yes, every RWA member should contact the committee if they have any objections or concerns about the re-structuring of the GH/RITA categories (or if they think the proposals are terrific, they should make their opinions known). I've already sent in mine.

But for another view of contests, check my myspace blog

I had a very unusual and dismaying incident regarding contests and my current wip.

MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott said...

The very first contest I ever entered was with a very super rough draft of Immorati to the TARA in 2005. I ended up winning the sucker! I was very shocked and pleased. All other contests I've entered with different manuscripts, I never even finaled in. Hehehehehhee...It just goes to show ya, that judges tastes, like readers, are subjective. I've been on both sides of the fence as judge and contestant. I love judging contests and try to be as helpful as possible. I do them pretty much as I do critiques. Leave them with something positive as well as something they can work on. There was one time I judged a contest, however, where part of the judging included the synopsis and I was absolutely appalled that not one of the five entries I had knew how to write a synopsis. And that was half of the scoring! I felt some of the stories could have finaled, if it hadn't been for the fact their synopses sunk them. Very sad. And it wasn't like I was being nitpicky. I went according to the list of things the contest rules said must be included in the synopsis. I felt so miserable and bad for the contestants, I apologized in my narrative for having to do that. What else could I do? Oy.

Skylar, having a judge say that would never have happened is kind of funny. I have a scene in my work in progress that I think editors are going to say the same thing about. However, this has to do with a man who keeps a coffin in the basement for his dying wife. No lie. I got that story straight from a woman I work with whose uncle bought a coffin and put it in his basement for his wife. It was just one of those things that are so outlandish you gotta use it. I do have an idea it might not play, but it is a paranormal so I might get by with it. Hehehehehe..


Skylar Masey said...


I am so sorry to hear about your unfortunate events! That is one of the reasons I stopped entering contests, except for those judged by readers/booksellers. And as you said imagine my surprise when something very similar actually came out by another pubbed author! I was furious (and my be can attest to that)! I went to the author's website and found that though the premise was almost spot on to one of my contemps, then heroine was a real B, which was totally opposite from mine. Though that doesn't mean a publisher wouldn't forwn on publishing a book with the same plot. :0\

Skylar Masey said...


How fabulous that you won your first time out. So far I haven't snagged any first place honors, but I have finaled a few times.

As for the coffin, I think you're safe since it's a para. In fact I just read a friend's WIP where she mentioned coffins in connection with modern day/futuristic vampires a lot. ;0) I think you can't have a vamp without the old coffin adage.

MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott said...

Problem is...mine has nothing to do with vampires. Oh, there are Goths aplenty, but not a vampire one.


Skylar Masey said...

Geez, I have vamps on the brain! But eventhough your characters are Goth, I don't think it would be way out there. I think it would depend on how you set the situation up and the tone of the novel. If it has other elements that are a little tongue in cheek, then a coffin should fit into the picture nicely. :0)

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Great post, Skylar! Your story just proves that truth is often stranger than fiction.

I haven't had much luck with contests, except for the Amber Heat Wave. I'll probably stick to published contests in the future, only because that shoestring budget I've got just doesn't stretch very far.

Skylar Masey said...


[shoestring budget I've got just doesn't stretch very far.]
Amen to that. Back in my contest sl__ days I often had to weigh one contest against another. And usually I ended up not getting much for my money. Though I hasten to say that isn't always the case.

Also, one contest I am going to enter is the 2007 Silver Rose sponsored by the Sacramento Valley RWA chapter. :0)