Excerpt from PERFECTION NOT REQUIRED:
"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.