This could be the year of the penguin (NAL) or the kangaroo (Pocket Books) for me. Or so I keep telling myself. As my one-year-of-contesting mark approaches, I thought I would take time to review my experiences on the RWA chapter contest circuit for any blog readers out there who might be contemplating entering contests.
SET REALISTIC GOALS.
No one, not even the savviest, most experienced contest diva finals every time. Some of these writers are impressive though, racking up more than a dozen finals in a year.
My original motivation/goal for entering contests was to make the finals, which meant my entry would bypass the slush pile and get onto an agent or editor’s desk. I frankly did not care about final placement or prizes. What I cared about was getting into the finals. And how is that working for me so far?
Here’s how it stacks up:
Out of eleven entries since May of 2009, I finaled four times. The Contest Divas tell me that I am doing very well for being a novice and entering the wrong category for over half those contests. Ah, which reminds me of the first big lesson I learned.
ENTER THE RIGHT CATEGORY.
I cannot emphasize how important this is. Since my novel is set in late Victorian London, I assumed my category was primarily historical. (Even though I knew very well I had written a suspense story with romantic elements.) Why was historical such a bad choice? By entering historical, I was up against all those high concept Regency manuscripts loaded with GMC in the first chapter. No wonder I was getting such a hard time from the judges! In fact, it is almost strange I managed to final twice and place first once! When I examined the judging criteria in historical compared to suspense, I immediately understood what I had been doing wrong. The Romantic Suspense category gives the writer more pages/chapters to let the hero and heroine meet as the suspense story unfolds. And your entry can be set in any time frame. (Contest rules don’t always state any time period.)
Sigh. No one helps you with these things, which is one of the reasons I am writing this blog. Hopefully, I will save another writer out there time, money and angst.
DO NOT ENTER CONTESTS WITHOUT AN OPENING THAT HOOKS THE READER.
If you don’t have a strong opening and first chapter, don’t bother entering. In this sense, contests do teach unpublished writers how to compete in the marketplace. Editors and agents have a three page attention span. Remember that when you query or send sample pages.
YES, you get read by editors AND agents AND QUERIES GET ATTENTION.
A side benefit of finaling in contests is that listing your contest credits seems to get the attention of editors and agents. It most likely tells them you are a better than average writer. The combination of listing contest finals and a strong query will probably get you a request for some pages.
So far, I have been read by an editor from NAL, Dorchester and Harlequin. And I currently have editors from NAL (NAL again, different editor) and Pocket Books reading entries. Who knows? Contest Divas who final often sometimes wait years for a contract. So, does it really pay off? I am still optimistic.
In the next couple of weeks I am expecting results on two recent finals listed below. I will continue to keep blog readers posted on my progress throughout the year.
Still waiting to hear on placement and/or requests:
The Seduction of Phaeton Black, Specialized, 2010 Great Expectations; The Yard Man, Finalist, Romantic Suspense, 2010 Linda Howard Award of Excellence.
The contests below are essentially over. (Even though I received a request from Dorchester, for the first place win, I never heard back after sending a partial. Six months have gone by. I think I have been blown off.)
The Yard Man, Second Place, Romantic Suspense, 2009 Where The Magic Begins; The Yard Man, Third Place, Historical, 2009 Indiana Golden Opportunity; The Yard Man, First Place, Historical, 2009 Golden Acorn Excellence in Writing.
G. Jillian Stone
There are fields in time that burn with desire. Meet me there.
Jillian is currently finishing the second book in The Yard Men Series. Set in late Victorian London, Scotland Yard detectives have never been as wickedly sexy or as brilliantly clever. To read more about her latest work in progress, THE SEDUCTION OF PHAETON BLACK, please drop by her website: www.gjillianstone.com