Monday, August 2, 2010

To Enter or Not to Enter - That is the Question

Sorry ladies and gents, my internet has been down all weekend and I've just had an opportunity to post. But, better late than never, right?

Okay - we told you it's a celebration week here at The Writers Alley, but I don't want to leave you without a bit of knowledge too.
So...
Why do people enter writing contests?
Well, I can only speak for myself, but here are a few of the reasons I've entered seven contests in the past 14 months.

1. CHEAP (a few were really inexpensive and caught my eye)
2. to LEARN (how can I improve my writing?)
3. to WIN (who doesn't want that, right? Come on, be honest)
4. to CATCH the eye of a Publisher - ('nough said)

I entered my first contest when I attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference last May (2009). I'd just finished the Journeyman course through Christian Writers Guild, polished my WIP to the best of my ability, and wanted to get some valuable feedback. Truly. I NEVER imagined winning the overall Award of Excellence in Christian Literature. In fact, I didn't even stay for the awards banquet because I had to get home to take care of my kids. AAHHHH!

With that encouragement, I entered my second contest - The Golden Rose, an RWA contest. I placed third.
Wow, I was smokin' now, right? Publication couldn't be far away now, RIGHT? NOT - the next three contests ended in no finals, only LOTS of intense comments on how my writing needed to improve. (though in the Linda Howard, my scoring placed me in fourth) ;-) I gleaned important info from those judges and with fear and trepidation I entered...

THE GENESIS

Oh my, with the great reputation of the Genesis, I knew I'd benefit from whatever the judges had to say, but the REAL, honest, totally human reason I entered was...to WIN.
There, I wrote it for all the world to see.
I wanted to have my name announced at ACFW, possibly go before some editors, you know? "Livin' the dream, baby" :-)

But my dream, and the contest judges' comments, didn't quite agree. They gave thorough feedback in mnay cases, and even though I was disappointed, I ended up learning a lot about how I could improve the story I'd thought was nearly perfect. Sigh.

It was a very good thing that I didn't receive the Genesis scores back until AFTER I'd entered the TARA (Tampa Area Romance Authors) contest. If I'd read those judges' reactions to my manuscript before the TARA, I wouldn't have 'wasted' my money (or the judges' time) on another contest until my novel was in better shape.

But I entered the TARA for one reason. Only one. An editor from Barbour was the finalist judge. I LOVE Barbour's books. I READ Barbour's books. Mary Connealy, Janice Thompson, Kaye Dacus, Marylu Tyndall...
Why not try it? (#4 reason on my list)

So here I am, celebrating with you guys. Only a few weeks ago, I got a call that I'd finaled in the TARA. Revisions, plus a synopsis were submitted, and now the waiting begins. Will the Barbour editor read my work and think "Wow, this lady is an editor's dream!"?
Probably not :-)

But HER input will be a great list to add to the many others.

So I'm celebrating. Waiting for the end of September when word comes back about my placement, but right now I'm just tickled to final.

Contests are subjective, you know. If you enter them for more than the 'winning' reason, you'll glean so much more from the process.

And who knows?
Suprises might be in store for you too.

So, have you guys entered contests? Why did you enter them, or what has kept you from entering them?

Btw, THIS JUST IN - Sherrinda is the guest of honor on Kaye Dacus blog today. There's another thing worth celebrating, so stop on by to tell her 'hidee'. :-)

23 comments:

Diane said...

I have not entered any contests yet, but it sounds like a useful tool. :O)

Casey said...

I don't think I knew you finaled in that contest! WOO-HOOOO!!!!!!! Way to go! And an editor reading it??? I don't think you could ask for anything better! I will holding my breath with you until Sept! Which one did you enter? My favorite??? Oh puhleeeease tell me you entered that one!

Pepper Basham said...

Diane,
If you are prepared for some pretty direct feedback, then a contest is a good way to 'get your feet wet' in the writing world. Thick skin is a must in this field - but you probably already knew that :-)

You can get a lot of encouragement from contest feedback too.

Pepper Basham said...

Oh Case, you sweetie. YES - it was your favorite. I've rewritten the first chapter and it kind of made me have to rewrite the first five - but after that I just need to make a few touchups to it.
I hope the editor will like it as much as you...but at least her feeback will be helpful.

Mary Vee said...

May I have your autograph?

I've entered three small contests. It terms of what you've said, it was a foolish move, because the judges didn't take the time to comment back. Hmmmmm, I need to revamp. I shall seek out a contest that would comment back....grow a thick skin, and--and---wait?

Pepper Basham said...

LOL, Mary.
Thick-skinned is the key. Whew, and you learn it quickly. Like I said, I've only entered seven, but boy - all of them (even the ones in which I placed) had info I didn't want to hear (but NEEDEd to hear). Sigh.
I guess we all should remember we are lifelong students :-)

Kaye Dacus said...

Way to go, Pepper! Congrats.

Now, how are you going to use this success as a springboard to getting published?

The year STAND-IN-GROOM finaled in the Genesis, I used that as my intro when I stopped the two agents in the hall (helped that I already knew both of them): "Hey, did you hear my manuscript is a finalist in the Genesis?"

"Oh, really? What's it about?"

"Well, it's a contemporary romance..." (elevator pitch)

"Okay, send me the proposal."

Which then led to one agent rejecting it and one agent (Chip MacGregor) signing me as a client.

Every year, my local writing group always does a "mock Genesis" exercise, where everyone (whether entering or not) is encouraged to share their work as if they were entering, and we each critique each other's work as if judging it for the contest. During this time, someone asked if there was a list of books that won Genesis that went on to be published. There wasn't, so I went through the lists of Genesis winners/finalists on the ACFW website and started compiling.

Something very interesting I discovered: apparently, it's easier to get published if you DON'T win than if you do. Or, at least, that's what it looks like. There are so many more manuscripts that "placed" that have since gone on to be published (Jim Rubart's BOOK OF DAYS, my STAND-IN GROOM, Cynthia Ruchti's THEY ALMOST ALWAYS COME HOME, Christina Berry's THE FAMILIAR STRANGER) than those that have won and gone on to be published.

So take heart all of you "always the finalist, never the winner" types---there's hope (and a lot of it) that you too can be one of those who look back on the contest you finaled in and realize it was what launched you into the wonderful world of publication.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, Pepper...That's AWESOME! Congratulations!

And another wow for Kaye's comment. What an awesome story and much-needed encouragement!

I entered the Genesis and finaled this year, but I never expected it! In some ways, it sort of intimidates me because I feel like I have more work to do before conference now. Wouldn't want someone to request it and not have it ready to go. :-/

Pepper Basham said...

Thanks, Kaye.
That's a GREAT springboard. Wow - why didn't i think of that too?
I have an agent already, but I'd sure love an editor ;-)
Can you use those 'finals' as a springboard for editors too? Would they be interested?

Pepper Basham said...

Congrats to you TOO, Sarah. I'm so happy for you. Truly, truly.
It's such an honor.
I'll be glad to cheer for you from the crowd

Susan Anne Mason said...

Congrats, Pepper on your TARA final.

Wishing you all the best in the next round. Hope someone at Barbour LOVES it!

Pepper Basham said...

Susan,
Thanks so much. Me too :-) But then, that scares me to death. what if the editor DOES like it? Then comes a deadline...and expectations....and....oh dear, the list goes on :-)

Edwina said...

Congratulations! I'm sure you will go all the way to the top!!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Wow, how exciting! Congratulations, Pepper!! I'm hoping to enter some contests mostly to get my feet wet and get some feedback (though winning is an added bonus, right??).

Katie Ganshert said...

Congratulations Pepper!! What great news!

Pepper Basham said...

Thanks, Edwina. You are such an encourager.

Pepper Basham said...

Good luck, Julia. It's a GREAT way to get your 'feet wet' and to get prepared for editing.

Pepper Basham said...

Thanks, Katie. I'm so glad.

Krista Phillips said...

WOOHOO, Pepper! I'm partying with you!!!

I LOVE contests... even when I don't final/win. There is just something about the thrill of the POSSIBILITY of it... not to mention the usually great feedback.

Julie Lessman said...

Pep, I am SOOO happy for you -- the TARA is a GREAT contest to final in, so three cheers for you, kiddo!!

Hugs,
Julie

Pepper Basham said...

Oh Krista,
We'll get to do some celebrating with you tomorrow AND Friday. Party On, girlfriend :-)

Pepper Basham said...

Julie,
Have I told you lately that I love you? Huh? Have I?
You are one of my favorite people - I just want you to know. And your encouragement means oodles to me.
Thanks a bundle.

Sherrinda said...

I'm sooo late to the party!!!! But Pepper...you KNOW I'm pulling out the Party Pants in celebration for you! To have an EDITOR read through your story...well, I have a feeling they are gonna LOVE it...just as I do! You go, girl! You are on your way!