Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bravery, That Judge, & Other Thoughts on the Genesis Contest

Are you on the fence about entering the first 15 pages of your finished manuscript in the Genesis contest? Let me give you a little perspective that may help you make your decision.

I'm going to preface this post by admitting up front that my experience with the contest is beautiful and life-changing, but very unique. Yet I think that no matter what outcome you achieve, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

  • You get invaluable feedback on your finished manuscript. This is the chance for you to see what experienced writers have to say about your work. And the semifinal-round judges are published authors in your field who know what it takes to get the attention of an editor. Confession: before I entered for the first time in 2013, the only people who had seen it were my mom, husband, and a select group of friends. Having unbiased input from someone who isn't your adoring critique partner can show you ways to add dimension to your work and accentuate your writing strengths. 
  • Granted, there always seems to be That Judge who doesn't really get what you're going for and gives you a score that's way different than the others. Still, that perspective is helpful to see -- and it helps you practice taking criticism for your passion-poured work, which you'll get even when you're published. You have to develop thick skin and discern what's truth about your work and what simply doesn't resonate with one person's experience. So take it gracefully, even if it seems out of left field, and get a second opinion if you need to. :)
  • It helps you bond with others in the same stage of the publication process. Your fellow Genesis entrants know the roller coaster toil to The End that you battled and won; they've been elbow-deep in the same trenches you've wrestled through. When the first list of semifinalists came out, I friended some of them on Facebook, and that led to some of my most treasured friendships and writing partnerships to this day. 
  • If you final in the Genesis, you instantly get your work in front of agents and editors. The final round judges are all editors and agents. Even though I already had an agent last year, I had two inquire about my representation to the Contest Coordinator. Plus, if you attend conference, people see your semifinalist or finalist ribbons and take notice. The agents and editors with which you have appointments may sit up in their chairs a little because they know that you entered the Genesis contest and are serious about your work. It's hands-down a fantastic and attention-grabbing attribute in a query, one-sheet, or writing resume. 
  • Because even if you don't place in the top 10, the bravery it takes to enter will launch infinite more acts of bravery in your writing. I maintain that pressing send on my Genesis contest entry was the bravest thing I've done to date in my writing journey. It's the moment I can exactly pinpoint my mental shift from thinking of myself as a wannabe writer to believing in myself as a pre-published author. That alone is better than any plaque or scoresheet anyone can ever give you. 
What doubts are holding you back? Still think your writing isn't ready? Reluctant to invest the contest fee? (The Genesis is fair and comparable to other contest fees, even contests of a far lesser caliber.) 

For those of you still on the fence, can I show you how much I believe in you? I'm going to give away a free contest critique (one-page synopsis + first 15 pages of your manuscript) in the Rafflecopter below. Good luck to everyone, and know that I'm ridiculously proud of you!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who enjoys stories of grace in the beautiful mess. 

She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance). 

Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:

Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson


Christen E. Krumm said...

Oh yes. I need all the bravery I can muster!! haha!!


Unknown said...

Awesome post, Laurie. Great tips and perspective! Contests can be awesome. The feedback, in many cases, is so, so valuable. The chance to get your work in front of agents and editors is huge. And like you said, the bravery of putting yourself and your story out there is such an important step.

But whenever people talk about the Genesis, I can't help whipping out what, I hope, is an encouraging story for anyone who hasn't fared well in past contests: A few years ago, I entered a story at the time called From the Ground Up. I had two scores in the high 90s and...a 31.


The judge HATED my story. Literally, her comments ranged from "I have zero respect for this character" to "You should take a writing class."

Six weeks after I read those comments, my book was contracted by my dream publisher and in 2013 released as MADE TO LAST.

So, my encouragement when it comes to contests, especially for those who've felt burned in the past, is don't let those scores dictate your confidence or your hope. Contests can open awesome doors, it's true...but what they CAN'T do is permanently close doors.

Alena T. said...

Thanks for the encouragement to take that leap. I'm so glad for Melissa's perspective as well. It helps me to press forward to be better but know it's all in Gods hands!

Courtney Ballinger said...

Love this. Contests are fun to me, and I'm looking forward to the Genesis.

Melissa, I can't imagine anyone hating Made To Last. Goodness. Crazy folks. ;)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

GREAT post, Mrs. Genesis winner. :) I totally agree with you—contests are valuable. For the feedback, the growing opportunities and just for getting our work in front of people who are "in the know."

My one experience with the Genesis a few years back was good. I was a newbie writer who didn't know any better. I got two reasonably good scores and one judge who did NOT like the story, or my writing. As you said, I was able to glean from all three judges' feedback. After I gave the sting some time to subside. :)

I enjoy contests, and I do plan to enter the Genesis this year. Love your perspective!

Robin E. Mason said...

well, ya've prompted me, thrown the gauntlet - challenge accepted! I've fiddled around with the beginning, both prologue and chapter 1, of my new novel. this has tipped the scales and now I'll get me some fifteen pages done!! thank you lady for a great post and a great opportunity!! bless you!!

Unknown said...

Still praying about entering the Genesis this year. I had been looking forward to it but God has told me to wait on seeking publication and not sure if that includes contests where there is a possibility (slim though it might be) of getting my MS in front of agents and publishers. I'd really like the feedback though. Still praying!

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@Melissa - Ahhhh, so you've been a victim of That Judge, too. I've had one every single round of both contests. 30-50 points below the other judges. Sometimes people just don't get it or let extreme personal biases about things cloud their judgment of the writing as a whole. Excellent advice, even for people who get multiple judges saying the same thing. Take advice and be willing to learn, but take it with a grain of salt sometimes. Very encouraging! Thanks <3

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@ Christen - It's so terrifying and liberating at the same time, isn't it??

@ Alena - Enter! It will be worth it!

@ Courtney - You've had lots of success with contests! I'm sure you'll do wonderfully :)

@ Jeanne - I'm glad to know That Judge is pretty much universal haha! Can't wait to see how you do!

@ Robin - Good luck!!

@ Sarah M. - I'd encourage you to enter if you're still actively writing. It is always good to get feedback and help you learn strengths and weaknesses, but if you discern that feedback would be more helpful down the road when you're more actively pursuing publication, that's totally understandable!

Pepper Basham said...

FANTASTIC post, Laurie - and you definitely need to be the one writing this!! Your track record is great!
So true about being brave and learning how to take criticism. Both are lifelong skills worth refining.

Dana Black said...

Thanks for this post, Laurie! And thanks for the opportunity to win a contest critique--I've been a victim of THAT JUDGE, too, and I could use all the help and perspective I can get before entering the Genesis. :)

I have a question I'd like you and other seasoned contest-enterers to weigh in on: my manuscript sits in two categories (YA and Speculative), so I'm never sure which one to enter it under. Thoughts?

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@ Pepper - Thank you, ma'am!!

@ Dana - Yay! Proud of you! I would enter it in the more specialized of the two, so Speculative. Hope that helps <3

Dana Black said...

Yes, that does help Laurie! Thanks. :)

Anne Love said...

You are inspiration, Laurie!

Mary Vee Writer said...

I would have to agree with Laurie re: entering in the more specialized group. YA is a very broad group. Everything for that age is competing. Although your story is addressed to YA, the setting, heart, theme, plot, everything else about it is speculative. See the difference?

Anonymous said...

I'm planning on entering! The feedback I got from the First Impressions contest was so invaluble I'm going back for more

Jane Foard Thompson said...

I'm so glad you talked about the one in three that hates your work. I've been scared away by that one, and you help me see it all in perspective. So I'm in! (And I would LOVE to win the critique!)

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@ Jane - While I believe everyone is entitled to his/her opinion and not everyone will like everything, I'd hope that only people who are able to separate bias from fair evaluation of craft/quality would volunteer to judge :) Good luck!

Nick Kording said...

I couldn't agree more with the value of the feedback - and I look at even feedback from a judge who doesn't get your story as valuable because it helps me to be discerning and to have confidence in what I like and where I need to work.

Dana Black said...

Thanks for the input! I think you're totally right. :) I was also thinking because the editors/agents who judge the final round (if I'm fortunate enough to make it that far) probably judge categories they edit/represent, then keeping to the speculative side would be more practical, as there are less places that even look at speculative manuscripts. I just have a hard time making up my mind about these things, so hearing from you and Laurie helped!

candidkerry said...

Thanks for this reminder, Laurie. I'm prayerfully considering entering the Genesis again this year (my contemporary and YA story, eeek), and needed the reminder to go for it!

Melissa's comment and the scores she shared, shocking! I can't imagine someone giving Made to Last a 31. :( But it's true; these contests, while often helpful and chock full of valuable feedback, are subjective.

Thanks for the chance to win a critique. Looking forward to reading your stories one day soon.


Unknown said...

So who won? I'm dying to find out and congratulations to whoever it is!

Jenny Leo said...

I've entered the Genesis twice and was a finalist both times (historical fiction). I agree with others who've said that the most valuable piece is the judge feedback. Last year's contest was a bit of a bummer...three semifinal judges and two final judges scored my entry in the 90s, and one final judge gave it a 50. Because it was the final round, he/she didn't need to give feedback, so I don't even know what they hated about it. Just that bald, unvarnished 50 staring up at me, lol. The semifinal feedback was invaluable, though. Definitely a contest worth entering.