Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Wait! Don't Throw Your Contest Entry Away

I was so busy with writing and life I honestly didn't think about the Genesis contest until last week when the announcements for the semi finalists overflowed my FB newsfeed.

The Daphe, Olympia, and other writing contests are announcing winners and distributing judges sheets about now, too. Hopefully, you have received yours.

Messages of congratulations to those who placed flooded all forms of social media. I saw friends on the list and sent my congratulations and best wishes to them for the next level.

One particular message on FB stood out to me. More than any other I've seen. I'll tell you about it in a minute. 

Messages to those who did not place in one of the contests basically said things like: 
*You'll get a turn next time.
*Use the judges comments to improve your craft.
*Contests should be used to improve our writing craft.
*Keep trying...

Yeah. Yeah. We know that, but our heart doesn't. We honestly had hoped that this time....this time we would be a semi finalists. Sigh.

Now, back to the one message that caught my attention. Jessica Keller Koschnitzky wrote: (used by permission) 

A word from a writing contest loser:
The other day, good news and congratulations zinged all over my Facebook feed as the Genesis results were released. As they should. Moving forward in a contest should always be celebrated. 
But I wanted to offer a word for those who weren't celebrating. Who got bad news - hard feedback. While contests are great for many things, the one thing they are not is an indicator of how successful your writing career will be.

In the three years I entered the Genesis I never got far. Know what? Every manuscript I entered went on to sell and are now published. Within the past three years, six of my books have released while some of those authors who finaled in the years my stuff went no where and are not published at all.
Contest wins are not guaranteed careers. In the big scheme of things, contests mean nothing if all you're after is a piece of paper that says a handful of judges liked your stuff best. However, contests can be powerful if you press forward and use the feedback to strengthen your work

Not knowing how many books Jessica had published, I check online. Good grief-she has six books published-five since February, 2014!

Take just a minute and reread what she wrote. 

Now breathe.

...because other published authors, including those who have had more than 100 books published, agreed and/or added their similar experience in the comment section of Jessica's post. Several even said a well-known publisher contacted them and offered a contract the same week they'd not made a contest list...for the same manuscript!

Photo Courtesy

Now, a good post will swing the pendulum to adequately represent both sides of the story. Right? Ready for the swing? 

Judges comments-
The words we hate to read.
The words where we picture ourselves as the punching bag and the judge with the gloves.

Yeah. Yeah. I can't tell you how many times I have and still think that.

About four years ago, following a criticism, a judge gave me a piece of advice. I chose to be offended (bad move). BUT God never let me forget the advice. For four solid years I tried to ignore those words but would God let me--nooooo (can you see my head rolling?). Around January of this year, I stuffed my attitude on a shelf and did what that judge said. (I can be a slow learner when my attitude gets in the way.) 

I hang my head before you--admitting to God and the writing community--that the judge was right.

I learned the concept in January...owned it...then went back to page one of my current manuscript and applied that one concept to every page and became so very disappointed. Heartbroken that I had not followed the advice years earlier. Why hadn't I listened?

The writing I mentioned in the beginning of this post, the one that kept me busy when the Genesis semi finalists were announced, was the rewrite of the very manuscript I submitted. In February, as I edited that manuscript, I told my family the contest entry didn't deserve to place. Not the way it was. The new version, though deserved to be submitted to an agent--because I listened.

Contests have many wonderful benefits. Don't enter to win, enter to receive feedback you might not be able to receive anywhere else. This feed back will help you win interest, agents, and hopefully publication. If you happen to place...well, that would be a win-win, right?

Let's give everyone a pat on the back today. Please choose one:

1. Tell one thing you did writing related today (wrote, planned, edited, brainstormed, researched, read a writing blog--um this one counts :) )
2. Tell one contest you placed in and what benefit you feel you received from it.
3. Share one helpful comment, link, etc. you've received from a judge....someone else just might want to improve this as well.
4. If you have a published book/s share one tip for those who hope to also have a book published.

I can't wait to read your comment!

Photo Courtesy for top photo: photo modified for this use.

If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult mystery/adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great post, Mary! Though I semi-finaled in the Genesis this year, I didn't the last time I entered. The feedback I got though, was very helpful. I'm always reluctant to share on social media when I final/semi-final, because I know others didn't, and I don't want to make them feel bad. I LOVE what Jessica Keller Koschnitzky wrote. Such true words!

One bit of feedback I received last year was good in that it helped me see that I had too much pipe (backstory) in the beginning of my opening scene. I'm learning to get into the action more quickly.

Mary, I'd love to know what feedback you received and are applying that is revolutionizing your writing? :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Actually, Jeanne, I'm embarrassed to say. It was such a simple idea. The judge said to inundate myself in currently published books in the genre I'm writing both CF and general. I had been told not to do that at one time because ideas for stories can easily be taken from one we've read without realizing it. So, I basically read other genres, especially my friends books.

In January, I started flooding my reading time and basically any free time with YA stories. I started seeing keys and patterns. I didn't feel a need to delve into the same storyline but I could hear their characters in my head. So many were real. Some not. I focused on the ones that were real and pretended that character read my story as I edited.

"Pshaw," I'd say, "she wouldn't say the sentence that way. No way would they do that--they would..." and my story blossomed. I modified my opening in the same patterns and found it a great way to jumpstart the story.

Good grief, this is turning into a post! Sorry.

Since January I've worked to rewrite my story and am hoping, so hoping an agent will give me one of those agent grins and say--"Yeah."

Robin E. Mason said...

#1 - read this post! ;)
and #4 - NETWORK! NETWORK! NETWORK!! whether on facebook, blogosphere, twitter, goodreads - and the myriad others, connect with other writers, attend conferences, join writer and critique groups!
oh! and WRITE!!

Unknown said...

So much fun to see my rant on The Writers Alley! ;)

What I also loved was some of the people who commented on the original status said they went on to win Carols and Christy Awards on manuscripts that did poorly in contests when they were pre-pubbed. Crazy, right?

It's all perspective.

And I'm not anti-contest. In another contest one of my manuscripts won and the head judge ended up buying my manuscript from that.

Contests can be great for many reasons, but feedback and hearing how your story "hits" readers who don't know/love you like your crit partners do, is so, so valuable.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Hey Robin!
Gotta love the last detail...write! LOL!

I'm so glad you stopped by today. I really love chatting with you.

As you can see, connecting can result in so much more than we asked. To me, the best benefits are support, encouragement, friendship, etc.

Mary Vee Writer said...

For real. Those comments from published authors really wowed me. The whole "rant" plus the chain of comments to back up what you said really needed to be here it is :)

I too am pro contest. Good grief, I entered three this year. If I move to the next level I read what the judges say right away. If I don't I set the email away for a week, have my pity party, then read what they say. Sometimes, as you saw in my post...I actually learn!!

Tim Akers said...

I love the Genesis and think its a very worthwhile endeavor. Two years ago, I made it into the finals, last year into the semi-finals, and now I have two in the semi-finals this year.

As much as I love the Genesis,my success hasn't gotten me published-and that's all right. Contests are a great way to think in terms of marketing yourself, following guidelines, and focusing on craft. They're great confidence builders and a fun way to get feedback.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Well said! Also - and this may just be me - but I've never seen numerous contest wins for the same book as a badge of honor. I always wondered why a book that had won so many contests hadn't been published yet!

Mary Vee Writer said...

I'm so glad to see you here. I haven't chatted with you in a coons age. I did see you name on the lists--congrats!!!

I agree with all the great benefits.

And the importance of knowing that just because we didn't place doesn't mean we need to hang up our writing hats. I'm so glad you haven't. I remember critting one of your works. I expect you'll be published some time soon.

Mary Vee Writer said...

I think sometimes the subjective nature of storytelling needs to be factored in. The writing may be great but someone just doesn't like the story. On the other hand, the story can be great but the writing not so much.

I look at other arts: dancing, instrumental, voice, etc and see contests for these. Sometimes the one I absolutely know is the best wins, sometimes they don't.

I think a movie quote is needed here: Never give up. Never surrender (From Galaxy Quest, Tim Allen's character)

God calls us to writing, so onward we go, eh?

kaybee said...

I try to do something for my writing every day: polishing a contest entry, visiting a blog, researching an editor or agent, or actually writing. I stumble a lot, but never go back to where I started from.
Contests? I semi-finaled in this year's Genesis and like Jeanne, I was of two minds about blogging about it. I finally decided to see if other semis were talking on the Alley and Seekerville, the main places I hang out, and once a couple of them mentioned it, I felt more comfortable. I am never sure of what's good and poor etiquette on social media. I guess I'm a social mediot, ha ha. My crit partner got her publisher, and subsequently her contract, through a contest, but I'm not naïve enough to think that happens every time. I do like the feedback, which can come from a different perspective than my crit partner or past crit groups. I tend to follow the "two out of three" principle with judges, that is, if two have a suggestion it's probably right. And I don't discount negative comments unless the judge is snarky, which has happened once or twice. It's one more way to hone our skills and get our names out there.
Kathy bailey

Mary Vee Writer said...

So true, Kathy
And CONGRATULATIONS to you! You are the third one joining us today who semi finaled in the Genesis this year. Wow! I stand in the midst of great writers:)

As for choosing to say something on social media when you place I personally think you should say something and let people give you kudos.

I compare this same feeling inside to turning one of those wicked birthdays (25, 30, 40, 50, 60, etc.) and accepting all the well wishings when all you want to do is crawl in a hole. But all those people are having so much fun congratulating and blessing you. I had finaled in a different contest this year and my crit partner did not. I felt a bit of sadness when she sent her sweet congrats to me. But then...I didn't place in the Genesis and she did. So now I get to congratulate her.

What is my point? Give people the chance to bless you. Go ahead and tell the world you placed. :)

Thanks so much for all you shared today, Kathy. I love chatting with you.

Kara Isaac said...

I didn't see Jess's FB but it's so true! Two weeks after I got my contract offer for Then There Was You I got my Maggie scoresheets back. Two out of three judges HATED it. From memory, one of my scores was in the 40s :)

Contests are great and so encouraging when you do well, but the are not the definitive pronouncement on your potential (or not) as a writer.

Mary Vee Writer said...

You hit the nail on the head. The key is for every writer to remember that contests are not the definitive pronouncement on our potential (or not) as a writer....God is.

Thanks soooooo much for sharing with us today, Kara!

A.J. Cattapan said...

I'm one of the published authors who commented on Jessica's post. I didn't make it past round #1 of Genesis, but that same book did get published! Also, that same book did well on some little blog contests that got it some agent attention. Even though none of those agents ended up representing me, the little boost in confidence I got from those online contests gave me the courage to keep pushing on.

My advice? Enter contests. Take all feedback with a grain of salt. If one judge says something, consider the feedback and see if it works for you. If two judges say the same thing, give it even more consideration. If three judges say the same thing, then you know they're on to something! Take their advice.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great advice, Amy!
I think that was one of my downfalls in many of the first contests I entered, I felt every comment from every judge was something I needed to deal with. But my first lesson there was to understand the judges are human and had their preferences. Using your rule of thumb for 1, 2, and 3 comments is a great one.

Thanks so much for sharing!!