So, you entered a contest. Yay! Then the results came in. Boo! Now what? As you gaze at the pile of wadded up tissue by your working area — desk, dining room table, master bed, toilet, cubby in the garage — you’re wondering whatever possessed you to write a novel.
Never mind submit to a contest.
Bunch of hooey.
Okay, maybe that’s not you. You submitted to a contest and finaled! Woo hoo! Are you staring at the cabinets you kicked and chipped in exuberance?
Fantastic. Good for you. Way to go. You deserve to celebrate.
Now to both the winners and losers, back to reality. Chop-chop. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. No more feeling sorry for yourselves. No more thinking too much of your story. I mean, geez, you’ve rewritten the opening chapter a hundred times. It better be good.
All right. Serious time.
I joined American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) back in the American Christian Romance Writers (ACRW) days. One of the members (who shall be nameless … Kathleen Y’Barbo) got on the loop and urged us to enter her local Romance Writers of America (RWA ) unpublished contest. There were only six inspirational entries.
Eager to prove my chops, I polished up a chapter from my first book and submitted. A few weeks later, I received an e-mail from another ACRW member who was familiar with my work. “Was this entry yours?”
“Oh, it’s so good, Rachel. You’re going to win.”
“Do you think so? Really?”
“The other judges will see the merit of your story. It was so good.”
Wasn’t I busting my buttons all day?
Ladies and gentlemen, there were six finalists in that contest and I wasn’t even number seven.
I understand what it feels like not to final. Not to win. I’ve bristled at judges comments.
I was tempted to boycott all contests. Especially in the CBA market where I never fared well.
I could get used to this contest thing.
So, let’s talk about how to respond to contests.
- Contests are subjective — from the RITA to the Christy to the ECPA to the Genesis and every unpublished contest. People judge contests. People have likes and dislikes. In the Christian market, we come with a set of values and religious thought based on our ecumenical affiliation.
- Not finaling doesn’t mean you can’t write. It means you have some work to do. Or perhaps, you missed the goal by just a few points. Do not get discouraged.
For the unpublished, take your contest feedback and really evaluate it. It’s easy to dismiss, vent with your crit partners, and rail at your husband how contest judges are just jealous. While I’m sure that’s all true, pause and read the responses you’ve been given. With those lenses on, reread your manuscript. Can you see some of what the judges saw?
A reviewer said of one of my books, “It’s starts out slow …” What? Me? No way. I mean, come on! I have to give the reader a bit of storyworld. But at the end of the day, the reviewer was right. It did start a bit slow.
Take the judges’ comments and rewrite your opening chapters. Does the story pop? Did you see something you haven’t seen before?
Negative comments, right or wrong, indicate one thing: the judges did not relate to your story. Something was missing.
Ask the Lord to show you how to improve your work.
Be teachable. Don’t explain why or how you write the story. Just rewrite it. Make it better.
Be willing to change. I’ve talked with a lot of authors that were hungry to learn. But not many were willing to change. One writer kept bringing her story back around to the same plot and characters no matter how much she agreed with my input.
Be willing to start over. Scrap the original story and move on to something new.
Remember: A contest does not guarantee you a book contract. Nor does it disqualify you. I received a book contract a year and a half after I didn’t final in that Texas contest. Think of contests as an opportunity to get your work before others. To receive feedback. To impose a deadline on yourself. Contests are great motivators.
Never let a contest rob you of your dream. Grow thick skin and keep writing.