I entered my first contest in 1999 and finaled, ultimately placing last in my category. Even though I didn’t enter again for a few years, I was hooked. In the past three years I’ve entered more contests than I’d like to count, finaled in enough to be proud of, received editor requests, made friends with other contest divas, and had my hopes crushed many times.
Contests are a fun ride, they’re nerve wracking, and aggravating–sometimes all together. Are they worth the time, trouble, and expense?
Absolutely. You get used to sending your work out. You develop tougher skin by learning how to take criticism–even when it’s wrong. And sometimes you get comments that are tremendously helpful.
If you final, it’s an opportunity to get your work in front of an editor. Not all contests provide editorial feedback, but at the very least, by their placement, you see how the editor responds to your work. Editors do request partial and full manuscripts off contests. And, sometimes they buy them.
Okay, now that you’re interested, let’s talk strategy. Not all contests are created equal. Some are just for the first few pages, some are for fifty-five pages (including synopsis), and some are just for queries or a first kiss. You have to decide where your work fits best, and what you want to get out of it.
Targeting the final judge is often a good idea. Are you aiming for a particular judge from Harlequin or Pocket or Avon? Some contests only use published authors for their preliminary judges, like the Orange Rose and the Maggie.
Should your manuscript be complete before entering a contest? Heavens no! Of course, if you win and get a request, you might wish it was, but if you are entering for feedback it’s best not to have completed the manuscript first.
Do all contests cost money? Actually, no. There are writing contests run on websites, and there are writing contests run by publishers, like the Delacorte YA Contest and Harlequin for their new Epic line.
More strategy: some contest websites have the score sheet you can download. If it has high points for the h/h meeting in the first chapter and yours don’t, that’s probably not the right contest for that particular story.
There are so many contests to choose from! These days almost every RWA chapter has one. Many of them are listed in the RWR. There are also two contest loops you can join. My favorite is Donna Caubarreaux’s Contest Alert and it’s accompanying website Diva’s with Tiaras. Every year Donna keeps track of contest finals and wins and three top achievers get a tiara! (Bring your own boa). To sign up for her contest loop send a blank email to ContestAlertemail@example.com. RWA also has a contest loop. To join send a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org (you have to be a member of RWAalert to join).
I picked this topic because on October 8, OCC will be celebrating its 24th Annual Birthday Bash. The Orange Rose winners (both pubbed and unpubbed) will be announced. Along with nine talented writers (three of whom are my OCC sisters), I’m a finalist in the unpubbed contest. Wish us all the best! We’re really all winners, because we’re writing and getting our work out there. Bottom line, that’s what this is all about.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the advice “give yourself permission to write crap.” I always thought it was good advice until tonight when I really thought about it. I realized I don’t want to write crap. Ever. So, why should I need permission to write it? How easy for that permission become a self-fulfilling prophecy, eh?
So, how ’bout I never do that because I want to write brilliant stories that edify the human condition and make people laugh and cry. What if I gave myself permission to write those instead? Would I be more likely to live up to that?
I bet I would. For one thing, there’s power in positive thinking. For another, it becomes an affirmation. Who would want an affirmation about writing crap? Exactly!
I know the advice-givers don’t really think they’re being negative, they think their advice is freeing. That after the crap comes out, the good stuff will follow. And perhaps that’s true. But why is it that we feel freed up by the negative? Why can’t we sit down at our keyboards and plan on writing something so excellent our computer breaks out in a smile? Is it somehow easier to write crap?
I think not.
It is, however, easier to see our writing as not measuring up than to see it as fabulous. Writers—especially new ones—often compare their work to that of other writers, even trying to emulate them on occasion. That will never do. Just as we have our own fingerprints and underwear, we have our very own voices. It’s finding that voice by writing and writing and writing some more that our prose becomes brilliant, and it becomes brilliant because it is ours, with our very own vision, issues, and spin on things.
So I challenge you…next time you sit down at the computer to write…oh you’re there now?…in that case, close your browser, boot up your writing program and decide you’re going to write some of the best stuff you’ve ever written. And then do it.
OCC just celebrated â€œAwesome August Here are the details of the day from a Program Director’s POV:
We had Emma Holly visit us in the morning, and this five foot dynamo gave a workshop that made several women start fanning themselves from the sheer HOTNESS of the content. That was a first for me in my time as Program Director and I really enjoyed her tips on sexy writing. She gave us many tips to spice up our scenes and first piece of advice was to “get in touch with our kinks,” so Ladies and Gentlemen:GET BUSY!
Emma kept making me laugh because she’d get the steam level to rising, then she’d pause, glance at us, take a lo-o-o-ng sip of her water, and pick up where she left off. Her comedic timing was dead-on funny. She gave two of her ARCs (advanced release copies) away as door prizes and I don’t know who won them but I certainly hope that one of those people will loan their book to me when they’re done. I don’t know if I can wait until October 4th to find out who did what to who.
The Board of Directors changed tactics and strategies all day, almost as fast as America West changed Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ flight schedule! (Herein, she’ll be referred to as SEP to save typing.) We started lunch thinking we’d see SEP at about 12:30 and by the end of lunchtime, this Program Director was wondering if SEP would EVER get to California. We updated the membership over the next hour, “plane is delayed, plane left, etc.,“ until finally the plane arrived and I heaved a sigh of relief. It was the first time I’d ever been happy to have my phone ring in the middle of a meeting.
I spoke with SEP and she told me that “I didn’t even need to introduce her. She’d have her notes in her hand when she stepped out of the car and she’d just run in and start talking”and darned if that isn’t exactly what she did—another first for me in Programs. God she gave the best talk! Diane Pershing told me afterward that she rarely takes notes and SEP had her scribbling away.
We found out that Susan is a “seat of the pants” writer, that she has a tremendous fear of the blank page and that it takes her about a year to write each book. She doesn’t take a break in between books. She gave us tips on writing subplots, flashbacks, how to fix scenes and many, many more “million dollar” tips.
If anyone missed getting a handout and would like one, just send a note to us on the Craft Loop or email me privately and I’ll forward it to you. Susan gave me more in 40 minutes of talking that I ever knew was possible. And she told me four times that we were the most organized group that she’d ever seen.
Thanks to everyone on the Board who zigged and zagged with each change to the schedule and to all the OCC members that stayed on site and waited for SEP so we could give her a tremendous welcome!
The last tidbit I wanted to add about August. Susan Elizabeth Phillips told me that OCC members have the best collection of shoes that she’s ever seen. I thought that was pretty amusing and wanted to encourage you all to bring that fancy footwear to Conference next year so you could have a built in conversation opener .
So, August was awesome and I am on to planning the September meeting with Michele Scott and Leanne Banks. Michele’s talk is on “Getting Your Foot in the Door” and Leanne will be talking about “Developing the Relationship Between the Hero and Heroine.” I especially can’t wait for the brainstorming session that Leanne is conducting later in the evening during the guest reception. I hope to see you all volunteering at the September meeting so you can be part of that.
See you next month!
~ Jen Crooks
by Shalla de Guzman
Natasha Panza began her publishing career at Fiction Collective Two, an experimental, literary small press based in Tallahassee, Florida. But bright lights and city streets were calling her name, so she packed her bags for New York City, where she was hired by Tom Doherty and Associates. She works with a variety of authors in a variety of genres and is currently acquiring chick lit and mysteries.
Shalla: Hello Natasha. Everyone’s excited about Tor/Forge acquiring chick lit novels and itâ€™s so nice of you to be here to tell us more about it.
Natasha: It’s a pleasure. We’re pretty excited as well.
Shalla: Your new Guidelines say you’re not looking for the standard NY City chick lit. Does that mean no Sex and the City type of stories? Can it still be set in NY or Los Angeles?
Natasha: I’m always open to books that contain strong female bonds. But female bonding doesn’t always have to happen at a trendy bar, teetering on your stiletto Jimmy Choos, hoping your extra fruity martini won’t slosh over your new Prada blouse. I’m tired of reading about the ‘fabulous life’ (i.e, fabulous job, fabulous car, fabulous everything . . .). I mean, whose life is that fabulous anyway?
I want different lives, strange lives, completely bizarre lives. I live and work in New York City, and while I have to admit, there are woman out there who can afford to dress and entertain like Carrie Bradshaw, most of us not only can’t, we don’t really want to. We have our own style, our own brand of humor; we’re smart and sassy and we have stories to tell. And I’m sure it’s the same from the smallest town to the largest metropolis.
Of course, big cities like NYC and LA are still wonderful locations for novels and those submissions will still be considered.
Shalla: Are you open to multi-cultural chick lit?
Natasha: Most definitely. In fact, I strongly encourage writers to submit novels with multicultural protagonists. As a multicultural chick myself, I want to see more women like me in the books I read.
Shalla: The Guidelines say you’re open to paranormal chick lit. What do you consider paranormal chick lit? (Ie. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom meets Ellen? Is Goddess for Hire paranormal chick lit?)
Natasha: I’m not really looking to put too many boundaries on my definition of paranormal, because you never know what is going to work and what’s not until you read it.
Shalla: Now, let’s talk S-E-X. Can it be too sexy? No S&M? No transgenders’ mating rituals?
Natasha: Hmmm, well I love sex..(now I’m blushing)..but seriously, I think it is important to put a little steaminess in a chick lit novel, because let’s be honest here, aren’t we all more than a little disappointed when the heroine is left high and dry? I know I am. That being said, I’m not looking for erotica.
Shalla: Does it have to have a happy ending? Does the woman need to get the guy in the end?
Natasha: I like happy endings. But happy can be bittersweet. And getting the guy on a permanent basis isn’t always what a woman wants.
When a protagonist learns something powerful or positive about herself in the course of the novel—that’s a happy ending too.
Shalla: Can it have little to no romance? (Ie. Protagonist has one night stands here and there with no significant romantic relationship?)
Natasha: No. Romance is important in a chick lit novel. Without romance, what kind of book is it? Besides, romance should be present in people’s lives—and if it’s not, then a great book can provide that.
Shalla: How funny is funny? Is screw ball comedy okay?
Natasha: Screwball, no. I’m not looking for slapstick because it doesn’t usually translate well into text. But funny, yes. I love funny.
Shalla: Are you open to first person point of view? Multiple POV? First person-present? What do you think of first person-present?
Natasha: I’m not the biggest fan of first person-present, but I am open to anything that is done well.
Shalla: Any movies, sitcoms, books etc. we can look at to get a better feel on what Tor/Forge is looking for?
Natasha: TV: Desperate Housewives. Or Desperate Housewives meets Charmed. Girlfriends or Girlfriends meets Bewitched. Practical Magic (the movie). The Mummy meets Bridget Jones’ Diary.
Shalla: Finally, any big NO-NO’s? (I.e.. No e-queries or e-submissions, snail-mail only)
Natasha: No query letters, no email queries, no e-submissions, no faxes; please, snail-mail only! A complete submission guideline is available at our website Submission guidelines.
Shalla: Thanks lots Natasha! We look forward to seeing you at RWA Nationals. For more on Tor/Forge, please visit https://publishing.tor.com/about/
Shalla de Guzman writes multicultural, fantasy and paranormal novels with a chick lit tone. A former writer and producer of a health and fitness cable show, Shalla enjoys presiding over her latest project, the ShalladeGuzman Writers Group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ShalladeGuzman/ She is a member of OCC/RWA Chapter and FF&P.
Please visit Shalla at http://www.shalledeguzman.com
“If you ever say anything to anyone, they all die.”More info →