THE THRILL OF VICTORY, THE AGONY OF PAPER CUTS

Oh, the thrill of it. You check the calendar. The date is here. Finalists will be announced today in the Put Your Heart in a Book contest. Will Beneath the Surface final and head on to Abby Zidle? Or will it tank because the hero and heroine didn’t meet soon enough? Worse, will it miss finalling by a fraction of a point?

You know the feeling. The day arrives, and every time the phone rings, you answer before it can even echo. You grow snippy with wrong numbers, telemarketers, your darling husband. Don’t they know you’re waiting for something IMPORTANT?

You check your email every five minutes. Maybe the coordinator won’t call. Maybe she’ll email you. Then you see a message that someone in another category has been notified and you jump all over her. How did she find out? When did she find out? EXACTLY what did the coordinator say?

You’ve got contest fever, and you’ve got it bad, baby.

Entering contests is an addicting habit. Those of us seriously hooked buy binder clips, paper and ink in bulk, skulk into the post office to nip stacks of Tyvek envelopes, create detailed documents outlining entry deadlines, final judges and “finalist notified by” dates, keep the post office in the black with postage and return postage.

Contests are a valuable tool if you:

A) need to push yourself to meet a deadline;
B) want feedback on a new project, or
C) want to get your work in front of a particular editor who may be judging the final round.

Contests have a tight timetable, unlike real world publishing, which seems to run on its own calendar. The coordinators need to get entries to judges, give the judges ample time to score, then notify the finalists and get their entries to the editor judges within a specific frame of time. Therefore, they have deadlines that they enforce. If you want to see what a deadline feels like, if you need something to drive you to sit at the keyboard every day and get those words on paper, contests are one route. Make sure before you enter if the date is “received by” or “postmarked by.” It will save you a lot of money in postage if you’re a last minute entrant.

Contests offer a good opportunity for feedback, from a judge who won’t stroke your ego because she loves you. I like to enter contests that advertise trained or published judges, because I want someone who knows more than I do to critique my work. I also prefer contests where you can enter more pages, like the Orange Rose and Golden Gateway. The more of the story they read, the more feedback I get.

Keep in mind judges are human. What rings one person’s bell may turn someone else off. Several of this year’s Golden Heart finalists had 9s, 8s, and 3s. Something about those entries just rubbed a judge the wrong way.

Do with your feedback what you will. You wanted a fresh look at your work, but you might not agree with all the comments. Ultimately this is your book, and it’s your decision whether or not to incorporate the changes. But if you get more than one remark pointing out a problem, you might want to look at the manuscript again.

Getting your work in front of a desired editor is the hard part. To do that, you have to final, and to do that, you have to beat out dozens of other entrants. But if your book has been rejected again and again, contests may be the only way to get an editor to look at the work. Don’t make the mistake of spending too much time polishing those first chapters, though. If you do final, an editor may ask for the full, and you want to get it to her ASAP.

There are other factors to consider when choosing which contest to enter. Do you want your synopsis judged as well? Some contests don’t even ask for a synopsis. The Merritt does, Duel on the Delta doesn’t.

How many finals are enough? It depends on what your goal is in entering the contest in the first place. Is it to put a credit in your query letter? Is it targeting that elusive editor? You have to decide why and where to enter. Budget constraints could come into play here, as well, because aside from entry fees, you also need to pay postage and return postage, usually over $4 each way. I try to limit myself to one contest a month, but may cut back if I want to convince my husband we can afford the Atlanta conference.

My favorite part of entering is the thrill of it, the thrill of the validation when you get a comment, or a smiley, or a perfect score. You are a writer and you are GOOD. I love the anticipation of knowing you may get that call or email letting you know you are a finalist. It’s a high you want to feel again and again.

So I'm looking at Ticket to Write with a postmark deadline of tomorrow, and Oak Leaf with the received by deadline on Wednesday. Duel on the Delta, I have a bit of time.

Why do you enter?

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Also, I'm noodler of the month at Wet Noodle Posse - check it out!

16 comments:

Michelle said...

Good luck with your next contest entry!!

MaryF said...

Thanks, Michelle! You can bet I'll be checking the website at regular intervals today!

Toni Anderson said...

To try to get my stuff in front of a particular editor. That's the only reason I enter. And it is so hard. But the nice thing I have found from entering contests is I have a distinct voice and I love it when someone LOVES my writing, and hate it when I get a judge who hates it LOL. I don't enter many contests--can't afford to, but I pick and choose and consider like a master gambler :D

kacey said...

I've just about given up on contests. Though they are a chance to get your writing in front of a specific editor. Which is why contests that just say "final round judged by editors" make me roll my eyes and move on by...

Tess Harrison said...

Good luck! I hope you hear good news! I don't enter many contests. Well, I've only ever entered one. But I plan on taking a step further and entering more in the months to come.

Jill Monroe said...

Keeping fingers crossed. And BTW, doesn't Gerald look a bit like Chevy Chase in this pic?

MaryF said...

Hey, Jill, picking on Brad Pitt wasn't enough, NOW you have to come after Gerry, huh? ;) Chevy Chase! Okay, well, yeah, a little. But he was kinda cute in Foul Play.

I try to get in front of an editor, too. Hit every contest this year that had Patience Smith as a judge. Finally finalled, finally won, haven't gotten the comments back yet!

Master gambler, yeah, that's how I feel, too.

Thanks for the luck!

Amie Stuart said...

Contests are incredibly adictive. I said the TARA was my last one but I have a chick lit I'd love to throw in the "stiletto" contest.
BTW Mary the Merritt is one of my all time faves! I've gotten fab feedback the last two years (and took second this year ;-) )

MaryF said...

I'm so glad you liked the Merritt. Lemme tell you, I learned a LOT by coordinating that one. This year we're going to go electronic, I think, and expand the entry to GH size. Kind of exciting. Hope I'm ineligible, though.

Nikki said...

I'm an in-and-out contest lover. Right now? Off the bandwagon, hoping to concentrate on my current ms. But I know once it's finished that I'll be submitting away....

Definitely addictive!!

Esri said...

Great post on contests, Mary. Yeah, I enter to get in front of a particular editor or, if I'm going to the contest, with the hope of being able to tell my pitchees that I'm a finalist.

MaryF said...

Well, I was going to go to the post office to mail two entries, one to Ticket to Write and one to Oak Leaf, but the traffic to the PO was really bad. Is it a sign??

Other than the GH, I've never entered two mss in the same contest. What about you guys?

Janice Lynn said...

Mary, Fabulous comments on contests. I totally agree. Good luck with your contest entries! You're a fab author and don't ever forget that. You are AWESOME!

MaryF said...

Thanks, Janice!!

I may not enter Ticket to Write and Oak Leaf - pure laziness! Don't want to drive to the post office.

Amie Stuart said...

Mary maybe it was a "sign" not to enter LOL

I used to do it all the time (enter two in one contest). I entered three in the Jasmine the year I finaled and three in the TARA this year. Granted one of those was a new WIP I really wanted feedback on. Then of course, I changed up the storyline completely.

I won a crit from the MM auction so I'm hoping I get that back before the deadline for the Stiletto.

MaryF said...

I think the sign not to enter was spending $209 at the grocery store! Holy crap! Of course, I stocked up on EVERYTHING. But now - I'm not entering those contests, though I wanted DLB in one before I entered the GH.

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M.J. Fredrick's books on Goodreads
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Where There's SmokeWhere There's Smoke
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I'm a mom, a wife, a teacher and a writer. I have five cats and a dog to keep me company. I love bookstores and libraries and Netflix - movies are my greatest weakness.
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