Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This year, as I have been working toward getting my writing ready for submission, I decided to enter writing contests. The benefit of entering contests is, of course, the chance of winning the title of "award-winning novelist", but perhaps more practical and necessary is the volume of feedback for the minimal entry fee. Feedback from people in the publishing world is crucial for an industry newbie like me. If I were to pay individually for critiques, it would cost me hundreds, but for the $25-$35 entry fee for a contest, I receive comments, suggestions, criticism, and detailed scores from at least three judges, more if I advance into semi-final or final rounds.

The three contests I found to enter were:
  • The Genesis Contest through ACFW
  • The Touched by Love Contest through the Faith, Hope and Love chapter of RWA
  • The Fraiser Contest through My Book Therapy
For a longtime hobby writer with little prior exposure to the publishing world, the idea of exposing my hard won words to potentially brutal criticism was more than a little scary. But learning to have thick skin is another lesson I know I need to learn in order to survive in this industry.

Discovering that I was a semi-finalist in the Genesis and scored in the top 20% was a huge boost. I was so excited! Unfortunately, when the finalists were announced, my name was not among them. I didn't really go into these contests expecting to win, so, although I was disappointed, it wasn't surprising.

A few days later I found out that I had not finaled in the Touched by Love contest either. Unlike the Genesis, there is no semi-final round in the TBL, and I didn't make the top three. I must have had higher hopes for the Touched by Love than I thought I did, because I was really discouraged that I didn't final.

After not advancing in both the TBL and the Genesis, I really had no expectation for the Fraiser, so I was absolutely shocked when Susan May Warren called me personally to let me know that I am a finalist. I started shaking and I cried a little (happy tears)!

The only down side to finaling is having to wait until after the winner is announced to get my feedback. The comments and score sheets from the TBL and the Genesis were somewhat helpful, but also confusing and frustrating. Each round and contest I got at least one very high score and one that was disappointingly low. Everyone's personal opinions are so different, so many of my comments contradicted each other. It's hard to apply criticism when one judge loved the characters and another judge thought they were weak, one thinks I use too much description and another praises how my description paints such a vivid picture in their mind.

Even if I'm not sure how to use the contradictory critiques, it's still so helpful to hear how a reader perceives the story. Many comments were helpful and I was able to fix problem areas and apply the concepts to my other writing. And the feedback was not all bad. My judges were all kind and complementary.

I don't think I'm allowed to quote the judges, or I'd just post the comment, but one pro level judge gave me the highest complement I've ever received. Basically she said that I'm ready for publication and this was the best manuscript she had read in a long time. I keep going back and re-reading it, just to make sure I didn't dream it up. Encouragement like that is very motivating. It sooths the sting of the less complementary comments. 

My scores for the Genesis were (out of 100 possible points): First Round: 95, 93, 87; Semi-final round: 95, 90, 77 and the Touched By Love (out of 150 possible points): 152, 137, 115.

If I haven't gotten a publishing contract by next year, I'll enter again. In the mean time, I'll be working on applying my critiques as I am rewriting and polishing Saving Savannah.

The Fraiser winner will be announced at the ACFW conference in St. Louis in September and I'll be pitching my book to agents and editors for the first time (scary!). Wish me luck in the Fraiser finals and pray for God's guidance and direction as I seek an agent to represent my work and a publisher to print and market it!