Thursday, March 11, 2010

Open Season on Contests...

Granny's personal March Madness:

Howdy Neighbor. It’s open season on contests and I just ‘shot’ one.

Meaning to say, I pushed that key--the button of no return. If you’re like me, you start and then you go back and make sure the file you’re going to attach is the one you just did your 543rd edit on and not #542 which you thought was perfect when you went to bed last night. Got that? (okay so I do use a lot of run on sentences)

Finger poised above ‘ENTER’ key. Heart rate increases. “Oh Lord, help this entry succeed if that’s in Your will. Remind me this is about You and not me but boy I sure want to do well.

Then, I chicken out and go back and read it again, out loud. Make more changes, then worry that I’ve not done a faultless job of checking for the little errors. Because I’ve done this enough to know, last minute changes are asking for trouble. (Never completely trust Replace All)

Contests are a strange ritual for writers, especially for genre fiction. If you are one of us, and have written a story without critique partners, contest feedback, or any other ‘fresh eyes’, and sold the book to the first editor you showed it to, please stop reading now. In fact, get off my property or I’ll get my dog after you. She's killed before and she'll kill again.

If you’re a reader… yes, we’re looking for a little pity here, for crying out loud.

I’ll skip ahead in the process, passing creative writing classes, and writers’ groups and critique groups to the day you’re ready to pay someone (who doesn’t know you from that Stephanie lady who wrote those vampire books), to tell you what they think of your writing. Your friends and family will do it for free, by the way. You might very well be paying someone to tell you how ugly your baby is, but you do it anyway. Strike a pose: Noble Writer, a Slave to her Craft. And PayPal is so painless, after all. It’s not like using real money, or anything.

I’m probably the only one who wants the accolades of “great story!” You, being a more mature writer than I, want the hard truth . . . “Give it to me straight. If it stinks, let me know.”

Kidding! Sort of.

I still smile over the encouragement, the profuse praise, the high scores . . . but I digress. Anyway, I learned that my WIP isn’t going to improve if no one points out ways I could improve it. (So eloquent. And you can quote me.)

Just when I think I’m grown up and thick skinned, a comment or score blows up in my face. Ouch!

I congratulate any of you who have entered a writing contest. Hit that send key or dropped that fat envelope in the mailbox. Yikes. Stop holding your breath.

Scoresheets return. Good. Until...WHY THAT NO GOOD DIRTY ROTTEN….
I suppose we could sit around the greasy spoon, where all hunters hang out, but come on over to my place.

I started out looking for feedback. Was this story so awful I should throw it out yesterday? No. Okay, it’s not that bad. Feedback is helpful. Good. More contests? Sure. Now the goal isn’t just feedback, it’s the elusive ‘finals’ and getting your story in front of dream agent/editor who will surely beg for your submission.

Okay, let’s kickback with a six pack of chamomile tea, turn off the DVD (you’ve seen Mr. Darcy propose twenty five times. Is that really helping your writing, girlfriend?) and Git R Done.

We are under some strange notion that the people on the other end of the scoresheet know more than we do. Sure. It’s probably true. Some will make comments, some will go through and edit and change your sentences for you.

Ain’t that special.
Judges come in all flavors, just like readers, editors and agents. None of them would write your story the way you would, you clever, artistic soul.

Sometimes they really mess with your head. Bad Day. Or it’s just that you have so much to learn. Sorry.

Exhibit A: Scoring. For this example, we’ll say you can get a 1-5. Some judges think a 5 is only for perfection, as in just maybe the apostle Paul might get a five for his letter to the Romans, but he just had too much backstory in those first few pages. Bummer. Some think 5 is attainable, after all, what is ‘perfect’? I have listened to and been part of many gripe sessions about contest scoresheets and judges’ remarks. I have to say I have also judged at least six or seven contests, myself. It’s so much easier to see the trees when you are in someone else’s forest. I suppose I think I’m a good judge. Don't we all.

Remember, take a deep breath, read them over, reach for the chocolate, take a day or two off and feel sorry for yourself. Make sure you come back and read them again in the next few days, because right or wrong, they have a point. Prove to yourself they're right or you're right. You can only do it by taking their comments seriously (unless they are judging historicals and question your use of the word CRAVAT, which they have never heard of... Do I look annoyed? Ah. Yeah.)

For me, part of the pain is having to do all the work over again. Duh. I want it right the first time. Double Duh. Okay, so I thought a version of my WIP was the best it could be last year. And think how much I’ve changed and hopefully improved it this year! That’s something to hold on to.

So who’s right? You or the judge? Well, if they think you’re the best thing ever, they’re right!

Okay, not so much. A real brain fogger is when two out of three judges liked it, gave you good scores and made you smile and think "oh shucks. L'il ol me?" But judge #3 doesn’t like it a bit. What sticks with you? No doubt, it’s #3. WAAAAAAHHHH! I'm going to throw myself in the lake. (Judge #3 just had lunch with your inner critic—don’t worry, salmonella poisoning is not usually fatal)

Why do we let the “this stinks” outweigh the “this is wonderful”? I know you do it.

Now, what if the judges have completely different opinions or their advice contradicts each other. Which one is right? Are you right 'by default'?
Well, don’t expect any words of wisdom from me, I’m just as confused as you are. But I’m learning to hold on to what feels right. Consider each judge’s suggestions but don’t let them shake your confidence, completely. If you are willing to take advice, if you are determined to improve your writing, and most importantly, if you are willing to take the crunchy with the creamy, you might just step beyond those “unpublished” contests. From Contest Diva to Published Author! Go for it.

Like I said. Unpub Contests are a bizarre ritual. But they prepare us to be published authors. I was just reminded in the last week or two that if and when I get published, I’m going to have readers and reviewers doing the same thing these judges are doing now. Put in your order now for thicker skin!

Anybody want to gripe, blow off steam, burn your manuscript? I just bought a new box of Puffs for tender noses, so come on over and comment. I feel your pain. One last reminder:

Don't put so much faith in the praise of others, unless you're also willing to give their criticism equal importance. Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Click here for a spectacular roundup of this month's contest opportunities:


  1. Oh my stars, this stirs memories, good and bad, girlfriend!!!


    And are those Puffs Plus or the regular, 'cause seriously, if you didn't go the extra .45 to get me lotion-treated tissues, I'm miffed and it's not even six AM yet...


    HAVE I TAUGHT YOU NOTHING???? It's a good thing my ever-present travel mug is by my side, offering caffeinated solace.

    Chamomile tea...

    Oh mylanta.

    Debster, I can so relate to this post, though. And since I owe contests for both my increasing numbers of gray hair AND my three-book contract, I've had the ups and the downs, but I love a good competition.

    I love it better when I get what I want, a coveted spot on an editor's desk.

    Can you say SWEET????? :)

    Great post, chickie!!!


  2. Sorry about that glitch, Ruthy. A fresh pot of coffee is on and as a consolation I brought Pumpkin muffins from Panera for all.

    I think I may well be too competitive. I love contests... but only if I win. This is going to sound super egotistical, but I first entered contest because I thought I would win. Poor baby writer doesn't know much. My first few contests I got knocked down a peg or three. But the process did teach me some important lessons.

    Deb you are so right. There is always that ONE judge who just doesn't 'get it.' My last contest scores were 97, 89 and 54. What?

    Now I'm finding that second place seems to have my name on it. And to add ungrateful to egotistical in my faults list. Darn it, I don't want to be second anymore, I want to win! Second place stories won't win publishing contracts, but how do I get to first? Hmm? Maybe it will require that I listen to the judge who gave me that 54. Aw, shoot, back to the drawing... er... keyboard.

  3. Always bring a travel mug to Inktropolis 'cause we are on an international schedule!

    Thanks for stopping by Ruthy. "I learned all I need to know about contests from Seekerville..." and my own personal pain.

    Lisa - I agree with you completely but for one point. I have seen 2nd place entries get a contract over 1st place. In those cases it's a matter of what is right for the publishing house. Espesh in Inspy contests when all sub genre are mixed into one cat. (also I say this because I am a second placer myself)

    Suzie Johnson is the current contest diva of Inktropolis. Geesh!

  4. Granny, I'm way too sleepy to come up with any words of wisdom. (It's six am here) But I hear you on those conflicting scores. It really does get confusing sometimes. However, I've learned so much from entering contests, so I'll continue to do so with each new book. However, I'm not far enough in my new book, or comfortable enough with it yet to enter it in Genesis or TBL unless I get some wild inspiration this weekend.

    Ah, and Lisa, my sweet friend, don't get discouraged. Second place stories can still get you an editor request. Really! Amazingly, I have one from my second place, but didn't get one with my first place win. LOL, isn't that just the way? Although I'm thinking like you...where's the contract? Why is it taking so long?

  5. Moi? A diva? LOL! I don't think so, Deb. If you could only see through your computer to my side of the country, you would see that I'm a complete mess. I have more useless bits of paper surrounding my desk than ideas in my head. One of these days soon, I hope to get it all together and come up with something that'll knock their socks off.

  6. So many thoughts...

    1) Great dog.
    2) I had major enter button anxiety when sending my Genesis entries this year.
    3) I too have had crazy scores varying by over 30 points.
    4) First place does not = contract. At least not yet. Still hopeful.
    5) I like to think of judges critiques as an "opinion poll."

    But mostly, I think "Granny" needs to weave more of this awesome sassy, comical voice into her fiction. Maybe write a whole first person novel in this voice. Very engaging. Thanks Granny.

  7. So, Dina, you think GRANNY LIT can be the next chick lit. Certainly all us old boomer chicks are a huge portion of the buying public. Be afraid, be very afraid!

  8. I try to think of contests as objective (hopefully) critiques I paid for.
    Of course, right now I'm feeling guilty because I haven't even entered any contests yet this year.

  9. Great post Deb! And I'm with Ruthy on the Puffs. :) Oh, and Lisa, thanks for the pumpkin muffins, yummy, still warm.

    Deb, you said: Don't put so much faith in the praise of others, unless you're also willing to give their criticism equal importance. Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

    That's about all the wisdom we really need, but it's so hard to aceept sometimes. AND what is it with that one low score??? It's enough to make one completely and totally bonkers. Sometimes I swear that one judge just got a bad score themselves and they are taking it out on my manuscript!

    On the other hand I have to remember that everyone is not going to like my type of historical in a contest OR they don't know who Prinny is even if I told them, OR they don't get my type of humor, OR maybe, just maybe I didn't write that scene as well as I could have, ETC., ETC...

    Ya gotta weigh the pros and cons and remember not to wrap your self-worth in your score. You're good enough and smart enough. You just have to persevere and keep learning the craft. And as James Scott Bell always says, "Keep Writing!"

  10. Great post on a subject so near to our hearts. Like Niki, I enter contests hoping for a bit of an objective critique, but there's always the fear of what I'll get back.

    Lisa, I've had scores like those you mentioned, where you wonder if the low-scoring judge was watching TV while reading it, just didn't get it, or is a genius. It doesn't help when the low-scoring judges use terms like "duh!", though. Then I don't want to read any further.

    And I'm also going by the new name, "Susie Third Place." Second place looks mighty appealing to me.

  11. Thanks Jill, I'll tell Deb you said hi. And who doesn't know Prinny? That's simply uncivilized!

    Sounds like the two high scores/one low is pretty common. One contest recently sent a matrix of scores to their judges so we could see where we fit in compared to the other judges. It was very insightful.

    Susie, I have always been thrilled to final and after that never thought much about the final ranking. D'ya suppose it's because I've never gotten that lovely #1 position? I know I'm in great company!

  12. Mercy, you ladies are making me feel good today. At first I thought Granny had the ability to look over my shoulder but then I realized that was silly on account of how she doesn't like the cold.

    (Can you tell I'm working on my Old West story, heh.)

    Then I saw Lisa's comment, 'Deb you are so right. There is always that ONE judge who just doesn't 'get it.' My last contest scores were 97, 89 and 54. What?'
    This sort of explained how I got an 85, 84 and 42 in one of mine. Must've been the same judge.

    Deb, I salute you for this post. I love the honesty, insights and humor.

    Not to mention seeing a fellow competitor jumping up and down in frustration. LOL


  13. Hmmm, so maybe it's one lone judge who goes around doing this? Well anyway, it's fun to say "She just does't get it" while cringing on the inside!

    Hey Anita, has spring come to the Canadian prairie yet?

    Gina has discussed this issue with us as she loves to get into the mathematics of scoring and whether the low score should be tossed, as well as the 'discrepancy' issues involved. It's high drama, eh?

    A fond memory of the ACFW conference was sitting with the Inkies and being able to cheer our finalists in the ACFW Genesis contest. Honestly, it felt like Academy Awards night! I have a good feeling it will be the same this year.

  14. Hi Debra, Great post and as Ruthy said, brings back so many memories.

    But the best thing contests and critique partners did for me was toughen my skin so much that working with an editor became a piece of cake.

    The other thing it did was help me realize how subjective reading is so I don't take rejections so personally now.

    Congrats on your second place and high scores in the "Does Your Story Have Bite" contest.

  15. Yes, Granny, spring is here. The big melt is on and that's scary because it's not freezing at night to slow things down. At this rate the road to civilization will be flooded. Last year, about a 10' wide river of water went over our road. 10 yrs ago, it was 18" over and they practically had to rebuildin the surface so we could get to town.

    Currently, there are flood warnings in several states. They've already declared a state of emergency in the Fargo ND/Moorhead MN area. Sandbagging is going on all over the place. Here are some Red River stats from Moorhead:
    - 24 hrs ago 15.9'
    - currently at 16.23'
    - flood stage is 18'
    - major flood stage is 30'
    - forecasted crest - 38'

    They even have a Fargo Flood cam so you can watch the river rise.

    What we need are prayers for a cold spell or even cold nights to slow it down.

    BTW - did you know you could take a boat from New Orleans all the way up to Winnipeg Manitoba since the Red River is a tributary of the mighty Mississippi?

  16. Deb, great post! In one of the first contests I entered, I had a 40 point range in scores (mid 50's score and mid 90's score, and the third score was low 80's).

    Lisa, I've also received a full ms request from an editor when I placed second :-)

    I judge 3 or 4 contests a year and I'd like to find the lone judge who marks down the entries I love! I always scan the judges scoring matrix, trying to work out why the lone judge didn't love my favorite entry. Sometimes the lone judge appears to have given all the entries low scores in comparison to the other judges. Other times there's no obvious reason, especially if the lone judge has given an entry I thought was average a really high score.

    Anita, I hope the big melt slows down asap.

  17. I didn't really mean to sound as ungrateful as I did. I'm always thrilled to final. Second place is awesome and I'm happy to find any place amongst the finalist. And know first place doesn't guarantee a contract. It's just that competitive drive that says but I wanna win!

    Anita so sorry to hear about the flooding. I'll pray for a cold spell.

  18. Oh, BTW last year I judged my first contest. Of the four or five entries I judged, I loved one, and made sure I gave it a high score in hopes that it would final.

    Turns out it was our Inky, Wenda Dottridge. She sent a nice thank you email, and I met her that way. So I was very excited to see her name on the Inky list when Gina started the blog.

  19. Thanks for stopping in Sandra! (Sandra is like my Secret Santa...hmmm, I guess I'll call her Secret Sandra?) I was the winner of a free entry to the CWOW Rattler Contest on the Seekerville Blog, which was a real blessing at the time, financially. Sandra, as a member of CWOW sponsored the drawing. Icing on the cake -- I finalled and came in second place in my category.

    I strongly recommend this contest next year. It was nicely done and one of the few contests that breaks down the Christian fiction genres. Watch for Christian Writers of the West's "Does Your Story Have Bite?" next fall.

  20. Okay, it's almost eight, which should be Granny's bed time as I pulled a no-sleeper last night!

    Anita, I love the idea of a flood cam. Sort of barbaric and idyllic at the same time. I hope the damage is minimal and you get some cold nights. We are okay for now after our 2 ft melted down in less than a week but we are at 'max capacity' in the fields and creeks and are expecting 4 days of rain. SPRING!!

  21. P.S. If I got in a boat off my dock on this particular body of water, I could in essence go anywhere in the world by water. I think that's pretty cool. Now, granted, it would be a long way around the east coast from HY Harbor to the MIssissippi to get to Winnepeg, from which I'd have to go by...what... prairie schooner to get to your house?

    Or is there a connection from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi that I'm forgetting? Some canal system like our old Erie Canal?

  22. Now now, Lisa, we came today to gripe and then as Ruthy and St. Paul would say,(in this order of course...) "pull up our big girl pants" and "press on toward the prize." Of course, She's talking about contest judging and Paul, probably not.

    No apologies today for griping about wanting to move beyond Second to First!

    Hmmm, after everyone's comments, I'm thinking Second is a good place to be. Certainly SECOND PLACE IN THE GENESIS, LISA RICHARDSON means you don't have to give a speech, eh? So you can eat you fancy dinner and enjoy it!

  23. Narelle, you're right. Some judges will score lower across the board and that's fine. We can't fault consistency!

    Let me tell you again how great it is to have you here and see your lovely face smiling at us in that tiny little photo box.

    Dina, I hadn't heard that story about Wenda's entry. I recall finalling alongside her and thinking, so who's this Wenda Dottridge? hmmmm. I can't wait for you to meet her in person.

  24. Night night, Granny! Fun discussion. Night Inkies and Inkie visitors.

  25. Or is there a connection from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi that I'm forgetting? Some canal system like our old Erie Canal?

    Well, there's gotta be because all of Western Canada was explored by the coeur-de-bois with their canoes, touques and sashes. The whole Metis nation evolved from the mating/marriages of those voyageurs with Native women.

    You just might have to portage some distances... or you could go around the north through the Arctic Ocean and come down through Hudson Bay. :)


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