Monday, July 12, 2010

CONTESTS – Are They Your Cup Of Whiskey?

Contest Diva in Training: AJ - Contests I’ve entered: 2. Number I finalled in: 0. No point in telling you about the ones I’ve won.

Golden Heart Finalists, G. Jillian Stone, and Angi Morgan are with us today to demystify contests, or at the very least answer a few questions that have been bouncing about me addled wits. Are they worth the twenty-five dollar entry fee? Or could you get the same type of feedback from your critique partner/group?

Lets face it, taste is subjective, can contests really gauge the salability of your MS, or does finalling have more to do with talent/good story telling? That was a long sentence, eh, take a breath, I like long sentences. Here’s what the finalists had to say:

GJS: First of all, I’d like to thank you, AJ and Charli, for giving me the opportunity to participate in this exploration of (RWA chapter) unpublished writer’s contests. I ventured into this world a little over a year ago, so, I am not the most seasoned contester, but as a quasi-newbie, I have had wonderful beginner’s luck and might have few helpful observations for your readers.

I believe contests do a fairly good job of finding/discovering talent, up to a point. And personal taste is always a factor. There are excellent writers whose style/voice or plot lines put them too far outside of the romance subgenres.

AM: Some yes, some yes, and some yes. I think high scores are always the result of good story-telling. And you must have a talent for telling a story well. Once a reader “falls” into the story and there aren’t blaring mistakes to trip them up, I think that person judging no longer has a reason NOT to give a good score. I do agree that there will always be that one person who just doesn’t connect with the story and no matter how good your writing is, they just won’t like it. But a friend told me long ago that if two out of three readers love your’ll have a best seller.

If you’re looking for example scoring, Angi has graciously posted her contest scores over at the Ruby Slipper Sisterhood.

Talent seems to be the shining factor, but what is talent? And who defines it? Does it mean following all the rules? Breaking them, but doing it right, whatever that is? Mmm, I’ll leave that one open for discussion. On to the next question ladies.

The next question has two parts. Bear with me. I’m the boring part of this blog ☺ I’ve no doubt you were in the midst of querying when you entered the GH Contest, had you found any success up to this point, partial, full requests, and, had you queried any of the final judges before the contest?

GJS: THE YARD MAN was requested by several agents before the GH final, but I hadn’t shopped it around much, so when the call came on March 25, I still had plenty of agents to query. Since the GH final I have sent out 32 QLs, had 7 requests for full manuscripts and 9 partial requests. One offer of representation declined/rescinded, but (I am) still waiting to hear from a handful of agents.

AM: Whew—the truth? Yikes. Love on the Run was requested in 2004 by a Harlequin editor. It was rejected seven days before it finaled in the 2004 Golden Heart. I set the book aside for several years, and began entering contests in 2009 seriously trying to catch the attention of an editor and agent. I received THE CALL November 12th and signed the contract on December 2nd. I was floored and totally honored that SJR, now Hill Country Holdup, finaled this year.

What is the one thing you really wanted to say to an agent, editor, publisher, or contest judge but decided not to, for obvious reasons like being courteous, gracious, and humble? (See Charli’s previous post on Agents)

GJS: I have issues mainly with agents who praise the writing and the ms and then pass, saying (in effect) too much trouble to sell. The cross-genre thing gives me heartburn and nightmares.

What I would I like to say to them? I am hoping to run into agents, editors or judges in Orlando who’ve read the contest pages and chat with them about the MS. Find out what was/is in their head.

AM: I always wanted to write back to everyone who rejected me and say the line from Pretty Woman: “You work on commission, right?” she holds up all the shopping bags, “Big mistake. Huge mistake.”

Here’s a theoretical situation: You win the GH, a HUGE publisher wants to write you a big fat cheque, sign you on the spot, BUT - you knew this was coming - the publishing house wants to change your name, they don’t like it, not catchy enough, and alter certain plot points, would you GO ON AND TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, or would you politely refuse, much to their chagrin? How much does staying true to what you believe in factor into being a writer?

GJS: I recently had informal talks with an interested agent who stated, as a condition of representation, she wanted to change the title of THE YARD MAN. Author name change? Hard to say. I have considered other pen names. As an unpublished author it’s important to stay as open as possible to reasonable requests for revisions/changes.

AM: What’s in a name? LOL I have no problem taking the money, changing plot points, writing a new story, a new name...whatever I have to do. Writing is a business. I ALWAYS write from my heart, ALWAYS write the best story possible, but I’m willing to tell the story that will make it to the printed page. In fact, I changed the villain in .38 Caliber Cover-Up, which changed much of the GMC for the book. But part of the reason I had a quick second sale was my willingness to work with the editor—an editor who knows what their readers like and dislike.

If you had exhausted the contest circuit, agents, and editors, and STILL no one would bite, would you let your MS sit on the shelf and collect dust, and begin working on another project, or choose to self-publish the story YOU believe in?

GJS: First of all, when a writer is in final rewrites, he/she should be doing research, writing blurbs, character profiles, plot work and outlines for the next WIP. So, while you are shopping the completed MS, you are writing your new novel––you’re next, best hope.

Not interested in self-publishing. I would definitely shop the MS to e-publishers before giving up.

AM: Self publishing was not the route I wanted to take. I actually did let Hill Country Holdup “sit under my bed” for several years before I looked at it again. By that time, I’d grown as a writer, learned more of our craft, and with the help of a critique partner I discovered what was wrong with the first version.

Ok, so we know talent is what gets you discovered, though I’m not quite sure such a thing can be pinned down easily. Both Jill and Angi BELIEVE in their work and would consider changes that would help them get it published. Are we any closer to understanding contests? I’ll le you decide.

Jill says the first five pages need to have a GREAT hook, while Angi thinks it’s a good idea to decide WHY you’re entering contests.

Now that I’ve put these fine lassies through their paces, have a laugh and comment away!

If you could be a superhero what would your name and power be?

GJS: WILHEMINA FAIRBEARD. I am a Steampunk super heroine transmogrifier, with an endless repertoire of shape shifting creatures I mutate into.

AM: This is probably the hardest question ever! I’ve never pictured myself as a superhero. I’m more easily pictured as Batman’s Alfred. The woman behind the scenes that makes everything run smooth and has all the answers. My favorite cartoon character is Scooby Doo. Always in the right place against his will, but getting the job done. My ring tone is Scooby’s theme song: Where are you? Which works well with everyone’s favorite question for me: Can you help?

You are a sandwich, describe yourself on a menu.

GJS: Grilled Panini or croque provençal w/tomato/basil/cheese.

AM: Breadless...lean meat, lots of veggies, and low calorie lime vinaigrette.

Going by the traditional formula, what would your porno name be? Use your childhood pet’s name and the street you grew up on. For instance, Charli’s is Betsy Orchard and mine is Ginger King Edward.

GJS: Powder Puff and Raspberry Lane. I’ll let the reader combine them!

AM: Zipper Larry

Here’s my two cents, think of contests as another round of critiques. Except this time, you don’t KNOW the people reading your MS. You email it through cyber space, wait a few weeks, months – a bit longer than your average critique partner’s time – they send it back, and BAM, there are comments and feedback on your story. Is it worth it? Did they tell you anything more than your critique partner(s)? You tell me.

I want to thank Jill and Angi for joining us today, it was great having you both!

G. Jillian Stone – There are fields in time that burn with desire. Meet me there.

Jillian is a 2010 Golden Heart finalist for THE YARD MAN and has just completed a companion novel, THE SEDUCTION OF PHAETON BLACK. Set in late Victorian London, Scotland Yard detectives have never been as wickedly sexy or as brilliantly clever. To read more about her latest work in progress, THE MISS EDUCATION OF DOCTOR EXETER, please drop by her website:

Angi Morgan is a 2010 Golden Heart finalist for HILL TOP COUNTRY, which will be in stores September 2010. As an 11th generation Texan, Angi utilizes her strong heritage to create passionate characters willing to risk everything. For up-to-date news and information, visit Angi at her web site: or become a Facebook fan: AngiMorgan.

AJ ☺


  1. Good morning !

    I have a question for everyone: I need a superhero name and power. Any suggestions? Something to do with writing maybe?


  2. AJ and Charli,
    Nice interview. Very good insight into contests and agenting process :) Thanks for sharing, Jill and Angi.

  3. Great interview! Personally, I shied away from contests after my two ABNA reviews: One said my writing was stellar and the story was awesome and the other said it was the most unpolished thing they'd ever read. How the heck are you supposed to take that?? At any rate, maybe I'll give contests another whirl after reading this. Thanks Jill and Angi for your time and insight, and thanks AJ and Charlie for a great post!

  4. Mmm a super hero name for Angi? She writes about strong men, and women, and is from Texas, where EVERYTHING is bigger, or so I hear. How about Lady Luminous Fortune, who can point her wand at the desert and create tales from dust?

  5. Angie,

    Now, if you were a writer/heroine in one of my cccult detective steampunky mss, I would have to call you Penelope Penbrook or Seraphina Scribner. And your magic power would be you help solve crimes by going into an automatic writing trance. Wait a minute. I think I'll write you into my next WIP!

    ;) Jill

  6. If I were a super hero I'd be the Query Whisperer. I'd find my dream agent and use mental telepathy to get signed. Then of course share the love with my fellow critters.

  7. ROLF - Forget the Whisperer . . . How about just plain hollering? :-)

  8. Jill, I think writing me into your next book would be awesome ! I have red hair and green eyes. Of course, you can make me taller, 'cause who wants a Superheroine who's only 5'2" ?? >>vbg<<

    And I LOVE steampunk! I'm a huge fan!
    Ambrielle and JM, thanks for stopping by and best of luck !


  9. Thanks so much for stopping by ladies, and the best of luck in the contest! :-)