Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thursday Talk-time About Writing Contests!

If you’re a regular on romance blogs, boards, and sites, you’ve probably heard about writing contests. Perhaps you’ve toyed with the idea of entering some, or have actually done so. Maybe you’ve even won one—or more! But if you’re new to writing contests, it might be time to dip your toe in the water (or your pen in the ink).

Many writers hone their talent by entering contests. Others do it to spread their name. Some even get their big break from them. In our case, we each entered a Moonlit Romance writing contest earlier this year—and won!

When we wrote our entries we were each at different stages of our individual writing careers: Nell had a book out and contracts with more than one publisher, Rebecca had already won a contest that had resulted in publication, and Jessica was a complete contest newbie.

Nell says:

“I was thrilled to place in the contest. I’d wanted to write something fun and flirty and Dan, the hero of my story, implored me to write about him. I didn’t take much persuading, and he turned out to be one of my favourite heroes.”

Rebecca says: “I was still on a high from winning a different contest and felt confident enough to enter another. My characters took on a life of their own and my entry wrote itself in under a week. When I heard I’d been chosen as a winner, I was delighted.”

Jessica says:

“Nell told me about the contest and I was initially hesitant about entering because I had another project on the go. Eventually she persuaded me to rework something I’d started three years previously, so I started cutting, revising, and rewriting. I was gobsmacked (but very pleased!) to get placed.”

We came from diverse stages in our individual writing careers, with ideas in different shapes that were written in varying ways, but there was one common factor—we all worked hard to make our entries the best they could be. And in the end, each of our efforts resulted in publication and another step along the road of romance writing!

So what advice can we give, and how can you find a contest that’s right for you?

Our Top Ten Tips:

  1. Know the rules and stick to them. This may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many people miss an important piece of guidance that ends up invalidating their submission.
  2. Present your entry properly. If there’s a specific format, follow it. If there isn’t, stick with the gold standard: 12pt Courier/Times New Roman font, double-spaced – and don’t forget page numbers!
  3. Do not exceed the word count, even if you think it makes the story better, and make sure you don’t enter a vampire fantasy into a contest for inspirational stories! You’ll be wasting your time and the judges’.
  4. Don’t “over-egg” your entry. If the contest requires a 5,000-word story, don’t try to cram in all the events, subplots, and characters of a 60,000-word novel.
  5. Don’t push yourself. For example, if a contest focuses on a genre you’re not familiar with and you’re struggling, it may be best to get to know that genre better first.
  6. Don’t wait until the last minute to send in your entry. This is especially important if you are entering a contest based in another country (as two of us did). Time zones also apply to emails!
  7. Develop a thick skin. You may get bouquets, but you could just as easily receive brickbats.
  8. Don’t become a ‘contest junkie’ and enter everything. Try to go for the contests that will bring you the most benefit, whether this is a chance for publication or a simple learning experience.
  9. Leading on from this, determine what you want to get from a contest. If winning money is the answer, don’t enter. If you want to do it to increase your self-confidence, get feedback, get motivated, or simply because you love to write and have a story to tell, go for it!
  10. Relax! Those who don’t get placed aren’t tarred and feathered. And most of all, keep writing!

Our Top Ten Contest Resources:

  1. Writing organizations, e.g., RWA, whose Golden Heart and RITA contests are extremely popular. RWA chapters also run their own contests. Other writers’ associations, e.g., the Romantic Novelists’ Association (UK) or Romance Writers of Australia, also run contests.
  2. Writerspace, a portal for readers and writers of romance, lists many contests.
  3. Romance Junkies. This site runs an annual writing contest that regularly attracts hundreds of entries. Many entrants who have won or placed highly have gone on to publication.
  4. eHarlequin (USA) and Mills and Boon (UK) also run occasional contests, varying from online reads and round robins to 1,000-word excerpts that could win you a meeting with an editor.
  5. Your own eyes and ears. The online community will always know about an upcoming contest, so keep those feelers out.

We would love you to share your success stories and funny moments about entering writing contests! Have they helped or hindered? Which is your favourite? Tell all!

Pops' Diner

A big thanks to writers Nell Dixon, Jessica Raymond, and Rebecca Ruger for sharing their experiences on the subject of writing contests!

Fall in Love: An Anthology, featuring September Song by Nell Dixon, The Little Shop of Dreams by Jessica Raymond, and Autumn Splendor by Rebecca Ruger, is available now from Moonlit Romance (e-book or print-on-demand paperback).

And check out their websites for more on what they are up to post win!


  1. FABULOUS TIPS gals! And very timely too - cos all us guys are into competition mode about now - and some of us for the first time! It's all very mind boggling to the uninitiated - and your tips are fantastic!

    Where were you when I was starting out *mmm*???

  2. I know loooots of authors who sold going the contest route. For it's all about getting your work on the right edtitor's desk. I hope our own Fiona Harper can come along and tell her wonderful experience!

    As to me...well, I was kinda the opposite ;). I entered a book into the wonderful Aus full length MS contest, the Emma Darcy Award, and didn't even get past the first round. :(. Very very sad I was, as this was a book that had been sitting on a desk at M&B for a few months. All hope lost, I wondered what to do next.

    Three days later... I received a call from an editor in London saying they wanted to buy that very same book!

    So my advice, if contests aren't working for you, submit anyway! I'ts all about being in the right place at the right time, and you have to be in it to win it!


  3. Thanks, Trish! :)

    Ally, I completely agree. Like the blog says, I was a "contest virgin" (leave it!), and look how well entering turned out for me. But even if I'd not placed, the experience still taught me a lot about writing concisely and, in a way, writing to a market. So, yes, keep entering those contests everyone!

    Jess x

  4. Hi Nell, Jess and Rebecca,

    Lovely tips, and right on the mark. I'm very pleased you all entered the Moonlit Romance Fall in Love contest--- your novellas have made it a very special anthology.

    ~Laura Hamby

  5. The RWNZ (New Zealand Romance Writers) also run great competitions and pretty much every year the winner of the Clendon award seems to go onto sell to a major publisher.

    Personally the competition thing never really worked for me. I did win and final in a couple but because I write 'weird' stuff that seems to fall between lines, I always felt a lot happier to just send things straight to editors and agents. I think it's a case of just finding out what works best for you.

  6. Thanks, Laura. It's great to be in the anthology :)

    Thanks for mentioning the RWNZ contest, Amanda. It was hard to try and mention all the contests without writing a mile-long post! Congrats on your contest placings. I agree with what you say: contests may not be for everybody. I guess the only way to find out is to have a go and see what you feel :)

    Jess x

  7. I haven't entered many contests, but the ones I did were worth it.

    I entered the Ultimate Kiss Contest at e-harl a few years back, and was a winner. It's a great thing to put on when you don't have a publishing credit.

    I also entered the Romance Junkies contest last year. I scored well and went on to sell that ms to Samhain as well as having an offer that came directly from having participated in the contest.

    But to be honest, most of the time I'm so busy trying to write that I don't bother with contests...some manage it brilliantly but I'm easily distracted!

    xx - Donna

  8. Donna, I didn't know about your Ultimate Kiss win! :) I entered Romance Junkies this year too, although the book I entered the first chapter of has already been sold... :) Still, it was really nice to get reader feedback comments on it. One person pointed out that I needed to change my first line, which I agreed with, and the others were just comments about how nice they thought the writing was, so that was very cool :)

    Jess x

  9. Great tips, ladies. I agree about entering contests you will get something out of. I always entered contests for the feedback and got some good responses. I only finalled in one - and was shocked when that happened. Now, though, I'm like Donna. I'm too busy and distracted to enter contests. Even when I think I might, the deadline is long gone before I remember that I was considering it.


  10. Hi all, great comments. I hadn't entered many contests. I entered one a couple of years ago at Gonna Beez which the lovely Kate Walker judged. I entered Romance Junkies last year and had a couple of publishers contact me and got great feedback. Then when I was persuading Jess to try the Moonlit contest I really wanted to join in and luckily for me my story was chosen along with Jess and Rebecca's.

  11. I think even if nothing comes of contest entries, it's a great way for newbies to get used to submitting--preparing that entry, printing, the butterflies, all of it!

    All contests are not created equal, so I second the advice of making sure you are entering the right ones. Know what you want out of it before you pay your hard-earned money.

  12. Great post, ladies! Congrats again on winning the contest and creating such a wonderful anthology together. :)

  13. Denise, I'm glad contests were helpful for you, even if you no longer have the time to enter them!

    Grace, I agree completely with what you say. Contests are a great way of practicing for submission. I know it helped me.

    Hi, Meg! Glad you could make it, and thanks for your lovely comments about the anthology :)

    Jess x

  14. Hey Meg, didn't you win a contest too? I sem to remember your story 'Romancing Jenny' winning a By Grace contest and getting you on the publication road.

  15. For anyone who's UK based - Woman's Weekly and M&B are currently running a short story competition - 1500 words, suitable for the M&B Romance series. You have until 30th November.

    First prize is a consultation with an M&B editor, a Dell laptop, your story published in Woman's Weekly and a 12 month subscription to the Romance series!