Thursday, March 18, 2010

Slushing Through :: Contests

There's more than one way to get to the top of the slush pile. The Pink Heart Society's Jenna Bayley-Burke is back with a new Slushing Through installment, this time talking about winning, losing, and learning.

I had no idea there were writing contests for romance writers before I published. I was a reader who happened to write, it wasn't a professional endeavor. When I learned about RWA, RNA, RT, and all the other romance-related acronyms, I was floored! And a little sad that I'd never had the chance to work my way through the ranks of writing contests.

Writing contests are a great place to test the waters for your story. Submissions range in length from first 5 lines to first three chapters, with lots of wiggle room in between (like best kiss, best fight, best final scene). You can find a contest that will play to your strengths. Some contests are only to get your work in front of an editor, many give feedback on your work. You never want to rely too heavily on any opinion about your story by another writer, but it is nice to get the perspective.

If you haven't submitted anything yet, contests are a great way to dip your toe in the water. Some of them are run on blogs or forums and are completely free. (like Jennifer Haymore's current First 5 Lines, Rachelle Chases's Chase the Dream, IHeartPresents first chapter contests - which have resulted in actual book sales! - and the plethora of editor pitches the angels at eHarlequin arrange). You just put your work out there in the format requested and see what happens.

Most contests are run by RWA chapters as a fundraiser for their annual budget. The rules vary for each. A great way to learn more about the details is to check out Stephie Smith's Contest Chart. You don't want to waste your time or money with the scatter approach to contesting. Do your research and choose your contests wisely.

If you're only in the market for feedback, go ahead and canvas your work wherever it will fit. But, if you're looking to jump to the top of the slush pile and help catapult your manuscript to an editor or agent's desk, be sure to select your entries based on the final judge. If the SuperRomance editor is judging the series contemporary category, it's a great place to try out your Super. If the final judge for historical is an agent who says they don't handle category and you write might not be the best fit for you.

Your manuscript doesn't have to be finished to contest it. You can send in the first 10 pages to the Magic Moments contest and find out if your opening is working or not while you're working on the rest of the book. It's a great way to get an unbiased opinion, with the added bonius of the possibility of having your work looked at by editors and agents.

One warning though. You can become a fantastic contester, and never finish a story. Some people have a perfectly polished first three chapters and then nothing substantial after that. Use contests as a tool, a stepstool out of the slush pile. But the best way to jump to an editor's attention is to write an amazing story, whether you contest it or not.

Jenna is supposed to be editing. In the meantime, Par For The Course managed to snag 2nd place in the Great Beginnings contest three years ago. Maybe it was the car sex, an interesting approach to learning to golf, and a love story hazardous to your hankie supply. Oh, plus exploding toads… Check out Jenna’s website, or blog.


  1. Great post Jenna - thanks for all the valuable info. Caroline x

  2. Great post and so true. It's hard to know what's out there when you're just getting started, but totally worth the time to investigate. Fun little side fact too, Jennifer Haymore is actually the person who convinced me to enter the IheartPresents Instant Seduction contest--so she's my lucky charm!! (Read: Mira believes in the power of the right contest!)

  3. Contests are great for lots of reasons, even if they don't offer a critique of your work. It's a taste of professionalism to meet a deadline and make your submission entry the best it can be.