Firstly, winners! Thanks to all who entered the Jennifer Haymore/A Touch of Scandal giveaway! We will have four winners, since Jennifer is kicking in two extra copies. (Thanks, Jennifer!) Winners, as drawn by, are:

Liz (#9)
Liza (#14)
Peggy H (#15)
Hannah (#20)

Winners, please use the contact email form (click contact in top menu) to send me your snail mail address.

While I’m announcing winners, and since I’m still on a little high from the RITA final last week, I think I’ll blog a bit about contests. (If you’re not an aspiring author, this may bore you to tears. Sorry! I will not be hurt if you sneak out the back.)

In the time since I sold my first book, I’ve sometimes been asked by aspiring authors about contests. Did I enter RWA chapter contests as an unpublished writer? Did I find them of benefit?

The answers are yes, and yes–with caveats.

I entered a total of five chapter contests with Goddess of the Hunt, and one with a very early draft of Surrender of a Siren. The entries placed everywhere from first place to “bottom third” (where they mercifully do not reveal your exact ranking). I got something out of each and every contest.

What I got out of contests:

Some helpful feedback
Some unhelpful feedback
The invaluable experience of learning to sort out which is which
A few wonderful networking connections with published author judges
A chance to thicken my skin before dealing with Amazon reviews
On one occasion, a nifty plaque
On another occasion, cash!

What I did not get out of contests:

A sale

Here is the thing I always say about contests (and I don’t get dogmatic that often, so this is a clue that I really, reaaalllly believe this):

Contests are NOT a substitute for querying and submitting.

A great many writers enter contests with the goal of getting their pages in front of the final judge, who is usually an editor or agent. This is a worthy goal, no question, and I do know of authors who started great careers this way. But in my personal experience and judging by the anecdotal evidence of friends and acquaintances–speaking generally, contests are a less effective (and much more expensive!) way to sell a book than the standard query process.

Case in point, in one of the contests I entered (and eventually won), I did get a request for the full manuscript from editor judge. However, between the time I entered the contest and the announcement of the final results, I had already signed with an agent and sold the book. So if I’d waited – I just might have sold that manuscript through this one contest connection. But I guarantee you, I would not have gotten the same deal.

So if anyone looks to me for contest advice (and I’m not sure you should be, but…), here it is: By all means, enter contests! Sometimes they yield valuable advice and perspective. Sometimes they are a $25 dollar course in “Learning to Suck It Up,” which is valuable in its own way. The are often a good motivator to make progress by a deadline. Occasionally, they can lead to a great networking connection or manuscript request. But I beg you, don’t rely exclusively on contest judges to tell you whether or not your manuscript is any good, and please, please don’t use “I’ll just wait for the feedback/scores/final results” as an excuse to hold off on querying or submitting through normal channels.

Whew. With those exhortations out of my system, let me point those of you still interested in contests toward THE contest I believe to be the best of any I entered, and among the best of any out there. It is, coincidentally, my own chapter’s contest: The Orange Rose.

Things that are awesome about the Orange Rose and make it stand out from the pack:
+ALL the judges are published authors. Yes, ALL.
+Entrants submit 50 pages and a synopsis.
+So at minimum, your entry fee gets you 3 critiques of a 50-page partial from published authors. Can’t beat that deal.
+The ten finalists are chosen by total score, regardless of subgenre (so you don’t have some people breezing through a category with only 5 entrants, while others are struggling to break out of a pack of 50)
+Each of the finalist manuscripts is sent to not one, but two editor judges – and they are guaranteed to be judges acquiring in your category. If you have a series manuscript, the contest coordinator finds two acquiring series editors to judge it. If you have an inspirational manuscript, she will make sure it goes to editors who buy that.
+Cash prizes. ‘Nuff said.

All the entry information is here. This year’s deadline is April 10th. So get those entries in the mail! Who knows, I may be one of the lucky judges who gets to read your entry. 🙂

Any other writers wandering by have advice to add? Contests to recommend? Or points to refute? 😉 Please fire away!

4 comments to “In which Tessa talks contests”

  1. Chloe Harris (Noelle)
    · April 1st, 2010 at 7:51 am · Link

    Hi Tessa!

    I’m so glad I saw your tweet about this. I agree with you on a lot of what you’ve said. Like you, we got (Chloe Harris is a partnership) some helpful feedback, some unhelpful feedback, the invaluable experience of learning to sort out which is which and on one occasion, a nifty plaque.

    Unlike you we sold directly from a contest. But we did our homework and it was, as they say, the perfect storm.

    First, it was a sub-genre specific RWA chapter and contest. Several of the contests we entered were great but with a sub-genre specific chapter you have a better chance of getting first round judges well versed in what you do.

    Second, we had picked a publisher we thought our book (eventually Secrets of Sin) would be a good fit for and found a contest with a final judge from that house.

    Also I had inside information from a conference that the editor was judging several contests that year because they were actively seeking books similar to ours to fill gaps in the schedule.

    And lastly by entering it in previous contests and getting good feedback the story was to the point that is was ready to sale.

    My advice to others would be to do your homework. Make sure your work is a good fit for the contest and the category you’re entering. Make sure the final judge and their house/agency is a place you want to be. And if you can, find out if they are actively inquiring in your genre. But be ready to accept that all you may get out of it is a little feedback.

  2. Chloe Harris (Noelle)
    · April 1st, 2010 at 7:55 am · Link

    Sorry that last bit should have said “acquiring in your genre” not inquiring 😳

  3. Chloe Harris (Noelle)
    · April 1st, 2010 at 9:41 am · Link

    And if you had failed to make the finals of that contest, or if the judge had failed to request the full manuscript, I bet you would not have given up on submitting to that house. Right?

    Very true. In fact that was the second attempt to reach that publisher. The same manuscript got no where in a contest sponsored by the publisher. And while we were waiting on the contest results we were still querying agents and pitching at conventions.

    I do believe our situation was an exception to the rule and you are right that using traditional queries and pitch opportunities works best for the majority of writers.

  4. Tessa
    · April 1st, 2010 at 9:29 am · Link

    Great perspective, Chloe/Noelle! Thanks for sharing your experience. Like I said, I know people do sometimes sell through contests – I wouldn’t rule it out as a reason to enter, particularly if you know (as you did) that the editor judge is especially interested in the kind of manuscript you’re selling and/or is hard to reach through standard queries. It sounds like you were really smart about it, and thanks for the words of advice. Obviously, it all worked out great for you and your writing partner!

    But as you say, networking and market research were also an important part of how that contest entry became a sale. (Not to forget that crucial first step: writing a good, marketable book!) And if you had failed to make the finals of that contest, or if the judge had failed to request the full manuscript, I bet you would not have given up on submitting to that house. Right?

    My general point is just this – while some writers may sell via contests, it’s my observation that the vast majority sell through the usual methods of agent queries, pitches or direct submissions. And if a writer waits months and months for results before moving forward, or lets a bit of bad feedback send her into a tailspin, she might be missing other opportunities in the meantime.