As I listened to her advice, I had this bright idea—well, I thought it was a bright idea :-). Why not have Judi write an article on her observations? So I asked. There was only a small groan, followed with mysterious mumblings in another language I didn’t recognize, from the other end of the phone. Judi is working on Mer galleys for her third book, Catch Of A Lifetime, due out February 2010, and finishing up the first book in her new trilogy on Genies. So, deadlines are definitely in play here. But being the trooper she is, she agreed to write the article.
I hardly had to beg.
Well, a little bit.
Judi, thank you for doing this for me.
You're welcome, Sia
Was that a groan I heard?
No, no, just something in my throat. Ahem. (*hands Judi a glass of wine)
With the Golden Heart deadline approaching, I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk about entering contests and ways to maximize your investments. Yes, I said investment$. Not only are you investing the money to enter, but also the money for postage, paper and ink to print it out, time to drive to the post office, time to collate/organize the entry, and Hope. Don't ever discount that last one. Hope can keep you going when this business gets tough.
If you've read my bio, you'll see that I've entered a few contests ;}. I've finalled, I've won, I've come in (almost) last, I've been a category coordinator and I've been a contest coordinator. I entered my first contest the day I went to my first chapter meeting; to say I was new is an understatement. I was so new, the plastic was still on the packaging. I had No. Clue. (Funny enough, that wasn't the contest I finished [almost] last.)
First and foremost if you're going to enter contests: READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. Especially where it says to end on a hook. I've read good contest entries (and, sadly, bad ones) where the entrant ends the submission in the middle of a sentence. At the end of a paragraph or with the H/h going to sleep. There was no impetus for me, the reader, to want to see what was going to happen next.
Ask yourself this: aside from the fund-raising aspects, why do chapters hold contests? Why do they go out in search of editors and agents for final judges? Having done this for my chapter, I can tell you it's because we want to offer our entrants the chance to get published. Granted, those stories are few and far between, but they do happen. (And we ALL have the Hope that it will happen for us. [See? Hope.]) More common is that finalists get requests that could lead to sales. And we're just as happy as the entrant to see that happen.
So, how do you maximize your chance of making those Top 3 finalists? First, end on a hook. You want the final judge to be so caught up in your story that when they turn that last page, they're looking for what comes next-and to find out that nothing's there and want it so badly that they request the manuscript. If you've hooked them, they will. But if you let the entry kind of slide off the page, you're not doing yourself any favors and your investment is, essentially, wasted. (Provided you're not entering solely for craft/story feedback from the first round judges, which is definitely a worthwhile reason to enter contests, but not the Golden Heart. You get no feedback other than a number between 1 and 9.)
Another EASY way to trip yourself up is punctuation and spelling. Yes, published authors' work goes through copy edits, but authors make every reasonable effort to make sure there aren't any. Do the same with your contest entry. Have someone else read over it before you send it in. It's so easy for us to skip over missing words since we've read our work for how many times, or skim over a misspelling because we thought it was spelled that way, etc. This is your shot to put your best foot forward with your manuscript.
Just as you need to end on a hook, you need to begin with one. Draw us into the story. And make sure it's the right story. Don't give us the entire history of the characters or what came before. That's backstory. If it's that important to what you're telling, then you need to start your story at that point in time. But to begin with an info dumps/backstory/unnecessary elements means that your story isn't:
- A) starting in the right place or
- B) isn't strong enough to stand on its own.
Jump in with the story and feed the necessary (not all) backstory to us. It's okay to have the reader wonder what's happening. But that, too, is a balancing act because you don't want someone wondering what's going on enough that it pulls them out of the story. You don't ever want to pull your reader out of the story, and you also don't want them to be bored. Pages of information can bore a reader. There's a reason that the Inciting Incident is a buzz word in writing. It's what makes your story happen. Why the story is worth writing about. It's what hooks your reader into the story.
Learn your craft. Know what Telling versus Showing is. Key words for Telling: felt, saw, realized, knew, watched. If the narration contains a lot of "She felt"s, "He wondered"s, "Mary realized"s, you might want to see if there's a better way to "show" what it is Mary is realizing. Also, watch what you project to the reader that you want the reader to know. For example: "Mary realized that, clearly, Mrs. Smith wanted her to leave." We have Mary telling us two things: that she realized something, and Mrs. Smith wanted her to leave. Show us Mrs. Smith wanting Mary to leave. Maybe Mrs. Smith opens the door for Mary and Mary stops mid-speech at the woman's audacity. We then see Mrs. Smith's action, and infer with Mary that she's being kicked out. It resonates more with a reader to have an emotional connection with the character than to read the narrative.
Understand the difference between Point of View and Deep Point of View and how to show thoughts in each. How to transition between points of view, and things not to do. One of my pet peeves is when a character narrates something they can't know: "John opened the door, unaware of the villain aiming a gun at his heart." Well, if we're in John's point of view, how is he going to tell us this since he's unaware of it?
A lot of people say "But So-and-So breaks the rules." Just like anything, once you know the rules, you can break them if you know why and how you're doing it. Having a huge audience doesn't hurt either. :-)
Once you've got your story ready to go, package it up according to the rules, and send it off.
And then invest Hope.
Oh, and Wait, too.
There's always Waiting.
Best of luck! I'll be doing my annual Golden Heart/Rita Nominees Party on my blog (http://www.judifennell.wordpress.com/) again in March (I think the calls go out on the 26th), so stop by to Wait and Hope with us-and to celebrate as people get The Call.
Here's hoping you're one of them!
Best of luck!
I grew up watching Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie and The Addams Family--my mom looked like Elizabeth Montgomery and I had a special Barbie outfit that looked like Morticia Addams' dress. My favorite books are Bewitching by Jill Barnett and A Knight In Shining Armor, by Jude Devereaux, so it should come as no surprise that I like to write tongue-in-cheek lighthearted paranormals.
I love pop culture and manipulating language, so you'll find lots of puns, double entrendre, plays-on-words, alliteration, clichés, and twisting of phrases, as well as several one-liners in my stories that give me a few chuckles. I studied Spanish at Penn State (Go Lions!), lived in Spain and traveled throughout that beautiful country.
I've always written and still have my journal from fourth grade where, even then, my stories were full of fantastical creatures, whimsy and magic. I wrote my first romance in 9th grade and still have that story in my memory chest. Even back then I dreamed of being a writer.
Now with kids, a husband, a house, a social life (Go Survivor Girls!), and two cocker spaniels named Vixen and Raven, I get to live my dream of being a writer!
Visit with Judi Fennell at her website.