Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I am a contest whore.

Yes, you read that right. I can’t resist a contest. And romance writing contests...well, let’s just say I have lots of experience J

When I first started writing, I found it very difficult to find good beta readers. I asked my sisters, my friends, even a casual acquaintance. And they were all very willing to help out. Problem was, they were too nice.

Everyone loved my sample chapters. They thought I was the best writer since Margaret Atwood (little hint there that I’m Canadian). The only real criticism I got was from one sister who works as the Managing Editor of a prestigious medical journal. Apparently, I didn't use enough commas.

Around that time, I read a blog post by a romance author who extolled the virtues of joining a writing group. She mentioned the Romance Writers Association. I promptly looked them up and was delighted to discover they had a local chapter near me. Yay!

A whole new world of support and information opened up the day I became an RWA member. Not the least of which was a monthly listing of...gasp...contests. Yes, I am one of those people who fills in the little contest forms in malls and parking lots. I click every button that says “Enter here”. I tick every box that says “Sign me up.”

But an RWA chapter contest is a whole different beast.

Designed to give newbie romance authors substantive feedback on their work, the RWA chapter contests require the submission of several chapters and often a synopsis (gah). There is no “click here” button. No “easy entry.” Your work has to be read and reread, polished and spit-shined. And did I mention the synopsis?

I wrote and rewrote my chapters. I edited them with a fine-tooth comb. I read article after article about writing a synopsis and then proceeded to destroy a forest worth of trees. I realized then, I hadn't properly plotted out the story.

Back to the computer. Learn about plotting. Write and rewrite. Attack synopsis with the vigor reserved for really dirty ovens (at least in the days before oven cleaner was invented). Finally, I had something that didn't make me cringe.

But more than that. The process of reviewing and editing my own work taught me more than I had learned from self-help writing books and community college courses. There is nothing like ripping your own work apart. Except maybe forcing it into a two page synopsis. I did mention the synopsis, didn't I?

I learned more with every contest I entered (and there were quite a few!). My scenes became steamier when I entered a contest for the best “first kiss”. My writing became crisper when I learned how to condense for the “one page synopsis” contest. The best “cute meet” taught me how to put emotion into a scene.

Best of all, however, the feedback I received from contest judges was invaluable. Some pointed out inconsistencies in the story. Others made me realize that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. A few kind judges pointed out grammar errors (although no missing commas). It was through contest judges I learned to avoid the “As you know, Bob” literary device where a character blurts out a bunch of information in dialogue to another character that already knows the information with the sole purpose of informing the reader. Boy, was I guilty of that!

I would highly recommend contests for anyone starting a romance writing career. Not only did I get excellent feedback through the contests, I learned a lot about writing, won a few prizes, and I got an agent!

I still enter contests. After all, the learning never stops.

  • What has been your experiences with contests? Love 'em? Hate 'em?

Thanks very much to Sia for hosting me today. I wish you many happy contests!


AGAINST THE ROPES--Available in stores and online now.

He scared me. He thrilled me. And after one touch, all I could think about was getting more...

Makayla never thought she'd set foot in an elite mixed martial arts club. But if anyone needs a medic on hand, it's these guys. Then again, at her first sight of the club's owner, she's the one feeling breathless.

The man they call Torment is all sleek muscle and restrained power. Whether it's in the ring or in the bedroom, he knows exactly when a soft touch is required and when to launch a full-on assault. He always knows just how far he can push. 

And he's about to tempt Makayla in ways she never imagined...



Recovering lawyer, karate practitioner, and caffeine addict, Sarah Castille worked and traveled abroad before trading her briefcase and stilettos for a handful of magic beans and a home near the Canadian Rockies. Her steamy, contemporary romantic tales feature blazingly hot alpha heroes and the women who tame them.

You can find Sarah: Website, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter

You can also sign up for Sarah's newsletter for the latest scoop on books, contests, and appearances.


Stephen Tremp said...

Best wishes to Sarah and her new life!

I don't enter contests. Just don't have the time. One of these days I'll finish all my short stories and enter some into contests.

Yolanda Renee said...

Great advice and I've entered a few contests, but not many. I'd love to do more and will in the future, I hope!

Love the blurb - your books sounds 'hot'! Oh, and did I mention I love the name Sarah.

Thanks Sia, wonderful!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sarah, welcome to Over Coffee! Your article made me laugh more than once. Feedback was one of the major reasons I got into contests. I was like you, when I first got serious with my writing. No one to give me serious feedback. Judges do!

It was through a writing contest that I joined with a fabulous writing group. None of us were published in '07. Since then a good number of our members are and we have several bestselling authors in the group. I learned SO MUCH both from contest feedback and feedback from my group. Invaluable info on writing, publishing, agents, and self-pubbing from this group. They're amazing. Quite a few are both trad pubbed and self.

I will be in and out Wednesday. The day job has me by the nose with an 8 hour day I'll check in and be getting around to all my bloggers friends through out the day.

Kat Sheridan said...

Hi, Sarah! What a great concept for a romance novel! It looks like fun. And yes, waving my hand over here as a former contest junkie myself. Entering into some of the RWA contests was a great learning experience for me. Some of them gave great advice. I never did well in them, though. I'd get two judges who loved every word I wrote, and then the third judge would be one who had apparently been the East German judge in the Olympics. Can't tell you how many times I missed finalling by as little as half a point! But boy, yes, did I learn things! And I was fotunate to fall into the same writing group as Sia. A group of honest writers you can trust is the best thing ever! Good luck to you!

Johanna Garth said...

Although I haven't done a ton of contests I feel like what you're describing is the interactive process of writer's working together that has also benefitted me hugely. Friends are great, but writer friends are the ones you need to have read your work.

Isis Rushdan said...

Former contest slut here. I completely agree that there is plenty to gain from entering contests, but you must have thick skin and not take unpleasant comments personally.

Sarah Castille said...

Thanks to Sia for hosting me today and thanks everyone for your comments. You definitely have to have a thick skin and a sense of humor. The book I first entered in the contests, Legal Heat, has lots of naughty sex in courtrooms. Some of the contest judges told me take it out because it wasn't realistic and lawyers didn't behave like that. Um...lawyers are people too and I had actually TONED DOWN things I had seen in real life while working as a lawyer. Ha ha. And no, I didn't take out those scenes :)

Definitely agree working and sharing with a group of writers is invaluable!

Mason Canyon said...

Sarah, from a reader's point of view I can see where it would be difficult to tell your friend there's problems in a story. But, at the same time you want her story to be the best so you should point out any problems you see. Sounds like the contests are a super way to learn and improve one's writing. Wishing you much success.

Thoughts in Progress

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'll admit I've never entered one. Glad you learned so much from entering contests though.

L.G. Smith said...

On my last novel, before I had critique partners, I had nearly the same experience. I found entering contests gave me some objective feedback on the writing that I desperately needed. And it was fun when I made the finals or won, too. They actually hand out cash for some of them. :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've entered a couple Writer's Digest contests and received some really good feedback on one of my manuscripts.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Glad you learned so much from the contests and great that you got feedback. I don't write romance but heard great things about RWA

Pk Hrezo said...

I agree! I entered every contest I came across and always learned from the feedback. I might add that critiquing others' work taught me more than any writing course ever has, and showed me how to crit my own.
Great to meet Sarah!

Tina said...

I love contests. I've entered a few writing ones, won some prizes, but I've never entered the type you talk about here. It sounds like the feedback was very valuable! Congrats on your wins.
Tina @ Life is Good

Sarah Castille said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. It was great to be here today. Thanks again Sia for hosting me!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Steve, contests aren't for everyone and yes, they take a lot of time to get the entry ready. :-)

Yolanda, there are contests galore out there and some for pubbed authors too.

Johanna, exactly. You need someone who can read with a view to content, clarity, pacing, and has a view of the market too. Someone who will say this is good, but this section or this chapter isn't working. Or at least in my opinion.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat, lol! "East German judge in the Olympics". I snorked coffee with that. Yes, we do have a great group!

Isis, just as I was over the coffee going down the wrong way with Kat's comment I read your 'contest slut' lololol!

On a serious note, yes, I agree Isis. You have to realize that negative comments on your writing, especially by judges, aren't personal. They're still subjective in that personal likes and dislikes come into play but still, they don't know you so their comments are more objective and are given to improve the overall story. Not attack you personally.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Right Mason. you want your friend's story to be the best it can be and that can't happen without constructive crits.

Alex, you DO learn so much!

LG, cash feels nice, but I've always liked the objective feedback!

Diane, Writers digest does have some good contests.

~Sia McKye~ said...

PK--here too! Yes critiquing does teach more than a writing class does. It does train your eye.

Natalie, RWA does have some great contest and in quite a few sub genres of romance as well.

Tina, RWA have some tough standards for contests but oh so worth it.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sarah, it's been my pleasure to host you on this leg of your busy tour! I enjoyed your thoughts and lessons learned from contests. I'm so glad you persevered and look at you now!

Suzanne Furness said...

I've entered a few and had a moderate amount of success, but you are right, they are a great way to hone our craft. Thanks for visitng my blog, I am following now :)

Crystal Collier said...

I HATE writing a synopsis. It's been a while since I entered any competitions, but I do remember how much I loved the thrill--that "You made is past the first round" frenzy, followed by an eventual, "Oh man, I didn't win." If I had time, I would totally get into them. IF. One day, eh?