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!
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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.
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