To Contest or Not to Contest, That Was the Question

~ By Emelle Gamble

I used to believe that contests would not help a writer’s career. I told fellow writer’s when the topic came up that I just didn’t think they were useful . Why put yourself through it, I asked?  Doesn’t it hurt you more if you lose one, or get stressful or inane remarks, than if you were to win one?

I thought that for many years, back in the 1990s, when I was contracted with Harlequin Intrigue. I believed that the path to publishing was pretty straight…it went from idea to query to acceptance to contract. This old school approach sometimes saw people enter the RITA Golden Heart contest and attract attention, but most of us got published the old-fashioned way by getting pulled out of the slush pile (now there’s an expression to make us all feel creative) and moving to the next step.

Then, I quit writing for a few years. When I dove back in around five years ago, I found a whole new crazy world where no path was straight and anything and everything was a possible avenue to getting one’s work considered for publications.

I tried the old school way and was slapped with about 50 rejections, many of them ‘boilerplate’ ‘Dear Author’ missives I couldn’t believe were being sent to me.  My indie author friends suggested I consider publishing my three completed novels myself, my big-box author friends said to hang in there. Then one said, ‘Why don’t you send them in to a few contests, get a feel for what the market is thinking?”

I took my old position that writers are artists, etc.  etc. etc.  bloody stupid etc. And then, (I am a slow learner)  a light bulb went off in my brain and I realized,  authors are judged, scored and assigned letters every day. By readers. Every time a reader reads a book, they decide if they’ve read a ‘good book’ or a ‘crummy book’,  or a book that ‘changed their life’ or made them ‘laugh out loud’.

So why not a contest to see what the readers who could help you reach other readers, namely agents and editors and the authors who judge writing contests? So I entered.

In the first two contests, I pretty much got dismal feedback. Some of it factually incorrect about my work, “these high school girls”…the characters are clearly in their 30’s…some of it pretty insulting, ”really, are you really opening a book with a description of the weather “, some very sweet but condescending, “you should show not tell…let us feel what the character’s are feeling” and some encouraging.  And, surprisingly, ALL OF IT HELPFUL. Even the incorrect, snide stuff. Really. Because it got me thinking and looking at my work with new eyes, based on feedback, no matter how I might disagree with it, from new readers.

I reworked my manuscripts with this new insight and entered two more contests with each of my three books, and finaled with one of the manuscripts in each contest. One of these contests was The Stiletto Contest, held by the then Chick Lit RWA chapter that is now our RWA Contemporary chapter.

Woman at ComputerI was heartened at making the finals. At being judged, at being graded and given points. I kept my fingers crossed. And placed Second in both.

One of the judges of the Stiletto contest said, “The concept, which has two very different best friends swapping souls after a wish and before a deadly car crash, is derivative and quite stale.  We’ve seen this before, and this approach brings nothing that is imaginative or visionary to the dramatic table.” Ouch.

But another one of the judges said this, “Alternating first-person POV is a brilliant choice for showcasing the emotional roller-coaster I sensed from the full synopsis. I found minimal mistakes inasmuch as grammar and typos are concerned, and as a result of the author’s care and attention to detail, she has produced a very polished contest entry. I would thoroughly enjoy reading the entire manuscript.”  Sigh. Of relief.

And then, on the zig-zagging path I found myself, this judge contracted my novel, which was released in July, 2013. So my advice to any writer now is yes, definitely enter those contests. Keep your mind open to the reader’s responses, and keep the faith. Good things do happen to those who put themselves out there.

Emelle Gamble became a writer at an early age. At  six years old she  wrote her first story about a lost bunny whose quest was to find out what kind of animal she was. This itch to tell tales evolved into bad teen poetry and tortured short works that thankfully never saw the light of day. As ‘M.L. Gamble,’ she published several romantic suspense novels with Harlequin Intrigue. 

Soul Mate Publishing  has now contracted for Secret Sister, in July of 2013, and Dating Cary Grant, an early 2014 release.

Always intrigued by the words ‘what if’, Gamble’s books feature an ordinary woman confronted with an extraordinary situation.  Emelle lives in suburban Washington D.C.  with her hero of thirty years, Philip,  and two orange cats, Lucy and Bella. Her two children are happily launched on their own and are both contributing great things to society, their mother’s fondest wish. 

Emelle welcomes any reader interested to visit her website, and her Facebook page.

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