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Dancing the Contest Dance

Okay.  Given the difficulties of acquiring an agent, how do you get your deathless prose in front of an editor?

In the olden days, you could just send off the manuscript, and in the fullness of times, you got a response.  Probably 95% of the time it was a printed rejection slip, but sometimes it was a personalized rejection, and sometimes (okay, so not often) — saints be praised! — the book actually got accepted!  Of course the manuscript had to be read by some lowly editorial assistant who, if enthusiastic, would push it up the line to a more senior editorial assistant who, if she/he really fell in love with it, might push it up the line to the editor, who, if it fit in his/her proposed list, might push it up the line to the sales force and/or the editorial committee and/or whoever lived at the top of that particular tree.  And eventually the decision would be made.

But that was back in the olden days when there was more time, not to mention money to hire the editorial assistants (not that they ever got princely salaries — publishing is a glamour industry and everybody knows that it’s a privilege to work in a glamour industry).  Nowadays nobody is going to read a whole manuscript that comes sliding in through the transom.  So you have to produce a query, which the new efficient editorial assistant might glance at.  But even reading queries takes time, and increasingly, the powers that be in the editorial offices just don’t have time to bother with anything that doesn’t come with an agent attached.

Which is why we hopeful souls now pay money to contests, partly so that a) we’ll get helpful critiques (do I spy a glimmer of exasperation there?), but mainly in the desperate hope that b) we’ll final and our manuscript — or the first three chapters or X # of words — will so enthrall the judging editor that they will request a Full which will lead straight to publication.

Sigh.  But it does happen, just as in the olden days, sometimes one of the manuscripts dumped over the transom did eventually work its way to the printed word.  The difference is that now we get to pay up front.

There’s the fun part of choosing which contests to enter, unless you have an unlimited pocketbook (and unlimited patience).  Do you choose contests on the basis of the readers of the lucky Mss that finaled?  Or on the promised skill and discernment of the anonymous first readers?  On the basis of cost?  Then, too, once you’ve selected which ones, there’s the fun part of formatting your chapters, and re-formatting, and re-formatting, because every contest has its own peculiar methods.

Then you send out your cherished words to a cold, hard world and wait to see what comes back.  Some people put dates on their calendars when finalists will be notified.  Some people do their best to forget, privately hoping to be surprised.  Statistically, what most often happens is that eventually you get a packet of critiques and scores, or alternatively, a long email with the same.  And some of the readers may have gotten what you were trying to do, and some of them may not have.  (If most of them didn’t, it’s better not to consider at this point how much money you paid to feel crushed and misunderstood.)

Or maybe, if your luck’s in and the stars are in the right quarter, you FINAL.  And get asked for a full?  Well, that’s why we dream, isn’t it?

Was the transom easier?  Well, we don’t get to pick.  So I am polishing up my splendid work, cutting and twisting and changing the header, over and over — you entering any contests recently?  Why? or maybe why not?

9 Responses

  1. Oh! Enter mine Beppie! Enter mine! …oh, wait, or don’t and judge for me *g*


    I did a lot of contests last year, but just haven’t been feeling them this year. I do plan to enter the Golden Heart this year. Which isn’t much good for you unless you final, but anyway….

  2. I enter about five to six contests a year. This year, I’ve entered three so far. I just learned I finaled in Put Your Heart in a Book contest (New Jersey’s) and I have one in with the Golden Pen (which I got good feedback on last year) I usually enter the Suzannah (Keri’s contest) but I decided to help judge this year.

    I will enter the Golden Heart this year with at least one ms.

    I like contests – at least it gives me something to look forward to

  3. You should enter our contest, Beppie. The judges give you honest feedback. It is a great contest. My writing has improved because of it. The Suzannah Contest. It’s on the same website Keri gave you. NOLA STARs. I am not entering this year because I have to have my book finished by March for an editor and agent. I have been too busy with that.

  4. How encouraging you are, Keri and Jamie! I’ve been very seriously considering it. My problem is that two chapters run to 7066 words, and I don’t see how I can fit a synopsis into 134 words! I was battling that problem last night. I’ll work on it — probably the best solution is to cut the chapter, and I guess I have to face up to that.

    I am a novice at contests — I hung back from all but the GH (where the feedback is, to put it kindly minimal), but having judged a couple of them, I decided that I could write as well as that! We’ll see how it comes out.

    Thanks for your confidence in me —

  5. Amy, I think of you as the Contest Queen. Always will —

  6. Beppie, you don’t have to cut a chapter, just end in the middle of a chapter at an interesting spot.

  7. Oh, no, I’m just a novice. Some of those contest diva gals do two and three a month. Start adding those costs up – $100.00 a month times 12? Yikes! I’m good with 4-5 a year plus the GH.

    I usually stick a new ms in about three for feedback and then I’m done. I always try to have one in the GH – it’s like buying a lottery ticket though. I do like to do the Golden Pen because it mirrors the GH and allows you 55 pages and gives feedback.

  8. Keri, think I did it. I cut here and there and now I have 738 words for a synopsis. Unfortunately we’re heading off to Chicago for the weekend, so unless I manage the synopsis tomorrow a.m., it’ll have to wait until Sunday/Monday. Have I ever mentioned how much I HATE writing synopses?

  9. Amy — that’s more than me, but I may catch up with you. I agree entirely about the GH and lottery tickets, but I’ve entered two of the past three years — didn’t enter this last year because I didn’t have anything to enter! But good old WIP (now finished!) will be in there this year.

    And two or three other places as well. I’m getting brave in my old age.

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