Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A New Appreciation for Contest Coordinators

Just popping in this week to say "hi", as I'm trying hard to be a more dedicated blogger this year :) (We won't talk about the fact that being a better blogger has more to do with content than just showing up, though...this week, I'm just shooting for consistency!)

You see, I am coordinating the electronic entries for my chapter's writing contest this year and since I've just finished up sending a hundred contest entries to two different first round judges (and hence each entry had to be renamed and numbered and addressed twice), I am too exhausted to have anything of interest to say this week except:

Thanks, out there, to all you RWA Chapter contest coordinators. You rock!

And for that matter, thanks to all of the judges in our contest and any other. I love being part of an organization where writers volunteer their time to help each other make our writing better, and contests are one of the ways we do that.

Next week, I'll think of something really interesting to say...

Have a great one!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

198 Years Ago Today...


It’s been a while since I’ve lived up to the “Historical” part of “Heather’s Historical Hodgepodge”. September 14 is a very important day, not only in our history, but in the fictional history of the three heroes in my Regency series, who were all soldiers in the Napoleonic wars. You see, September 14th, 1812 marked the turning point in that war and therefore, is the perfect day to rectify my appalling lack of historical posts.

198 years ago today, a victorious Napoleon invaded Moscow expecting to be met at the gates by a delegation from the city. He’d been chasing and defeating the Russian army for months, and now, expected their capitulation and the surrender of Czar Alexander. It was customary for the leaders of a captured city to greet their victor with a key to the city (a traditional symbolic gesture that was meant as a negotiation to keep the population and the city’s property safe from the victorious invaders) and, as part of their surrender, make arrangements to feed and house the invading army.

Instead, Napoleon found the glorious city of Moscow deserted. The majority of the 275,000 citizens had evacuated completely, taking with them every bit of food and supplies they could, stripping the city of anything the French expected to revive themselves with, leaving them to break and scavenge.

Shortly after midnight, fires broke out all over the city—some say started by Russian patriots set on destroying or scorching anything that might help the French, some (like Tolstoy) say by the inept French soldiers carelessly setting fires to warm themselves without taking in account that most of the close buildings were made of wood. Either way, a firestorm erupted and in the end, Napoleon had to flee through burning streets to escape. When the fires went out days later, at least 2/3 of Moscow lay in ruins and Napoleon and his Grande Armée had been robbed of their traditional victory as well as whatever food and supplies the city might have offered.

Czar Alexander said that the burning of Moscow “illuminated his soul,” and the leader surprised Napoleon again by refusing to surrender. A month later, unable to replenish supplies and with his men starving, Napoleon gave up and led his army out of the ruined city.

Many factors contributed to what happened next, but more than 400,000 French soldiers never survived their disastrous journey home. The rest of Europe took advantage of this failure and banded together to turn the tide, ultimately defeating Napoleon once and for all.

Still, it’s very sad that so much history and human life had to be lost in order to bring about something that was ultimately for the good, and as such, I can't think of a cheerful question to end this blog post with, so feel free to just comment at will.

See you next week, and as always, thank you for stopping by Heather's Historical Hodgepodge.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Do Contests Really Help Your Career?

Contests have been good to me in the 2009/2010 season, most certainly. All told, I’ve finaled in 7, including the RWA Golden Heart®, and won three (Chicago North’s Fire and Ice, Kiss of Death’s Daphne du Maurier and Heart’s Through History’s Romance Through the Ages) the last of which introduced my writing to my now agent, Barbara Poelle with the Irene Goodman Agency.

I’ve been getting a few e-mails here and there from people who have noticed my finals/wins asking me how valuable I thought contesting was to launching a career, and if I felt that doing so well in contests was instrumental to getting an agent.

I must say yes. And no.

You already know my agent read my first three chapters in a contest, and went on to request the full, so you may be saying “Duh, of course contest finals were instrumental in launching her career.” But it’s not that simple. I had several agent offers to choose from, only 2 of which found me through a contest. Two more came through referrals from existing clients, and the other 4 through the good old query process. Had I chosen one of those agents instead, the answer would be very different.

Here’s the thing: getting an agent or editor to buy into your story ALL COMES DOWN TO THE WRITING, and not just in the first 25-50 pages (the average length of a contest entry). I’ve heard more than one editor and agent say that while contest finals are nice, they don’t pay a ton of attention to them (yes, even the Golden Heart) because many times they’ve read a polished, perfect first three chapters, but then the story falls apart, or the voice/story/plot/characters don’t carry through to the end of the book.

The most instrumental thing for your career then, is to WRITE A DARNED GOOD BOOK, through and through. No matter how well I’d done in contests, I wouldn’t have gotten a single offer if the entire book hadn’t stood out in some way.

That being said, I would still answer YES, as to whether contests have been instrumental to my career, and that is because of the feedback I’ve received. You see, before Sweet Enemy started doing well in contests, I entered another 5 (4 previous to my actual first finalist entry) that I did not final in at all. But what I did get was valuable feedback. I learned something from each and every one of those entries, even from those judges who hated my story or wrote pretty harsh or nitpicky things (most judges were absolutely lovely, btw, even when giving criticism). I learned what was working (thus building my confidence), what people were tripping over, what words I over-used, what images weren’t coming through as I intended, and so on and so on and so on. Taking that feedback and unbiased criticism helped hone my story, showed me areas I needed to better educate myself in on the craft, and then I would try again and enter another contest to see if what I’d changed worked.

Just as important in my growth as a writer has been JUDGING contests. It’s amazing how much you learn about your own writing, or about mistakes writers make, when you are seeing them in someone else’s work. Conversely, you learn when you see something done just right!

And remember, contest finals are great, they let you bypass the slush-pile of whichever editor/agent is judging, and that’s nothing to sneeze at, but that’s all it does. In the end, it’s the writing that is going to win you that editor/agent’s heart, so above all else, educate yourself and hone your craft. That’s what will launch your career.

For those of you who have entered contests, how would you answer this question? For those thinking about contesting, what do you hope to get from the experience?

Now, a shameless plug for my chapter’s contest, deadline of September 10th. And yes, we’re known for great feedback.

Why YOU should enter MARA’s Fiction From the Heartland Contest

o You get TWO full page critiques, one from a published author.
o Our contest provides detailed feedback on your entire entry, including big picture story feedback from your synopsis
o You will receive your comments back in time to prepare to enter the RWA Golden Heart®
• Manuscripts that final are read by BOTH an EDITOR and an AGENT

o Check out 2010’s Fabulous Line-Up!

• Helen Breitwieser, Cornerstone Literary Agency
• Sara Megibow, Nelson Literary Agency
• Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary Agency
• Karen Solem, Spencerhill Associates
• Claudia Cross, Sterling Lord Literistic

• Category Romance - Susan Litman, Harlequin/Silhouette
• Contemporary Single Title - Danielle Poiesz, Pocket Books
• Historical - Tessa Woodward, Avon Books
• Romantic Suspense - Lauren Plude, Grand Central Publishing
• Paranormal - Meredith Giordan, Berkley Publishing Group
• Erotic Romance – Meghan Conrad, Ellora's Cave
• Young Adult - Natashya Wilson, Harlequin Teen
• Inspirational - Melissa Endlich, Steeple Hill

• Trained judges, who judge in the genre they write. No MARA members are allowed to enter our own contest.

• Overall winner receive $50 and a commemorative plaque

• Did we say FEEDBACK?

Here’s what some past entrants have said about our contest:

"I attribute my first sale to this contest." - Laura Abbot

"I had no idea when I entered the MARA Contest how it would change my life. Not only did I win the contemporary catagory and the best overall, but the judging editor requested the entire manuscript and I went on to become a published author! I can't recommend this contest enough." -Donna Delaney

And 2000 RITA® winner for Best First Book (The Maiden and the Unicorn), Isolde Martyn thanked MARA and the Fiction From the Heartland Contest in her acceptance speech

So be sure to polish up your entry and get it in today! Deadline Sept 10th, 2010. www.mararwa.com