In the PR world, the catchphrase Content is King is often cited. However, among the Upcoming Famous and Fabulous Writers, we think Contest is King. All five of us enter humble, and not so humble, contests to gain maximum mileage from our writing efforts. This month we reveal our hands and let you see behind our competition poker faces.
Content is King – Megan Mayfair
With my public relations hat on for a moment, it is vital to remember the worth of the content you produce.
In PR we often encourage the use of repurposing content. A sensational speech delivered by a CEO or industry or community leader can make a fantastic opinion piece, or a blog series. Why? It gets as much mileage as possible from a good piece of writing and helps improve our reach.
When approaching competitions, you’ll need to generate content. Many of the competitions may ask for a synopsis of your manuscript. This however could be something you use to then query an agent or editor. In some competitions, you may be asked for a blurb – what a great way to play around with the wording you may choose when self-publishing your work.
In other competitions such as Little Gems or Spicy Bites, your short story may be included in the anthology – sensational! If not, perhaps the short story could be tweaked, edited or extended, and entered into another short story competition or extended into a novella to submit to anthologies created by publishers, or create your own anthology with writer friends.
When weighing up the time commitment of creating ‘content’ for your contest submissions, consider how the material could be used in other ways beyond the competition to help you have your work noticed by readers or within the industry.
Use the cards in your hand – Marianne Bayliss
While generating new content for competitions can provide you with material for further needs, you can also consider using writing which already exists in your files.
Have you been fine tuning your synopsis? Add a query letter and blurb and you’re set to enter the Selling Submission. Do you have a first draft of a manuscript in which your hero and heroine play tonsil hockey? Fine-tune that scene then pucker up and enter it for the First Kiss.
Have you been playing around with a story which is unlike anything you’ve written before? The Little Gems and Spicy Bites are contests providing the perfect opportunity for you to test your voice as you explore a new genre.
This year I had not intended to enter the Ripping Start but after a quick look back at my first chapter, I found I’d had my writing group critique it earlier in the year – which I had forgotten about as I progressed further down the rabbit hole. Within hours I was able to tighten it up and submit it. Hey presto!
Before you look at the calendar and write off entering a competition due to the timeframe, check through your files; you may have some existing pieces that are a great fit for upcoming contests.
From the dealer’s perspective – Jayne Kingsley
Last year there was a call out for volunteers for contest coordinators. I saw it on the aspiring loop, and thought, I could do that. I had been pondering for a while how I could become more involved in the RWA, and this seemed like the perfect avenue.
I am now the contest coordinator for Spicy Bites. I have only run it once, but through that I was able to meet a group of wonderful RWA members and learn a lot about the behind the scenes running of a contest.
I have learnt how important it is to read the submission guidelines. It may not seem like much, but I now see how varied submissions can be. Tip – use the hide/show button – it’s great for seeing those extra hits to the enter button, space bar or where those crafty page breaks are hiding.
SO many people volunteer as judges – and I’m going to take this moment to say a big THANK YOU. We are all busy, life in general these days just is more hectic, so anytime someone is able to donate their time and constructive criticism (even if opinions differ) it’s worthwhile thanking them for their efforts.
I learnt that mail-merges are awesome, and you can do all sorts of wonderful things with them (*cough* though not on a Mac computer)
I had the very great privilege of emailing the winning contestants and receiving ecstatic replies of joy and gratitude. That part of the job alone made the work worthwhile.
Finally, I was given the opportunity to stand up at conference and announce the launch of this year’s anthology (Chains) and next year’s theme (Masks). I regretted saying yes, the moment I clicked send on that email, but it forced me to get up there and conquer some of that fear of speaking in public and allowed me to stand before a room filled with so many amazing writers, which was actually quite awe inspiring (and the reason for my incredibly short spiel).
Lessons Learned – Stella Quinn
This month, I’m blogging about my experience entering the RWA Emerald award.
In 2016, I had decided to have another crack at this writing caper, so dug out an old manuscript, had it transferred by an IT guru from a 3.5 inch hard disk to a USB, and spent a breezy few weeks removing the following:
- Archaisms like facsimile machine
- Pearl-strings of adverbs (like angrily, and wantonly, and ruefully)
- 228 exclamations marks (uh-huh, seriously. Word search function cannot lie. 228!!!)
That manuscript #1 scraped over the line into the longlist then quietly faded into black, but the feedback I received was instrumental in not only improving that manuscript in the months since, but every other manuscript I’ve written.
So in 2017 as the Emerald deadline approached I was way more prudent with my pre-contest editing of manuscript #2. I paid careful attention to feedback: watch your POV (I tend to slide out to omniscient from time to time); give your character time to react to the big plot event that’s just changed his/her life (I had just leaped into the next scene without stopping to consider the impact of the closing moments of the preceding scene. How would he/she feel about this plot change?)
From longlist … to shortlist … (drum roll) … to second in the RWA Emerald announced at Conference 2018 (*insert 228 exclamation marks here), with some fab feedback from Liz Pelletier from Entangled Publishing over there on the far side of the Pacific Ocean. She had some issues with my first chapter, which she detailed at length in such an expert manner I could tackle re-writing that first chapter with a clear vision of what needed to be done. I live in hope that the whole manuscript has slid a whole notch upwards towards being more publishable.
Will I continue to enter contests? Heck yes. Does negative feedback hurt? Like a hot poker to the soul. Does feedback help? Absolutely. Not all of it, because giving feedback is bloody difficult, so we can’t expect our lovely beta readers or reader judges to get it right all the time. But often they are right, and every so often there is a little nugget of gold in the feedback so warming, so rich with promise and affirmation, it keeps us plugging away at our keyboards night after lonely night.
Now to see what contests are open this month …
Contest is King – Lou Greene
For many of us our writing is not encompassed purely within the parameters of the romance genre, so I thought I’d write about competitions and opportunities beyond the bounds of the RWA. Furthermore, as romance writing often gets knocked, it seems important that we prove our craft and credibility not only within the bounds and opportunities of the RWA, but also outside in the broader writing community. In my opinion, the value of competitions is found not just in winning, but in participating in them, in raising your profile and drawing attention to your work, honing your writing skills and testing the water.
But that may be easier said than done. Christian White, author of the bestselling debut novel ‘The Nowhere Child’ recently compared sending out his writing to stripping naked in front of someone for the first time. Being the wrong side of fifty, with a weakness for chocolate and the stretch marks left by three kids I try not to worry about that too much … but he also gave me another great piece of advice – Go home and press send! Often it is a matter of shutting our eyes and doing exactly that. Last year, with seconds to spare, I entered the biennial Historical Novel Society of Australia First Pages competition, and to my great surprise won. Whilst that did not mean I was snapped up as a debut author, it did at least open some conversations between myself and the publishers and agent on the judging panel. This year I competed in the Richell Prize for which I was longlisted. I was very proud of that achievement for a few weeks … until I didn’t get shortlisted. Missing out is always tough. However, as I wrote back to the publisher who emailed me the same day to offer condolences and support, what does not kill me will (hopefully) make me a stronger writer. This year I’ve also entered the Hachette Manuscript Development Program run by the Queensland Writers’ Centre, the Australian Writers’ Centre Furious Fiction monthly competition, a short story competition for Elle magazine and the Victorian Premier Literary Award for Unpublished Manuscripts. I have no idea as of yet whether I have managed to get a flag in the ground with these competitions or whether I have fallen flat on my face in the sand.
Waiting is horrible and hard. Not winning is harder and more horrible still. But I keep reminding myself that any wins, small achievements or acknowledgements along the way help to bolster my spirits and give me a feather for my writing cap – always useful when approaching agents or publishers for that final push.
So … if you are interested in ‘exposing’ yourself, what next?
Opportunities abound. It goes without saying that you need to read competition and guidelines,terms and conditions carefully. Be aware of competitions that are simply money-making schemes or that those that snaffle your rights. Read the small print before you submit. What’s more consider your reasons for entering a competition in the first place. As an aspiring writer it may be that your interest is most focused on mentorship and feedback, in which case the Australia Society of Authors runs a Mentorship Award. Likewise ACT Writers Centre Hard Copy is another highly regarded professional development program. There are numerous short story, flash fiction and poetry competition opportunities and I frequently refer to Writers Victoria’s ops and comps section to check out potential competitions. Other state writing centres provide similar information. Many large publishing houses run competitions to spot new talent, such as the Hachette ones already mentioned, or Penguin’s Literary Prize (closes 25th November), or Harper-Collins The Banjo Prize. There are many websites that provide and update lists of writing competitions, such as the Australian Writers’ Resource http://www.austwriters.com/AWRfiles/competitions.htm, Fellowship of Australian Writers http://fawnsw.org.au/writing-competitions/ and
Writers Edit https://writersedit.com/opportunities-for-writers/.
So perhaps the game of writing is akin to playing strip poker. I don’t truly believe competition is king – writing will always be king – but if you are willing and interested enough to put yourself in the game in the first place, and if you can keep your nerve, success in a competition can be like having an ace up your sleeve.