Confessions of a Contest Sl-Diva

by Janice Lynn

Copyright © 2004 by Janice Lynn. All rights reserved.

As someone who has entered more than her share of contests, I’m often asked to give the lowdown on what I’ve learned. First off let me just say that everything I say is my personal experience and not necessarily what you or anyone else would experience.

hen I first joined RWA in April of 2002 and learned that I could enter writing contests, I was ecstatic. Little did I know that my kids’ college fund would dwindle as a direct result of this one discovery. The Maggie 2002 was my first contest entry with my first manuscript. Sad. Sad. Sad. That poor contest coordinator. That’s all I can say. I didn’t even know the difference in fonts and she (or one of the judges) took pity on me and actually walked me through proper formatting on my entry (basically explained the basics in a kind way because I’d totally screwed up). I’ve come a long way since that time. Two and a half years later, I’ve finaled in multiple chapter contests with multiple manuscripts. During 2003 I finaled in the Golden Heart and during 2004 I finaled in RTBookclub’s American Title contest.

hy enter a contest? When you opt to enter a contest you should have a specific goal (s) in mind of WHY you are entering. Are you entering for feedback or to final? Both? Are you trying to get in front of a particular editor? Is that particular contest a final you want to list on your writing resume for the prestige of it? Are you trying to impress a particular editor/agent? When I first started entering contests, it was for feedback. Not that some of it didn’t bring tears to my eyes-it did. I entered my first manuscript in.more contests than I’m willing to admit to. It never finaled. And shouldn’t have, although I didn’t think that way at the time. But the objective feedback I got was invaluable in helping me to learn my writing weaknesses and strengths. For prestige? Well, there ain’t nothing like the real thing-err, I mean, the Golden Heart. I can’t think of any one other contest that even comes close to carrying the weight the Golden Heart does.

hich contest should I enter? Well, it depends. Are you looking for feedback? Then maybe some of the longer contests like Golden Gateway, Golden Opportunity, and the Barclay would be good options as you can enter more pages. Do you need objective eyes on your synopsis? On your query letter? There are contests for just about everything pertaining to the writing process. Are you wanting to get in front of a particular editor or publishing house? All these things should be considered before entering so that you’re entering the right contest for the right reason.

Cost? That’s a big factor. I’ve paid anywhere from nothing to $50 to enter a contest. Are the more expensive ones better? Except for the Golden Heart-I don’t think so. Again, I advise deciding what you’re trying to accomplish. If it’s for feedback, a less expensive (usually shorter entry) contest is probably not your best option. However, if it’s to get in front of a particular editor in hopes of a request, it might be the perfect choice.

Time frame-how soon do you need your feedback? Some contests list their time frames for returning the manuscripts. If this is important, be sure to check.

here do I find these contests? Romance Writers of America’s website via the chapter sites, , or any number of author/writing websites are great places to get a comprehensive list.

I’ve entered, now what? KEEP WRITING regardless of the comments received. I’ve finaled, now what? KEEP WRITING regardless of the comments received. A contest final is just that. It doesn’t make you a better writer than you are. It just means that you had judges who ‘got’ your writing. If you didn’t final, it doesn’t make you a lesser writer. Look at the comments when you receive them, but don’t make any changes to your manuscript until you’ve had a few days to let the comments sink in. The judge may be right-but they could be wrong. Wait until you can objectively consider the suggestions made. (I’m still waiting to do this on a few of the comments I’ve received in the past.)

Has finaling in multiple contests helped me? Without a doubt. Not that the contest finals are why my agent signed me, but when I listed my titles and showed that each one had finaled in two to three contests, it proved I was capable of producing multiple manuscripts of finaling caliber. Have the contest finals helped me to sell? Not yet. BUT I now have manuscripts all over New York and Toronto as a direct result of contest finals.

Are contests the way to go for you? Only you can answer this. It certainly isn’t a fast track to publication, but it is a way for an unpublished author to promote herself. I hope you’ve found this article helpful and wish you luck in all your contest endeavors.

Janice Lynn has completed ten manuscripts in the three years she’s been writing. She is agented by Caren Johnson at the Peter Rubie Agency. Currently, Janice is competing in the 2004 American Title contest. Don’t forget to vote for her at and help her make that transition from unpublished contest sl–diva to published. You can learn more about Janice at

Copyright © 2003 by Janice Lynn. All rights reserved.