One of the first resources I found was the Romance Writers of America (an amazing organization that I always recommend to any aspiring author, romance or otherwise). I quickly learned that one of the best ways to both get feedback on my writing (desperately necessary, since I'd never met another writer) and get my writing in front of agents and editors was to enter a contest.
By the Fall of 2003 I had (finally) decided on a manuscript. I had about 50 decent pages of a Regency set historical. I entered it in the West Houston RWA's (my new chapter) Emily contest and the Golden Heart, RWA's national contest for unpublished manuscripts. (The major benefit of the Golden Heart was that you had to have a complete manuscript to enter, which meant I actually had to finish my very first manuscript.
I got the results back from the Emily contest about a week after I sent off my entry into the Golden Heart. The results were mediocre at best. "Oh well," I thought. "Guess I'm not supposed to be a writer."
I quit. I stopped writing altogether. Seriously. I'd like to think I'd have come back to it eventually, but instead fate intervened. It was late March. I was sitting at my dad's computer in the living room, he was relaxing in his recliner (aka waiting for me to get off his computer) when my phone rang.
"May I speak with Tera Childs please," the caller said.
"This is Tera."
"I'm calling to let you know that Summer Sapphire has finaled in the Golden Heart."
I was speechless. I'd quit writing. Shelved it along with so many other fly-by-night dreams. But now I'd finaled in the most prestigious contest available to unpublished romance authors. Suddenly my career was back on track (and I haven't looked back since).
Now people might have differing opinions on contests, but here are the reasons I think contests are an excellent opportunity for aspiring writers:
- Feedback -- You'll get plenty. And, no, not all of it will be good. Anyone who's ever been on the contest circuit has some crazy judges' comments to share. But almost as important as the good feedback on your writing is learning how to differentiate between valid criticism and the kind that needs to get thrown in a blazing bonfire.
- Tough Skin -- As noted above, you'll get harsh comments. Some of them will be ridiculous, but some of them will be spot on. And, as hard as it may be to read about everything that's wrong with your entry, you'll get comments just as tough (or worse) from agents and editors down the line. Might as well learn how to cope now.
- Opportunity -- Agents and editors get hundreds (thousands?) of queries and submissions every week. Most of the time you have a few sentences to get them interested in your book. But, if you final in a contest, you have a guaranteed read of at least the first chapter or two. My own critique partner got both her agent and her first book contract thanks to contest finals, so they do work. (Although, in full disclosure, I never got a single request from a contest until after I'd sold Oh. My. Gods.)
- Southern Heat -- Sponsored by the East Texas RWA (and coordinated by a good friend of mine) this contest has a specific Young Adult category. And, bonus, not only am I one of the initial round judges (no, I'm not judging every entry, so it's just as likely you'll get other judges) but my fabulous editor is the final round judge. Cost: $20-$30. Deadline: September 1.
- Emily -- This is my home chapter's contest and, although it doesn't have a specific YA category, you can enter a YA manuscript in the appropriate category. (I entered Oh. My. Gods. in the paranormal category before I sold.) The Emily has a terrific reputation and some great final round judges this year. Cost: $20-$30. Deadline: October 7.
- Golden Heart -- Yep, that very same contest I finaled in back in 2004. It's one of those shot-in-the-dark contests (as in it's very tough to final) but if you do... then it's a pretty awesome credential to add to your query letters. Cost: ??? (not posted yet, usually $50, I think). Deadline: November 16 (entry form and fees)/December 2 (material).
OH. MY. GODS. (now in paperback!)
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