By Roxanne Rustand
ACFW is a wonderful source of education, networking, and industry information, and offers another opportunity: its annual contest for unpublished writers. There are other non-ACFW contests during the year as well. Entering contests can be very helpful, and here are a few reasons why:
1. If your critique partners have seen your work over and over, they may not catch details inadvertently lost during your repeated revisions. Contest judges are “fresh readers”, and have a better chance at catching problems.
2. Contests can help you identify weaknesses, set goals and monitor your improvement. For example, if you score low on “point of view”, then study POV, revise, and strive for higher POV scores in your next contest. Setting smaller goals helps you see satisfying progress, even if your first sale seems far away.
3. Through entry preparation, you will learn professional presentation of your work.
4. If you final in a contest with an editor or agent as the final round judge, you are guaranteed a prompt read–much faster than if you’re part of a tall slush pile on someone’s desk!
PREPARING AND ENTERING A WINNER
Polish your entry until it shines, and follow the contest rules carefully. Don’t take a chance on being disqualified. You’ll lose your entry fee, but worse, you’ll lose the opportunity to be judged in that contest.
Start with a strong hook. Startle, amuse, or raise a question that forces the reader to read on. End each scene with another strong hook. Make readers eager to find out what happens next. Don’t end an entry in mid-scene or mid-paragraph just to use every page allowed. Entrees ending this way seem anticlimactic and flat. A great hook at the end will help make your entry stand out.
Make sure you’ve established goal, motivation, and conflict for your characters. If you aren’t certain what this means, study Debra Dixon’s outstanding book, GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.
Be sure you have clearly included the “who-what-where-why-when” in your story, or judges may be confused, and will score you lower.
Check and re-check punctuation, grammar, and spelling. A manuscript with basic flaws isn’t likely to get a serious read by a contest judge or an editor.
Prepare your entry early. Set it aside, then look at it much later. You’ll find many errors when you can study it with a fresh eye.
My best hint: use the text-to-speech function in your computer to read each scene aloud, and follow along on a hard copy, circling every problem you find. You’ll catch typos, awkward or overlong dialogue, inadvertent alliterations, and a host of other problems. Fix everything, then ask a friend (one who has never read it before) to go through it, too.
When you receive your contest results, listen to what the judges are telling you. This is a wonderful chance to learn from experienced writers–even if hurts. Pride and a stubborn heart will only hold you back.
If you’ve been down some rough roads on your journey toward a first sale, just remember that no one was born published. Many successful authors were rejected for years before they sold. Contests aren’t a freeway to success, but they can help you perfect your work, give you valuable experience in revision, provide helpful contacts with editors, and help you on the road to your first sale!
Inspirational author Roxanne Rustand’s first manuscript won a RWA Golden Heart and her second was Golden Heart finalist–which led to her first sales. She’s the author of thirty books. Her newest sweet romances, Comeback Cowboy and Summer at Briar Lake, are available at Amazon. Her website and blog: www.roxannerustand.com.