12 results from my RWA contests experiment!

by Marie-Claude Bourque

Contests, no contests? Are they worth it?

When I finished writing Ancient Whispers, I asked myself just that. So, since I am a scientist, I did a little experiement and entered my manuscript the same enrty in about 20 RWA contest. These are my “results”.

It may or not be useful to you, but before reading, please keep in mind that this is the entry that was chosen by a Dorchester editor to compete in the American Title which is what got me my first publishing contract.

So here we go:

(1) I got scores ranging from 40% to 100%

(2) I got an judge who said my story was way too cliche and she was tired of vampires, werewolf, sorcerer and evil mages (she was judging paranormal)

(3) lots of people said that my relationship was weak (and so said a few agents and my editor later – all fixed now)

(4) lots of people said that my beginning was slow (and so did my editor — all fixed now)

(5) a judge called my writing a terrific lyrical tone another called it too “British”.

(6) some found it sexy, one said it read almost like a rape scene (my editor loves all the love scene I wrote, no changes needed)

(7) some circled all my “ly” words and my “was”, said I was too passive, too much telling.

(8) when I had a prologue, judges said ditch the prologue, when I took it out, judges were confused. (my editor kept the prologue – no changes)

(9) I got advice on getting grammar books and GMC books and other books on writing.

(10) most said my heroine was too weak (and so did my editor – all fixed now)

(11) I got the best and most useful comments from published authors and Golden Heart finalists as judges. They skipped the small stuff and commented on the overall story, how it read and where it sagged and mentionned the 3 things that my editor made me change.

(12) and like many, I was also told “this will never sell” but also “let me know when it sells.”

(Unscientific) conclusion and thoughts:

(1)In the end, I can step back and see that I did get reccuring comments and if I had not sold I would have fixed the long beginning and work on the relationship, weak heroine and resubmit. And I learned tons for my next manuscript.

(2) It cost me about $500 to learn that. My plan for the next story was instead to first pay an editor (I got two authors recommendation) about $250 to get a 3 chapter edit/synopsis evaluation.

(3) For newbies in contest, remember that there are contest addicts out there that polish the same thing over and over and keep sending it back, so that it makes it harder to final when you start out.

(4) my 3 WPs (guess who?) all entered contests, they all finaled and won (one got a GH final), all got requests for partials and fulls from major agents and NY houses within one year of entering. They are very close and I know they will get the call very soon.

(5) I was told that a wide range in scores may mean that you have a strong voice, which is a good thing,

That is just my experience, hope it can help 🙂

34 Responses to 12 results from my RWA contests experiment!

  1. Rebecca says:

    Thanks so much for posting this. I’m very new to RWA and have just started becoming overwhelmed by all the contests out there. I haven’t gotten results back, but just from my experience with different critique partners, I’m already realizing that some of it is very helpful, and some of it, I need to chalk up to taste.

    Great, great post!! Thanks.


  2. Thanks Rebecca,
    Glad the post is useful. I think contests, even if you don’t final, should encourage us to improve, not beat us down and make us want to quit.
    Always remember that these are only 3 judges and you can’t please everyone all the time.
    Good luck and congrats on taking the plunge of submitting!


  3. Thank you Monti! Glad you like the cover.
    One thing I failed to mention was that entering contests forced me to polish those first 3 chapters which U submitted to Dorchester for AT V. So contest are a good way to get started in submitting, getting used to let go and meet deadline and also receive criticism.


  4. Thanks for sharing this Marie-Claude. I’ve had a similar experience with my very limited of sending out to a couple of contests. I’m sure more writers would be interested in your test. I wonder if you could put this article in the RWR?


  5. jbrayweber says:

    Hey MC!
    great post. I’m thinking maybe I should post about my wild contest differences, too. Good grief were some of them out there. LOL!
    Thanks for reminding everyone that contests are more than just trying to win. Listening, looking for recurring comments and using contests as a tool to improve your writing is key.



  6. Jenn,
    Yes please post away. When I started doing contests, I was dying for all the info I could get. And I know the wild range of results you got and you got a GH final!


  7. Thanks Angelia,
    I did submit a proposal for an RWR article on contest, but they never wrote back to me…
    Maybe another time.


  8. Gwen says:

    Thanks for sharing, M-C. It’s definitely useful to see which sorts of comments turned out to be “right” (i.e. your editor thought the same thing). Also, when you lay it out like that, it definitely seems obvious which judges were at which level.

    I agree they are a good way to get your feet wet and get comfortable with the submission (and rejection) process.


  9. You are welcome Gwen.
    Yes, now I have to submit a proposal out cold to an agent and my editor and It’s scary 🙂
    The contest is a bit of a first step.


  10. Hi, M-C! I love that you did a test on your contest entries (and congrats again on your novel, and I’m sure soon-to-follow WP sales!)

    I’ve entered two contests so far, and found both to be worthwhile experiences. I didn’t final in either, but I was pleased with my scores and received valuable feedback, which highlighted and confirmed my critique group’s comments, LOL. I knew they were on the right track for items I needed to work on improving.

    Most of the contests I hear about are geared for romance novels, even the ones that say they’re taking novels with romantic elements, and since I’m not writing true romance now, I doubt that I will enter any more in the near future. Like you, though, I think they can be a valuable tool for feedback, as long as writers keep in mind that the results are subjective. We’re never going to please everyone. As you said, if we’re seeing the same comments from multiple sources, that’s when we want to pay attention and make some changes.

    Very interesting article!



  11. This is the most helpful post I’ve seen on RWA contests. Thanks for doing this!


  12. Arianna Skye says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, M-C. I had very similar experiences with my contest entries. Either they loved or hated the heroine. There was very little modification done to the heroine in the time it sold. I have a very strong, sarcastic voice that can sometimes rub people the wrong way.

    Wings of Desire finaled in over a dozen contest. My other manuscript, Unleashing Your Inner Sex Demon (AKA: Succubus Unleashed), finaled in only 2 contests. However, this manuscript just sold to a publisher in a 4 book deal.

    So sometimes contests work, sometimes not. I think it really boils down to the manscript itself, if that makes any sense. I’ve seen some manuscripts final all the time but never sell. THen I’ve seen some that never finaled at all sell in huge deals. It’s a crap shoot.

    After all the money I’ve invested over the years, I was always pleased with most of the feedback I received.


  13. Chassily,
    I am sure John won’t mind if I share his experience. He has his own style and once he switched from paranomal category to romantic elements he got further with contest (and won the NOLA).
    Romance tend to have set rules that are hard to follow with a non strict romance.
    I always try to judge “elements” because of my eccletic reading taste.


  14. You are very welcome Carole,
    Glad it helps!


  15. Arianna,
    That is interesting. That the one who finaled twice got picked up at Sourcebooks. Congrats!
    I have a few friends who sold through contests.
    Some books are meant for them and some others (like mine) not so much.
    I think it helps to do more than one and look for reccuring feedback.


  16. Great post! Nice to see someone spent more $ on contests than I did. (Way more, in fact.) When I was in the contest stage before I got published, I learned to pay attention to the recurring comments and take the comments of the outlier judges with a huge grain of salt. Some judges are either crabby in general or just don’t like your kind of story; they can lead you astray or sap your confidence. But when you hear the same criticism–e.g., too much back story–over and over, you can bet you have an issue you need to address. I would strongly advice writers to enter more than one contest–though I think three would suffice.


  17. Three is a good number Margaret. I think one risk is to lose your voice trying to please too hard. I’ve heard editors complain of that.
    But 20 contest at 20-30$ each, it’s easy to spend a lot!


  18. Arianna Skye says:

    Thanks Marie!

    Yes, UYSID/SU (Not quite sure on the title) was bought by Sourcebooks. I think my problem was that it is a humorous light paranormal romance. The whole paranormal market is saturated with dark. It’s depressing. Seriously, we need some laughter in our lives. I knew that Sourcebooks was looking for the lighter and more funny stuff, so I specifically targeted them for that reason.


  19. Kim Preston says:

    This was a terrific article. Gives me some hope, I thought I was losing my mind! Thank you.


  20. You are welcome Kim. Glad it helps!


  21. Sharon Hamilton says:

    Hi Sharon,
    I’ve NEVER gotten feedback on a contest I’ve entered! Wish the big guys would do so…like Glimmer Train, Narrative, etc.


  22. Sharon Hamilton says:

    Hi Sharon,
    I’ve NEVER gotten feedback on a contest I’ve entered! Wish the big guys would do so…like Glimmer Train, Narrative, etc.
    OOPS…..this isn’t from Sharon but from Arletta


  23. Sharon, Arletta, except for GH contests with feedback are nice. Best tip u got was to ask for the score sheet before entering.


  24. Just so you know, I just posted a link to your contest results on my blog to share with others.


  25. Thanks Angelia!
    You are awsome 🙂


  26. I entered a couple contests a few years ago, but I didn’t really get into it. I enjoyed reading the results from your contest experiment! Realizing about the contest addicts and having judges nitpick about their pet peeves was kind of a turn-off. I’m glad I tried it though. The entry I subbed for the contests is one that’s now on the backburner. =) Great post! Thank you for sharing.



  27. You are welcome Sarah.
    Contest can become addictive. I think they are one tool out of many.


  28. Debby Lee says:

    Hi Marie Claude, this was very interesting and helpful information for me. I’ve entered contests, but I’m a little choosy in which ones I enter. This blog gives me some insight on how some judges think. Congratulations on your book getting published and have a great day.
    Sincerely, Debby Lee


  29. I’m glad this helped Debby Lee. Good luck with you writing and thanks for your congrats!


  30. Hey Arianna–congrats! Woot! Way to go! (Fellow contest diva here.)
    I took a year to send my first ms to contests–got some really useful feedback and lots of finals. Even won the EMILY “Best of the Best” which was a great confidence builder.
    But everyone kept telling me that I couldn’t sell the ms in the current market because the voice was too humorous (even though the book wasn’t).
    Still, I learned a lot and I thought it was a good experience.
    I spent about that much on an editor for the 1st 2 mss–and learned so much from her that when I FINALLY got my agent this month, she said that the ms (#3, no outside editing) was the only one she ever got that needed NO editing before she sent it out.
    The person I used as an editor was author (and editor on the side) Mindy Klasky. I recommend her HIGHLY.
    And I’m almost through reading ANCIENT WHISPERS–it rocks!


  31. And a great agent you got Deborah!!! So it was worth the money.
    A friend of mine was epub (and with your agency) and sold to Berklry on proposal after using an editor!
    And BTW that’s a great quote on AW! Thanks you are so sweet!


  32. Crista says:

    I’m glad to see some of your results were similar to mine. I’m slowly turning into a contest whore, and although I haven’t reached the 20 entry mark on one manuscript, I’ve entered enough to draw similar conclusions, such as the published judges seem to be less nit-picky about minutia. A judge’s comments vary from contest to contest. Once I sell on the novels, I’ll see if the editors echo any of the suggestions the judges did. I’ll keep entering contests for the time being, but only based on who the final judge is. 😉


  33. What a terrific post, Marie-Claude. The stories I could share about contest judges’ comments… But then of course I’d have to recall them and that would be so very unpleasant. :} Oh, wait, I must share my favorite! A judge once gave me a 60 out of 100 for a medieval. The only comment on the score sheet was that Europeans were not using the abacus at that early date.

    So many authors I know once received scathing contest comments on manuscripts that went on to be published.

    I’ve never heard #5, that wildly divergent comments mean you have a strong voice. Gosh I wish I’d known that back when I was still entering contests!


  34. Chapter 13 Birmingham,Chapter 13 Sterling Heights,Chapter 13 Ferndale,Chapter 13 Bloomfield hills,Chapter 13 Troy,Chapter 13 Madison Heights,Chapter 13 Warren…

    […]12 results from my RWA contests experiment! « MUSETRACKS[…]…


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