Today, we’re delighted to have Donnell Bell with us. She, along with many other volunteers, contributes countless hours to ensure the success of the Kiss of Death chapter’s Daphne contest each year. Without people like Donnell and other contest coordinators and judges, aspiring romance writers would find it much more difficult to gain feedback on their work and gain the attention of editors and agents. Welcome, Donnell!
Kelsey: Donnell, would you share a short overview of the Daphne contest with our readers?
Donnell: Hi, Kelsey, I’m delighted to be here to talk about the Daphne, or more formally known, The Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. The contest honors legendary suspense author Daphne du Maurier, and KOD uses Dame Daphne’s name with permission of the du Maurier estate with great respect and admiration. The goal of our contest (published and unpublished) is to further the mystery and romantic suspense genre, particularly that of the Kiss of Death Chapter members and its supporters.
Kelsey: How do you feel the Daphne, or any RWA chapter contest, benefits the contest entrants?
Donnell: Oh, gosh, how many blog pages can I fill? The Daphne, as well as most contests in RWA® and multi-genre competitions, help entrants on so many levels. For aspiring authors who have honed their craft, it enables them to add a final or a win to their resumes; perhaps to get their work in front of an agent or editor (in the Daphne’s case, both); and, ideally, to get a request for a partial or a full.
Even if a talented writer doesn’t final or win, they are able to do the math. They can see that they were darn close, and it’s subjective! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a judge contact me and ask about Entry XX. It didn’t final, she asks? Nope, and it’s not because it didn’t deserve to. It’s because there’s a ton of competition. (By the way, I’m not surprised in the least when I see a non-finaling entry reach publication.)
For aspiring authors starting out, or on their way up, a contest can offer feedback. It’s a chance to get your work in front of judges, and get a glimpse of what a future editor or agent might say when that entrant finally submits his or her work. Caution: I remind any entrant, that judges are just that: judges. They are not agents or editors. The feedback can be invaluable, though, and can set the writer on the right course. And if a contest has training for its judges, that’s even more helpful.
Kelsey: We don’t often think of contests benefitting the coordinators and judges. What do those involved behind the scenes gain from being involved with a writing contest?
Donnell: In my opinion, it’s a superior networking tool. I have met so many people thanks to the Daphne. It forces an introvert like me to get involved in a positive way. When someone coordinates an individual genre for the Daphne, she works with the editors and agents directly. I get involved, if necessary, but for the most part, I’m the overseer. Daphne coordinators are professional, competent and talented authors in their own right, and KOD, the Daphne and the entrants out there are lucky to have them.
Coordinating the Daphne also allows me to do something I’m passionate about — we’ve all gotten lousy contest advice, and I’m no exception. When it happened to me, I thought, this is just wrong. These kinds of people shouldn’t judge contests. I guess I became a contest coordinator out of self-defense.
Negative comments such as “Don’t quit your day job,” and/or foolish “out-there” advice can destroy a writer’s dream. I stress that judges aren’t editors or agents for a reason. They can’t tell an entrant, “This will never sell.” The moment somebody makes that claim, someone in the publishing industry will prove them wrong.
In the Daphne, we encourage our judges never to say absolutely not. We ask them to say to an entrant: I doubt what you’ve written is correct; you might want to check your facts. Or if a judge is an expert, she might indicate why this information is wrong and cite sources.
I also send our judges comparison grids. I want them to see how they judged in relation to their counterparts. Most tell me they’re grateful, and want to see how they did. As for judges, they are our contests’ lifeblood, and I can’t thank them enough. This year KOD sent out Daphne magnets to its judges with the KOD skull and lips logo, which read “Daphne Judges have Killer Instincts.” I think (I hope) they liked them.
Kelsey: What do you feel makes a particular contest prestigious?
Donnell: The people who run it and their commitment to see it thrive. Communication on all levels. Policies and procedures that allow continuity from year to year and ethical conduct and professionalism at all costs.
Kelsey: What mistakes do you see most in contest entries?
Donnell: Number one: a lack of proofreading. If you’re submitting to a contest and you don’t have a firm grasp on the English language and/or grammar, ask someone to proofread for you. A pair of fresh eyes on a manuscript is invaluable. Number two: entries that contain back story or information dumps that don’t propel the story forward. Three: if you’re writing a romance, not getting the hero and heroine together fast enough (in the Daphne’s case 5,000 words.) I can’t tell you how many entries I see where the hero and heroine simply think about each other and never interact on the page. Which leads me to a vice versa comment and number four: entering the incorrect genre…. Say you’re writing a romance and you enter mainstream mystery, you’re not going to do very well.
Whether you enter the Daphne, or any contest out there, I advise every entrant to study the score sheet Armed with this information, it will help you immensely.
Kelsey: How do you suggest entrants make the most of their contest feedback?
Donnell: Great question. I suggest entrants compare feedback of that particular entry. In the case of the Daphne (unpublished) we have four judges, the lowest score dropped. Take a look at the feedback. If four judges are saying the same thing, chances are they’re correct. If only one judge says it, well, then, it’s back to that subjectivity business.
I also suggest that an entrant, particularly if they get less then favorable scores, digest them, put the entry aside for a while. Act, don’t react. When we first see the comments, it hurts. These entries are our babies, no doubt about it. But if you can set it aside for a few days, weeks, whatever time you need, and then come back to it, you might see the judge had a good point and you might be able to look at it more objectively.
Don’t always assume that the highest score offers the best advice. I can’t tell you how many times my lowest score judge’s advice or comments have helped me the most.
And finally, I advise entrants, if a judge truly made an effort to help you, please thank him or her. Good judges are solid gold to a contest coordinator, and if a judge feels his efforts are wasted, he’s likely to pass the next time. These days in electronic, you can easily send a thank you note to your judge and your coordinator can pass it on fairly effortlessly.
Donnell: Judges. We need so many.
Kelsey: Who is the unpublished Daphne contest’s greatest success story?
Donnell: Oh, gosh. As for the greatest success story, I’m going to plead the fifth because there are so many. Seriously…there are so many.
I’ll tell you one story because it happened this year and I believe the circumstances are extraordinary, and I think it does depict how much editors and agents view Daphne finalists. Barbara Monajem’s entry Vamping the Chameleon received an Honorable Mention from Dorchester’s Christopher Keeslar a few years back. It’s scheduled for publication in 2010 and will come out as Sunrise in the Garden of Good and Evil.
I often hear people lament they received “only” an HM. I’ll wager in Barbara’s case, she’s jumping up and down to have received one.
I’m also pleased to announce that we had two unpublished entrants go on to publish as a result of the 2009 contest: Angi Platt for See Jane Run Category (series) and Tammy Hoganson who won the Paranormal category for her entry, Underbelly.
As for success stories, I believe the Daphne, in conjunction with many fine contests out there, have helped several authors reach publication. It’s always fun to see unpublished Daphne finalists and winners go on to publish and then enter the Daphne Published side of the contest. They do quite well, too. It’s also satisfying to see that when these authors do rise to the top, it isn’t a fluke. In two instances, two published authors have taken The Daphne, (the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense most prestigious award). Nina Bruhns http://www.ninabruhns.com and author Kylie Brant http://www.kyliebrant.com.
Whether you’re a best selling author, e-published or self-published, the published side of the Contest levels the playing field and allows you to enter. I’ve seen talent in all publishing venues do well in the published side of our contest.
Note: Even though the above people are clearly talented, they should not be labeled the greatest success story. Like all things in this business, it’s subjective.
Kelsey: Would you like to share anything else about the Daphne with our readers?
Donnell: After ten years in operation, both sides of this contest (published and unpublished) are well-oiled machines. Published authors, if you’ve written a mystery or romantic suspense, consider entering the Daphne to promote your book (current year copyright). Unpublished authors, the Daphne is an outstanding way to get your work out there. Even if you don’t win or final, you’ll come away with knowledge that you’re ready, or you’ll have the tools in hand to make it better for the next contest.
The Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense contest starts January 15, 2010. And it’s now 100 percent electronic. Check out www.rwamysterysuspense.org. Also, if you’re interested in judging and want to find out our judging requirements, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to talk to you.
Thanks Romance University for allowing me to share my thoughts on what I think is an outstanding contest.
Donnell, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us about The Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense! RU crew, do you have any questions for Donnell about either this contest or writing contests in general?
Be sure to join us Wednesday when special guest Mike Schwartzmann will be back to talk about overcoming addiction.
Donnell Ann Bell is published in nonfiction, an award-winning writer and a 2007 Golden Heart® finalist. An avid lover of mystery and romantic suspense, she has served on the Daphne Committee for years and has held the Overall Coordinator position for several. She is a member of two community blogs http://fivescribes.blogspot.com/ and http://www.nobodywritesitbetter.com/ Her website is: www.donnellannbell.com.
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