Kim Howe’s pursuit of publication just might qualify her as the poster girl for perseverance. If you think I’m joking, ask her. She’ll tell you. After all, she has been nominated for the coveted Golden Heart award seven times (seven times!) and has won three Daphne du Maurier awards.
With that resume, we decided Kim would be the perfect person to share her thoughts on how contests can help an unpublished writer’s career.
Take it away, Kim!
The publishing world is a challenging one—many new writers feel like they are swimming with sharks. And it’s easy to feel believe you’re a tadpole in the big sea of talented writers. But, there are ways to grow as a writer and contests may be just the ticket. No matter where you are on the continuum—ranging from a complete neophyte to a writer who is on the cusp of being published, contests can play a positive role. Like a play has three acts, there are three stages where contests can be helpful to your writing career.
You’ve been writing for a while, but the only people who have seen your manuscript are your best friend, your golden retriever, and your mother—and they think you’re brilliant. Now, you very well may be, but perhaps there is room in your raw talent for a few subtle improvements. What you need at this stage is honest feedback from impartial strangers. Certain RWA chapters, like the Toronto Romance Writers and the Indiana Romance Writers, pride themselves on the detailed feedback they offer writers and that’s the kind of contest that will benefit you most at this stage. Spend time researching the different contests as most RWA chapters have their feedback form online so you can see how detailed the critique will be. Ask your writing friends about contests they found helpful.
When you receive feedback, take the time to read through the comments thoroughly, and then put aside the comments for a few days to let any hurt feelings fade. As a new writer, it isn’t easy to accept criticism. It can feel like a shark has taken a giant bite out of your confidence. After a few days have passed, revisit the criticism and try to look at your work with unbiased eyes. Did all the judges comment that your protagonist felt one-dimensional? Perhaps you need to spend more time with your heroine, understanding her real motivations?
Although you should try to be open-minded about the feedback, there are (unfortunately!) a few judges who have axes to grind, so if their criticism seems overly harsh or incorrect, trust your instincts, or ask a friend you trust for honest analysis of the comments. Believe me, I understand how frustrating it can be when you feel unfairly treated. On one occasion, my feedback sheets listed mostly eights and nines (ratings ranged from one to nine), but one judge gave me a one in every category and when asked what he/she liked about the book, the response was “nothing.” I couldn’t take that feedback seriously. Perhaps he/she had a problem with the content of my novel? The good news is the lowest score for every entry was dropped. I ended up winning that particular contest, but I’ll never forget the feeling of looking down at all those ones, wondering where I went wrong.
Contests can help you improve everything from your grammar to your plotting and characters. Use the feedback as a springboard to hone your craft and keep submitting your work. You may find a few helping hands (or trunks!) along the way. A few published writers who judged my contest entries sent me encouraging notes and offers of critiques/introductions to agents. I will never forget their kindness. Hopefully, as you learn and grow, your results will skyrocket—and that propels us to the next stage.
The feedback you’ve received from contests has taught you many valuable lessons. You’re aware of your weaknesses and you’ve turned some of them into your strengths. When you enter contests now, you have a different focus. Instead of analyzing the depth and breadth of the feedback forms, you are perusing the list of final judges—usually editors and agents—and targeting them. This is where you need to do your homework to discover which editors and agents like your writing style and genre. A good way to do this is to write down a list of authors who write in a similar vein/genre as you, and then look up which agents and editors they work with to give you an idea of who might be the best target audience for your work. Contests involve money, time, effort, and postage, so please be selective about which ones you enter.
Visualize your dream agent and editor reading your work and asking for a partial or a full. Positive thinking can be a powerful tool. I was fortunate and secured an agent as a result of a contest win, so it can be done!
This stage can last a blissfully short or an agonizingly long time. I jokingly call it purgatory. You’re finaling in most of the contests you enter—in fact, you’ve won several contests, but you’ve yet to find a home for your novels. This is the time to selectively enter big-name contests like the Golden Heart and the Daphne du Maurier to keep your name recognizable, build an impressive resume, and show editors you’re serious.
At this time, it’s no longer just about contests. You need to submit to agents and editors, network with published authors who can lend a helping hand, and learn everything you can about the industry.
One day, your well-crafted novel will land on the right editor’s desk and you will get THE CALL. Until then, keep your bum on your chair, fingers on your keyboard, and heart fully engaged in your story. Don’t be afraid of taking risks—they will pay off for you, big time. Wishing you many contest wins and sales!
RU Crew, do you enter contests? Why or why not?
Thank you, Kim for being here to answer questions. RU Crew, join us tomorrow when Jeannie Ruesch of Will Design for Chocolate shares her tips on how to become a social media guru.
Kim’s Bio: K.J. Howe is a medical, health, and fitness writer who has a passion for international thrillers. She has a Master’s in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania and has the honor of winning three Daphne du Maurier awards for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense. Travel and adventure fuel her imagination. She has raced camels in Jordan, learned how to surf in Hawaii, zip-lined in the Costa Rican jungle, dove with Great White Sharks in South Africa, and co-mingled with elephants in Botswana. Home is Toronto, Canada, but she is often missing in action. www.kjhowe.com
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