This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Monday, May 07, 2012

Guestpost: "Contests--We Love to Hate Them" by Sandra Orchard

Please welcome Author Sandra Orchard. She writes for Harlequin's Love Inspired Suspense and recently signed a three-book deal with Revell Publishing for a romantic suspense/mystery series that will debut in June 2013. Passionate about encouraging aspiring fiction writers, Sandra judges manuscripts for several writing contests, coordinates the historical category for the Touched By Love contest, and will be doing critiques for both the Write!Canada conference in June and the ACFW conference in September. 

Every year the writing contest season climaxes with a flurry of complaints on writers’ loops about conflicting judges’ comments and incongruent scores.

Been there. Done that. Totally empathize.

But...from my experience, entering contests is a worthwhile investment.

Let’s face facts. First manuscripts are rarely contracted, especially if the writer hasn’t invited editorial feedback from people other than friends and family. Entering contests is an economical way to get much needed feedback.

Not to say you’ll be happy with what you’re told. Everyone’s tastes are different. What one reader loves another will hate. It’s the nature of the business and you might as well get used to it.  

Although I already had an agent and three completed manuscripts, my first contest’s scores were merely average. Once I got over my surprise—after all, average was not in my vocabulary! Not only had I always gotten A's in school, I’d eradicated all those flowery adverbs from the entry, and there wasn’t a POV glitch to be found—I grew to deeply appreciate the advice I received.

The needed fixes were not huge, but they were hugely important. They were the difference between a “send me the full” and a “thanks, but no thanks.”

I made the suggested changes. I took a gazillion workshops. I found critique partners. And the following year I entered the revised manuscript in the Genesis. It finaled. I was over the moon!

Of course, the feedback from first round judges is pretty thin when your scores are great. But I didn’t mind, an agent and an editor would read my story. I was so excited my chest felt as if it might burst.

A few months later when I received the final round scores, reality hit. High 90s from the agent. Low 60s from the editor. Talk about divergent opinions. It’s not the bane of first round judges. It’s reality.

Undeterred, I revised yet again, transforming the romance into a romantic suspense. The following year I entered the revised manuscript in the Daphne DuMaurier contest, and it won. It won the inspirational category, and best in show! And scored me a new agent.

But here’s the irony of contests. That winning—and much revised—story still hasn’t sold. However, thanks to the win, Tina James, agreed to read the full even though a previous editor had rejected my proposal for the earlier version. Afterward Tina took the time to explain exactly why the story didn’t fit Love Iinspire’s line.

I immediately applied what I learned to a manuscript I’d been holding off submitting. And that’s the story that sold.

Now...entering contests may not score you an agent or a contract or even useful feedback, but if nothing else, it will help toughen your skin for editor revisions and readers’ criticisms. At least that’s what I kept telling myself…