The Positive Side of Losing

There are a lot of pluses about writing romance. One of them is the contests where anything from query letters to the first 5o pages of your book is judged by your peers. All the judges are trained to critique romance. Some are like me and have finished one or more novels and achieved PRO status with RWA. Some are published in romance, other fiction or nonfiction. If you final in the contest, the final judging is often done by an agent or an editor.

One of the reasons I enter contests is the hope that my work will reach the eyes of those elusive editors or agents and they will fall in love with it. Another reason I enter is to find out if my opening chapter or love scene or breakup scene works. If it engages the reader or if there are problems. You can’t solve problems unless you know where they are.

Judging is subjective. That’s important to remember. Not all writer’s voices appeal to all readers. When I get back the score sheets and comments from a contest, I try and weed out the ones who don’t like my voice. They are the ones who dislike scenes or dialogue or characters other judges like. Of course, I had to get feedback from many judges to be able to do this.

I won’t lie to you. It hurts for someone to pick apart your work. It hurts even more to know that there are people who hate the way you write. But this is the real world and when your book is published there will be people who read it and don’t like it. And they will let you know this. So it’s good to have a layer of calluses built up before your book goes out to a greater audience.

The second thing I do is to focus on the positive comments. What do I do well? In my case, it’s dialogue. And I treasure notes saying the judge hopes to see my book on the shelves because they want to buy it and read the rest of the story.

Then comes reading the notes about what doesn’t work. Most judges I’ve gotten feedback from tell me this in a constructive manner. Some don’t. Again, I try to focus on the constructive comments. Sometimes I have to put the score sheets away for a couple of days (or weeks, or months) before I can do this. Sometimes I fight it. But if several judges are saying the same thing, I have to take it seriously. I have to look at what I’ve written and say okay, if this doesn’t work what will. How can I make it more exciting or faster paced? How can I improve? Do I really need to buy a grammar book? (Yes! And I still have trouble with commas.) Do I need to go to a workshop or take an on-line class to help me with this?

When I first sent out my baby to contests, the overwhelming feedback was that I head hopped. I had POV problems. Now, first I had to learn what the heck that meant. Then I had to learn how to correct it. In this last batch of contests, I entered I learned that the classes I’ve taken, the books I’ve read ,and the writing and rewriting I’ve done trying to get the perspective or point of view right have paid off. One judge said my POV was “masterful”. Wow. My hard work is paying off.

Now I’m thinking about some of the other comments that have been made. Letting them percolate in my mind while I get on with the business of finishing my rewrites. Considering how I might use that feedback to improve the delivery of my story. Because I love this story and I want to do it justice.

So it’s not always a bad thing not to final in a contest. You can learn a lot by looking at the positive side of negative feedback. At least, I have.

Of course there’s another good thing that can come of entering contests. Making it to the final three. Placing. Winning.

Body Language

Third Place 2006 Summer Sizzle
Third Place 2006 Ignite the Flame
First Place Romantic Suspense 2008 Dixie Kane Memorial Contest
Finaled and awaiting the final judging in 2008 Toronto Romance Writers’ Golden Opportunity Contest.

3 Responses to “The Positive Side of Losing”

  1. Kay T Says:

    Wow, congratulations RSS! How long have you known about these placings and especially the FIRST PLACE??? Does that mean a winner or a first place runner up? I am sure this book is brilliant (and will be even more so when you finish polishing).


  2. Keziah Fenton Says:

    Good work. And lots of hard work that led to that goodness.

  3. McB Says:

    Woo hoo!!! Didn’t I tell you? I told you it was a good book. Eagerly awaiting my signed by author copy.

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