Our guest blogger today is Lee Duncan. I met Lee through the Launching a Star contest where I also met and signed with agent Roberta Brown. I will never forget the day that Lee called to tell me that I not only finaled, but Roberta wanted my phone number. I have to commend Lee for dealing with my questions and excitement in a most professional manner. Now I have never been a contest coordinator but I've always made a point of thanking them for undertaking such a challenge. If you think it's easy, check out the picture of Lee surrounded by all of the hopeful entries. So please, put your hands to the keyboard and welcome Lee Duncan!
ONE IN A THOUSAND
When I was asked to serve on the Board or run my chapter's contest, Launching A Star, my reasoning went something like, ‘A Board position involves two meetings a month. I'll take the contest.' Talk about colossal misjudgments. I had no idea how much time it took to coordinate a writing contest. I do now. By checking out Anne-Marie Carroll's column on "Running A Successful Contest" (www.anne-mariecarroll.blogspot.com), you can, too. Suffice it to say that Launching A Star eats up waaay more of my time than any Board position ever could. Unless it was Treasurer. Given my ‘so long as it's close' approach to checkbooks, balancing the chapter accounts to the penny would involve antidepressants and copious pots of coffee. High test. Not decaf.
But I love coordinating our contest. For one thing, it provides an outlet for all those anal organizational skills I used in my previous life as a Configuration Manager. Better still, it's an opportunity to give back to my fabulous home chapter, the SpacecoasT Authors of Romance (STAR). I've learned more from this fantastic group than from all my college writing classes. Working with the contest also allows me to chat via email and, occasionally, on the phone with literally hundreds of my fellow aspiring authors. (Be honest – who among us has entered a contest without asking the coordinator at least one question?)
Not me. I want to be sure because – let's face it – entering can be an expensive proposition. In both time and money. Entrance fees for chapter-length submissions average thirty dollars. With the price of stamps rising like spring flowers each May, this year's postage and SASE will set me back an additional nine dollars and twenty cents. Tack on another dollar or two for paper, ink and envelopes, and pretty soon I've invested nearly fifty bucks.
Then there's the time factor. Not only do I have to write something – always the most difficult part – there's the time it takes to format and print and run to the office supply store for sturdy envelopes. Don't forget a trip – or two – to the Post Office. Roxanne St. Claire, author of the best selling Bullet Catcher series, attributes her initial success to her practice of always keeping ten manuscript packages in circulation. Some to editors and agents. The rest to contests. Multiply ten times fifty and you're not talking incidentals anymore. You're talking a budget item. So, why do it? Why enter contests? Since taking over Launching A Star, I've had plenty of chances to ask our contestants that same question. Here are my five favorite answers:
1. To test out new material. Okay, so this has never applied to me personally, but I've had contestants tell me they wanted to switch genres and, for one reason or another, were afraid to share that tidbit with their critique groups. Instead, they entered the new material in a contest to see how it played out. To me, that's a little like going on Dr. Phil and admitting you had an affair with your husband's best friend – I mean, aren't your cp's going to find out when you WIN? Yet some amazing entries come from authors who find their true voice only when they switch to a new sub-genre. (I suspect their critique partners forgive them.)
2. For feedback from peers. Some of us don't work with critique partners and don't belong to on-line critique groups. Others need to see how their work plays outside the safety net of people who have grown accustomed to their voice. By entering contests we get anonymous feedback. Okay, so sometimes we wish we hadn't. Most of the time, though, it's a winning situation. By the time our work hits an editor's or agent's desk, it is better for the suggestions we've received.
3. Contests are cheaper than conferences. If, along with your basic black outfits and spiffy red heels, you pack an intense desire to get trapped in an elevator with your fav editor next weekend, consider this. Going to a conference is – whew! – way expensive. Registration fees, hotel rooms, transportation and meals add up. To say nothing of those absolute necessities – clothes, jewelry, and, did I mention new shoes? A much less expensive approach is to identify a contest where that very same editor is judging, write your very best work, and enter.
4. For feedback from a targeted house or agency. Nearly every contest calls on the big guns – the industry's editors and agents – to judge its final round. Smaller ones increase the odds that these professionals will review your material. In larger contests, the odds of finaling might shrink, but the satisfaction quotient is higher. No matter where you final, it means you've honed your craft and polished that diamond until it gleams.
5. To be discovered. Who doesn't want to become the literary equivalent of Lana Turner in Schwab's Drug Store? Who doesn't long for the moment when an editor or agent picks up their manuscript and says, "THIS is what I've been waiting for!" Like the Lana Turner story, there's more to it than simply ordering a coke at the neighborhood lunch counter, but it happens. Take this year's Launching A Star contest for example. Our wonderful slate of editors and agents requested fifteen full manuscripts from our finalists. Before the shouting was over, two of them signed with their dream agents.
We've all heard that the odds of making it as a writer aren't that great. In a speech to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers', Barbara Samuel once said, "For every aspiring writer, only one in a thousand – or less – will ever be published." I want to be that one in a thousand. To improve my odds, I enter contests where I get valuable feedback and the opportunity to have my work reviewed by the best in the industry. That's why I enter.
To help others become that one in a thousand, I coordinate Launching A Star. That's what works for me. What works for you?