How Writing Contests Can Affect an Author’s Career

Writing contests can be good and bad for an author’s career (and ego). I recently entered the Winter Rose Contest and won FIRST place in the romantic suspense category with Junessa Viloria, the editor from Random House, as a final judge. Woohoo! This win has given me confidence and motivation to push through my revisions and get my book out there.

However, that wasn’t always the case. In 2010, I entered my first contest, the Ignite the Flame Contest through the Central Ohio Fiction Writers, and I placed third in the romantic suspense category with Esi Sogah, the editor from Avon, as a final judge. I was pumped. Her comments were nice and encouraging, but I somehow forgot all about them when I received the results from the other two contests I’d entered. I didn’t final in either. But that wasn’t what affected me most. It was some of the comments the judges had made.

The second contest required entrants to add a blurb with their entry. One judge clearly didn’t read mine, because in it, it’s very clear that Zachary isn’t the killer. Yet, this judge told me that I shouldn’t write romantic suspense because I’m not good at the suspense part. I should consider sticking with straight romance. She felt it was too obvious that Zachary was the killer. Huh? But he isn’t the killer. And if she’d read my blurb, like she was supposed to, she would’ve known that. Instead, she gave me low marks.

At that time, I’d included my prologue, which I’ve since learned isn’t such a good idea. And I can see why. One judge gave me a lower score because she didn’t believe prologues should be in books. She hated them. As a reader, she always skipped them and went right to the first chapter. I see her point. Not all genres should have prologues. However, more times than not, you’ll find a prologue in a romantic suspense novel. In fact, bestselling author Allison Brennan told me that she handed in one of her books without a prologue, and her publisher made her add one.

Another judge couldn’t handle how dark my killer is. She said he was disturbing, and she couldn’t imagine reading anything else in his POV. Despite that fact that she gave me a low mark because of this, I actually enjoyed this feedback. I know not everyone will love my dark killers, but I’m not writing for those people. They aren’t my target audience. My readers love shows like Criminal Minds and they love to get into killers’ minds while still having a light and sexy romance between the hero and heroine. Many judges and beta readers have raved about my villains and how dark they are. But they also like the contrast between the killer’s dark POV and the hero and heroine’s light POVs.

My point is that I allowed the negative comments to outweigh the many positive comments I’d received like the pacing is great, the writing is tight, the interaction with the hero and hero is believable, the dialogue is spot on, the tension is strong, etc. Despite knowing the negative comments didn’t make sense, I lost my love for writing. Not only did I put that book aside, but I didn’t write much (maybe a handful of pages) over the next few years. Instead, I focused on my editing business.

Then, toward the end of last year, I couldn’t take it any longer. I missed writing. I missed my characters and their stories, so I pulled that WIP out and revised it. I still wasn’t happy with the end results, so I’m rewriting a portion of the story. A lot of work? Yes. Worth it? You bet. I can already see an improvement and can hardly wait to publish this baby and show her to the world.

Will I self-publish or go the traditional route? I have no idea. As you’ve seen in my past posts, there are pros and cons to both. But, I believe, when the time is right, my gut will lead me down the best path for me. Until then, I’ll keep writing and revising.

And entering contests.

Lynnette Labelle

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