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Wednesday, November 17, 2010


by Elizabeth Palladino

One of my goals for 2010 was to enter at least one writing contest. I entered four, and my entry to a fifth is pending. It’s been a wild ride—and I have some mixed emotions.

First, I entered the Romance Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme. This British contest calls for a full, hardcopy manuscript. While I did not achieve even a second reading, the four pages of single-spaced critique I received were invaluable. My novel had been read by a published, anonymous romance author in England. Her comments were pointed, professional, and pertinent.

I browsed through RWR, and found two American contests, one asking for the first fifteen pages of a romance novel, the other asking for the first twenty-five. I literally just pasted some pages into new documents around two o’clock in the morning while in a state of near-catatonia, and pushed “send”.

One earned me nothing but some tepidly pleasant comments from first-round judges. Frankly, I discounted some of the remarks as total nonsense from folks who couldn’t review their way out of Volkswagen on a sunny day. Other comments were more useful.

The Windy City RWA’s Four Season Contest gave me the win in my historical category, and made me the winner overall. This earned me a request for the full manuscript from one final-round judge--an agent who had seen it and rejected it earlier this year. She remembered the book, and asked to take another look. The other final-round judge, an editor, asked for a proposal and the first three chapters. I emailed her that the manuscript was not going to meet her requirements for length, but she told me to send it anyway.

Then I told both the editor and the agent that I was revising the manuscript one more time, as the RNA reader’s report felt that it would be publishable with some polishing. Both indicated they would like to see it after those revisions were done. I’m working on that now, with the book also entered in Golden Heart, my fifth contest this year.

I’ve left the worst experience for last. On a lark I entered a mildly humorous mid-book love scene in our own NYC-RWA’s Love and Laughter Contest. Disaster struck. I was right up against the deadline, and when I submitted my entry, inexplicable technical problems caused four pages to appear in a bright-red, underlined font. No matter what I did, I could not get rid of it, and came close to withdrawing. With some help from fellow members, I think the problem may have been resolved, but if a judge sees that glitch, I will have to emigrate in shame and live under a rock on the planet Neptune.

Take it from Aunt Lizzie’s Agonized Advice Column: Be professional at all times, and do not get complacent and easy-breezy about anything. That is when you will make a mistake for sure. Trust me on this.

Are contests valuable? I think they’re useful if you can get your work in front of the final-round judges. You may get a shortcut to “the call” and publication, in the same way that a conference’s editor/agent appointments can help you avoid the query, submit, and slush pile routine.

I received much advice from the contest judges, and while I’ve disregarded some of it, some was valid. I’ve picked up my pacing, shortened paragraphs and also chapters, and dug deeper into the heroine’s head.

In reaching and exceeding my 2010 goal to enter a contest, I’ve pushed myself closer to my next goal—publication of a romance novel!♥

Elizabeth Knowles Palladino lives in Kingston, New York, and writes medieval romance.


  1. Elizabeth - I've entered seven contests. I've judged 25+. I've coordinated three. What I've learned? Contests are a crap shoot. Finding the best contests, reputation-wise, is great - unless you happen to get your entry in front of a bad first round judge, which happens even in the best contests. If your MS is a little outside the box and the judges are hard core romance "rule" folks, they may knock you down for that. If you're looking for feedback, some contests (including the GOlden Heart) don't give any. Some give just your scores and brief reasoning if the scores are lower than a certain level. Others give copious notes and commentary in addition to the scores. If your goal is to get in front of a particular final judge, that's a great thing. On the other hand, you may pay the money and find out that the judge in question has since withdrawn and a different and completely useless judge for your purposes has replaced her. So I'd say: Know your goals for entering a contest; do your research and find out how long the contest has run, how many times requests for full have been made, and, if you can, how many entries there actually are. If you keep an eye on the loops (and I recommend you join as many special interest chapters as are pertinent to your genre), you'll see emergency calls for judges for contests because they've gotten too many entries. That, of course, is a GOOD thing. And of course, if you are looking for detailed feedback, make sure the contest you are entering gives that feedback. As for formatting errors, in my experience most contests will give judges the caveat that weirdness happens in electronic translation and not to mark off for something that appears to be that sort of problem.

    Good luck with your GH entry and your 2011 goals!

  2. Thanks for commenting, Lise. For 2011 I plan to just focus big-time on improving my writing--become something of an evening recluse--and just simply prepare to submit better material. I'm doing a lot of reading with a critical eye--which I always do anyway--but really trying to analyze why one book just jumps off the page in technicolor and another is merely OK. What is the difference between an average "good" book, and a real showstopper? How can we write the showstopper? What makes it different, and how do we dooooo that!? Elizabeth Knowles Palladino (from Pittsburgh--helping out with the world's cutest baby who never sleeps, hahahahaha...yawn)