Wednesday, March 23, 2011


By Sarah Tormey

As an aspiring writer, I admit I have caught contest fever from time to time, and was always disappointed when my work did not final. I would stop entering and focus on submitting. After a year of this back and forth, I started to see the similarities between the judges’ comments and my rejection letters. Both pointed out similar flaws or problem areas.

This fall, after four months of spending every waking (and some not so awake moments) caring for my newborn son, I decided to enter a handful of contests to motivate me to keep writing. I needed something to me get back in writing mode and the deadlines helped.

But this time, I tried something different. I submitted one polished work and one first draft. And I also changed what I looked for in a contest. Instead of focusing on the final round judges, I looked for contests that featured trained first round judges (for the best feedback) and a reduced entry fee for subsequent submissions to avoid breaking the bank with contest fees.

Overall, I think my strategy worked. The polished manuscript chapters won one contest and I received a request for a full. In another, the same chapters did not even make the final rounds. But both offered great insights into how I could improve my writing. This was especially true for the first draft chapters.

I decided to enter the beginning of my first contemporary to see if I was on the right track. After all what could be better than a group of strangers sending me their honest opinions? Much to my surprise, I received an honorable mention and a request for a full from the final round judge. Going forward, I plan to submit all my working drafts to contests. The deadlines coupled with the stellar feedback have pushed me to write even on the days when I’ve been up all night with my teething baby.

In fact, I am so grateful for my contest experiences that I decided to return the favor by coordinating the 2011 Royal Ascot.

The Royal Ascot is a contest devoted to the promotion of Regency Romances by encouraging the development of authors who set stories in the Regency Period (and features both trained judges and a lower fee for subsequent entries). If you write Regencies (broadly defined as within the United Kingdom between 1780 and 1840) and are looking for stellar feedback from trained judges, this is the contest to enter. The deadline is April 1st and finalists will be announced the first week in May. If you do not write stories at least partially set in this time period, please help us spread the word to your friends, critique partners and writer’s groups.

For more information, please visit:

And if you have a contest story to share, please leave a comment!♥

Sarah Tormey was a Mass Merchandise Sales Representative at Random House. Her job was to sell romances to chain stores like Target, Stop & Shop and Wal-Mart. Sarah is now pursuing her dream of writing romance novels. To read excerpts of her work and her blog, visit


  1. This year's Royal Ascot is so exciting. I love the 6 final round judges. What a great idea.

    Thanks for sharing your contests story. I agree, the details of a contest matter: Who are the final round judges? Are the first round judges published/trained? Is the lowest score dropped? Have there been requests in the past? Different things matter to different entrants. Until I had a clear idea of what I was looking for, I never got the most out of entering contests.

    Good luck with your requests.

  2. Sarah, I think judging contests is also important. Seeing the work of others has helped me immeasurably in getting a "feel" for where my writing quality fits on the roadway to book-length publication. Another helpful endeavor is writing book reviews. (I have done one for Historical Novels' Review, and am awaiting--errg--six more historicals in the mail--I'll have to read fast!) The deadline and knowing that that 200-word review will affect someone's personal feelings--not to mention their sales figures--forces a serious analysis of the book. I've found this invaluable in improving my own WIP. Elizabeth Knowles Palladino