In March, I received The Call, which led to an agent, which led to a two-book deal with a major publisher. While I had been querying for exactly a year and a day, it was NOLA Stars’ Suzannah Contest that kicked off the flurry of activity. I know some people question the value of RWA chapter contests, but I think they’re a great way to receive feedback, gain recognition, and put your work in front of acquiring agents and editors.
If you don’t have close writing buddies or critique partners, or you want an unbiased opinion, most chapter contests offer feedback via scoresheets and comments from their first round judges. Judges are usually comprised of chapter members, PRO or PAN members, and sometimes even librarians or other industry professionals. Regardless, they’re all romance readers, and they’ll give you unbiased feedback on your pages.
While contest wins don’t directly translate into book sales, it’s pretty nice to be able to list “winner” on your website. And if you’re querying, it’s a cool thing to add to your bio paragraph. Some contests also offer cash prizes or trophies.
Many chapter contests have acquiring agents and editors as final round judges. Some of these contests don’t get a ton of entries, so if your first pages are really strong and you see an agent or editor listed on the chapter website that you’d like to get your work in front of, consider entering. If they like it, they’ll send a request through the contest coordinators. (Even if you’ve already queried that person or received a request through a pitch event, final judges have to read the contest entries they get, and they sometimes get to those before the slush pile.)
I had a great experience with the 2016 Suzannah contest. Here’s how the Northern Louisiana chapter describes it on their site:
The Suzannah is different from most other writers’ contests in that published authors and unpublished writers all compete against one another in a single pool of entries without categories. … Why would we do such a thing? Because this format allows published authors to anonymously test the waters in a new genre. It also gives unpublished writers the experience and prestige of having their writing judged as in the ‘real world’ against already established authors—just the way it is on an editor’s desk!
Your book doesn’t even have to be finished. Their website says, “Go ahead. Try out a new idea on us. Or dig that old manuscript out from under the bed, give it a dusting and send it in.” (http://nolastars.com/contest/)
When I entered Take the Lead, I only had three chapters written. Luckily, by the time I found out I was a finalist, I had completed the first draft. The feedback I received from the scoresheets was useful in revising my chapters before I sent them in for the final round, and for making my query pages stronger. Of the six final judges, I received requests from four. Two had already requested pages from other pitch events, but it was the contest that really got their eyes on my work. Three of the four made offers, and I ultimately won the contest’s grand prize. (Not gonna lie, the trophy is pretty sweet, even though it has the older title engraved on it.)
While I didn’t accept the offers that came through this contest, the Suzannah was instrumental in helping me sign with my agent and get a book deal. The contest coordinators and chapter president have stayed in contact, cheering me on. And now I’m a big advocate for RWA chapter contests.
By contrast, I entered a different novel in a few contests last year. The feedback showed me I was pitching the book all wrong, and helped me decide it needed another revision pass.
If you know what you want out of them, chapter contests can be a great way to help you advance your goals and put your work out there. Make sure to check out RWA/NYC’s own Kathryn Hayes “When Sparks Fly” Contest, coming soon!♥
Golden Heart® finalist Alexis Daria’s debut contemporary romance will be released in 2017 from SMP Swerve. On Sunday evenings, Alexis co-hosts #RWchat, a weekly Twitter chat for romance writers. She also serves as PRO Liaison for the New York City chapter of RWA, and Municipal Liaison for the NYC region of National Novel Writing Month. You can find her on Twitter at @alexisdaria, and follow her blog creativestaycation.com.