For those of you who are following me, you know I entered a few contests in February to get a feel for where the story is going. My first contest results came back from the FAB 5 and the comments/scores I received were in line with where my current WIP was at the time I sent it in. The judges confirmed for me that the changes I am making are the right changes. And the judges confirmed for me that my writing voice and style is strong.
The author critique I received via my participation in the Georgia Romance Writers of America’s workshop (March) has steered me in the correct direction. I owe that wonderful writer a big bottle of champagne or wine or whatever she prefers as a huge thank you. My recent journey to GRWA’s BREAK INTO FICTION workshop in Atlanta also helped me clarify why my mid plot point was in trouble. Okay, now my weird backstory is cut. The story’s tone is on the way to getting fixed. And now I am in the process of brainstorming my plot, listening to my characters and confirming the answers with my CPs.
But I was still waiting for my SHEILA results before I pushed on. They arrived last night. Four judges. Four scores. Drum beat. And….
First I’ll tell you about the BAD part of my scores. Yikes, I received less than a 50 out of a 100 (my worst score EVER in any contest I have entered through the years), and the published romance author who judged the MS wasn’t wasting any time trying to find one good thing to say. She did, however, spend a great deal of time finding thousands of ways to crush my writing and pulverize my will to push onward in this business. She had a very strong, harsh and negative reaction to my WIP.
And you know what? I’m glad. Because if she HATED it that much, it means that all those PERFECT SCORES/and NEAR PERFECT SCORES from the other two published authors and non-published author carry more weight. The harsh judge didn’t really hate my plot or the fact that I didn’t put my chapter heading 1/4 of the way down the page (as a judge, I don’t take away 2 points for that one–I know how much we work to squeeze every last word into the entries we send into the contests LOL) or my characters. She reacted very strongly to my STYLE AND VOICE.
After drinking a copious amount of wine, and working it off this morning while talking to my CPs about this Vampirella judge, I realized this judge’s critique was a sign that I’m getting close to making it. A strong negative reaction is just as important as a strong positive reaction. This means my writing voice is solidifying. And that is confirmation of a different sort.
And you know what? Maybe, just maybe, I frightened her. Maybe, just maybe, she wanted to crush my writing soul into a thousand pieces because I’m potential competition in a very competitive business.
You see how my mind operates? It’s amazing how delusional I can be when it comes to encouraging myself in this journey toward publication.
And now for the GOOD part of this contest. There were 6 finalists in the SHEILA Romantic Suspense Category. I was ranked, after the low score was dropped, number 7. I missed finaling in the RS category by ONE POINT. All my other scores were in the 90s! Woot! My first time EVER attempting to write a Romantic Suspense while taking a Category Series length book to Single Title length placed 7TH in a field of very talented writers. 1 of them is my CP in VA. She’s a Golden Heart Finalist this year. Two others have finaled in the Golden Heart as well.
I was competing with very tough, talented people. And my little WIP with all its tone problems placed 7 in that field. Yup. Me. I almost finaled in the SHEILA–I’m happy with my results.
Even better, I got FABULOUS FEEDBACK from the two other PUBLISHED IN ROMANCE authors who saw the potential for my story. They flagged the issues I had and confirmed my decision for the story’s direction and tone. All three judges felt I was close to ready with this story — ready for publication. Now I can go forth with my new ideas and up my ante for the story KNOWING I’m going in the right direction.
I printed out comments and suggestions given by the constructive and edifying authors. I also deleted the other author’s file. Then I sent out my thank you notes to the three judges who were constructive and kind and helpful. That’s why we enter contests: finaling is nice, but its the feedback about our stories that we crave. Cruelty and harshness should not be tolerated. Therefore, I did contact the contest coordinator and make her aware of this situation.
Why? Because what if that had been my FIRST book, not my FOURTH? I’ve been through the gauntlet and I’ve been validated by wins, finals and good critique. Oh, a quick aside: thanks to all those very kind judges years ago who wrote nice things in the margins of my first MS–because of you I am enjoying feeding my glorious obsession. Whenever I judge a contest entry, I approach it as if it might be that person’s first attempt at writing. If I see problems, I try to show them where they exist, and I try to do it in a nice way. I also suggest books about craft and writing. I try to encourage them to keep working to attain their dream. Why crush them? We don’t need contest judges to add to the pile of our own self-doubts and harsh self-criticism. Rejection letters from editors and agents suffice, thank you very much.
I’m not opposed to constructive criticism, I’m opposed to soul crushing and blood letting criticism. I don’t need a fake “gee I really liked it” kind of criticism. I need honest, real and helpful feedback. If someone wants to BLAST my story, that same person had better be prepared to tell me where my strengths lie and how to improve my story as well. That person needs to able and willing to show me how to pick up the pieces and start again.
So come on, before I sit down to revise my WIP and bring to light all the wonderful new revelations my characters have shared with me, let me know what your worst contest results were and how you overcame them to write another day?