Friday, May 31, 2019

Enter (Writing Contests) at Your Own Risk!

How to Prepare Your Work for Writing Contests

One of the most effective ways to get your work noticed is to enter contests. Even though you may not win or place, there's nothing to lose! Most writing contests offer helpful feedback on your work by talented, published authors, literary agents, and editors who act as contest judges.

If you do place or win, you're immediately afforded the chance to put the contest details in any query letter you send to literary agents. This increases your chance of representation by an agent and landing your first publishing contract.

Woo hoo!

So, what steps should you take to enter? Keep reading...

Preparations Matter

But before you submit your work and hit "send", there's much to consider. Best-selling author, Gail Gaymer Martin, recently spoke to our Christian Writers of the West group about how to best prepare your manuscript before you hit "send." She ought to know! She's won many prestigious contests, including the Holt Medallion Award, the Golden Quill Award, and the National Readers Choice Award. I'd like to share with you some of the tips she shared with us:

First Steps

Begin by reading the submission requirements on the contest website. If they ask for the first 15 pages, then submit your first 15 pages. You may be tempted to send chapter four instead because you feel that's your strongest chapter, but don't! Instead, ask yourself why chapter four is your strongest chapter. Maybe you should make it chapter one!

Next, make sure your writing is polished to a shine. In other words, hire an editor! After it's edited, ask friends (preferably other writers) to read your work for critique. This means, someone other than grandma who loves everything you've ever written since you were five years old. You'll need someone who cares enough to tell you what works and what doesn't work in your story. Trust me, it's worth the pain of going back and revising.

Read the contest categories carefully. If your story is speculative fiction but the contest wants only romance, then don't enter it. Find the contest that best aligns with your writing style and genre. But don't be afraid to try a new genre. That's what I did recently and I placed third in the contest. It was a stretch for me to go from middle grade fiction to contemporary women's fiction, but I am all about change and improvement. I wrote a women's fiction story, found a contest with that category, and entered. So, give a new genre a try! 

Check your story. The contest judges want to see the main character, the inciting incident, and the possible resolutions in the first few pages of your story. If the contest wants only the first three chapters, but your inciting incident doesn't happen until chapter four, you have some revising to do. Most readers have the attention span of five seconds. If the action, the inciting incident, and the main character don't appear right away, readers will put down your book. Read and re-read your story to make sure these requirements are present right away. Judges will be on the look out for them!

If contest organizers require formatting (and they usually do), be sure to follow those formatting requirements to a tee! If they want your name in the upper left-hand corner, then don't include a fancy cover page. Obey their every command! Otherwise, your manuscript might be sent back for corrections or they may never even read your manuscript at all.

Enter Contests: You Have So Much to Win

Entering contests is about more than just winning. Even placing in the top three is desirable and beneficial. Literary agents and editors participate as judges in contests sometimes because they are on the lookout for the next BIG story and successful writer. That could be YOU. Thoughtful judges will provide you the feedback on your story that will make you a better writer. They will mention what you did right and what needs work. I was so blessed to have received excellent feedback on my work-in-progress when I placed third.

Most contests have reasonable entry fees and turn around times, so you really have nothing to lose by entering. You do, however, have so much to gain!

Our Christian Writers of the West Rattler's Contest opens in August. Please consider entering your work.

You won't regret it!


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Author Websites and You

Author Websites

A couple of years ago, I sat in a session offered at the ACFW Writers Conference in Texas. In this session, the speaker (a web developer) spoke about the importance of the author website. He covered the "dos and don'ts" about creating an effective website an explained why authors need a site to inform readers about themselves and to sell their books.

I walked away from that session inspired to create my own site. Being an artist, I understand about composition, principles of design, and navigating through a web host template. It was easier than I thought it would be. However, I know many authors don't possess these skills and need to hire someone to build their sites. This can be expensive.

Last month, at our Christian Writers of the West (the local chapter of ACFW in Arizona), we had web developer Gabrielle Koza speak to us about how simple it is today to design your own website. I couldn't agree more!

She explained to us the various web site hosts out there that offer FREE templates we authors can use. I, personally, use for my site. Here's brief video explanation about Weebly:

There are so many other free web hosting service providers out there. Gabrielle listed a few for us:

and many more!

You don't have to be an expert in design. These service providers walk you through the process with easy to navigate templates. Be sure to include the necessary pages to your site first:

  • Home
  • Services
  • News
  • About
  • Contact

After these pages, you can add a blog page, award page, or even individual pages for each of your books. Be as creative and informative as you can. Your author website is where your readers will go to learn about you and buy your books. It should be as detailed as possible but not overwhelming. Remember, less is more. Browse through some effective websites of authors you follow. Learn from them.

Lindsay Harrel
Sara Ella
Tina Radcliffe
Susan May Warren
Liz Johnson
Agent, Rachelle Gardner

Good luck and have fun building your author website!