No one likes to be judged. It brings to light our faults and weaknesses. It exposes our innermost insecurities. But it can also make us be better. Better people. Better writers.
Entering a writing contest is intimidating. I mean, face it, you’re literally asking people to judge you. We write our words, we think maybe they’re good words, and we want positive reinforcement from someone else. Someone who isn’t a friend, living in fear of the screaming banshee we turn into when confronted with negative feedback. Someone who isn’t a relative, afraid of being cut from the will if they’re honest. So we send our words off to a contest, then spend the next several months alternating between hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
There are several good reasons to enter contests. I entered OCCRWA’s Orange Rose and HODRWA’s Molly for feedback. They were my first contests, and I wanted to see if I was on the right track with my book. I received praise, but also constructive criticism that helped me tighten my plot and strengthen my characters. The feedback didn’t leave me crowing from the rooftop, but I also wasn’t curled up in the fetal position in a corner. I’d gotten what I’d hoped for from both contests.
So imagine my shock when I finaled in both (as well as the Unsinkable Heroine award in the Molly), then went on to win first place in romantic suspense in both, and then the Orange Rose’s Charlotte for Best of the Best. Winning gave me self-confidence, something I often have to work hard on. It validated the fact that maybe my writing doesn’t suck like a Hoover. Although I hadn’t thought about it when I’d submitted my entry, I found that validation is an important reason for entering contests. When I’m banging my head on my desk, wondering why I ever thought I could write, I look at my beautiful Charlotte trophy and think, well shit, someone thinks I can write.
Then I decided to enter WHRWA’s Emily contest, this time to focus on the final judges who would read my work if I reached that stage. I did final, then won first place in romantic suspense, then the Emily Best of the Best. A lot of people will testify that I was, to say the least, stunned. Not only did I get great feedback from the first round, and affirmation from finaling, I also received full requests from the editor and agent final judges. All I’d hoped for, but much more than I’d expected.
All of this contributed to my decision to enter the Golden Heart. Go big or go home, right? Although it doesn’t provide feedback, it’s the ultimate contest for unpublished romance writers as far as affirmation and potential requests from editors and agents. I was lucky enough to be one of the happy-dancing, screaming-into-the-phone entrants who received that coveted “You’re a Finalist” call early one March morning. And I have found that the Golden Heart is unique in that it comes complete with a group of finalists who bond together in friendship and support, encouragement and advice. The National Conference in Denver will be a whirlwind of fun and excitement, culminating in the winners being announced at the big awards party. (Okay, that’s how it used to work…now we get a luncheon in the middle of Thursday instead of a formal event Saturday night, but you get the idea.)
As with every contest, I hope for the best, but am prepared for the worst. But the worst is far from bad this time. Because as my Golden Heart sisters will tell you, just finaling has already made us all winners.