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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Writer's Life - The Contest Circuit

In this morning's Inbox, was the wonderful news that GATHER THE BONES had finalled in the 2014 EPIC Awards for Best Historical Romance, a category I won with BY THE SWORD back in 2008.  This is its 5th award nomination this year.

Contests are a part of a writer's journey and a long time I wrote a book.It sat on my desk, a pile of paper (pre digital age!) and I just stared at it. I had no idea what do next... Where should I send it? 

A friend in the publishing industry read it and said “You do realise this is a historical romance? Why don’t you enter it into the Romance Writers of Australia Emma Darcy contest?”

The 1996 Emma Darcy Award
Here’s a confession - I had never even dreamed there was a Romance Writersorganisation and (not being a traditional romance reader) neither had I heard of (the lovely!) Emma Darcy. In the days before internet,  somehow I tracked down the organisation and entered the Emma Darcy Contest and to my utter surprise I received a phone call from ED herself congratulating me on coming 2nd in the contest. The rest, as they say is history…
Even as an unpublished author I picked and chose which contests I entered. I was never a “contest junkie”. The contests I went in for were those that would give me the best feedback on my entry. Now, not all feedback is good and trust me, some comments I received cut to the bone but to be honest it is those comments that I went back to in the rewrite. As a contest judge myself these days, I try to impart that my comments are my subjective opinion and try to offer constructive suggestions on improvement. It is not always possible to say wonderful things about an entry you are reading, sometimes you have to hold the mirror up. It’s how it is done that is important.

The other great thing about entering unpublished contests is your works gets in front of editors and agents. I had a few requests for full manuscripts but alas, the magic "call" never happened but at least I was being read and getting feedback from professionals in publishing.

The world of “feedback” contests closes once you become published but the occasional contest, such as the Romance Through the Ages Contest is open for published authors. I won it in 2012 with an unpublished regency romance. Once again the feedback was invaluable…particularly from the judge who DIDN’T like it!


GATHER THE BONES was published in September 2012. It is the cross genre story to end all cross genre stories…history, mystery, romance and ghosts… but I thought in my heart of hearts I had written a good story and so I invested in the contest circuit. Two of the contests in which it has finalled were reader driven contests (The Australian Romance Readers Awards and the RONE Awards). I didn’t lodge the entries…they came from the readers…and believe me those nominations mean the world to me. The other 3 were contests I entered. It does cost money to enter contests, particularly if one also has to provide printed copies of books to distant places.

So what is the benefit to entering these contests…particularly if you don’t win?
        It would be nice to think that it lifts your book above the pack but to be honest I have noticed no appreciable increase in sales riding on award nominations.
        BUT it does go on your writing CV, it builds your profile and makes you a more attractive proposition for editors and agents. This, for me, is the major reason I would enter published author contests.

So there we areGATHER THE BONES has just garnered its 5th Award nominations and I am as proud as punch of its success… Stay tuned for a special offer on purchasing this book that begins 20 October :-)

Alison with her 2008 Eppie Award for BY THE SWORD


In the meantime I would love to know why you think contests (for pubbed or unpubbed) are worth entering…OR NOT….

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing so much of your writing journey Alison. 'Gather the Bones' is beautifully written so it's easy to see why you have received so many awards and nominations :). I've entered a few contests of late...(OK, maybe I have a slight problem at present LOL). But some of your comments really resonated with me about looking at the not so good feedback/constructive criticism from judges because it does make you really look at where you can tighten things up. I've learnt a lot in a short space of time from contest feedback. And it's lovely when a judge actually takes the time to crit your entry...really invaluable. Although it's a tad bemusing when you get a couple of really good scores and comments from a couple of judges and then someone else completely hates your entry! I guess the truth lies somewhere in the middle. And if one can final and by-pass the slush pile...even better. So I think contests are very worthwhile entering, particularly if you target those with editor/agent judges you are keen to be noticed by. Plus, as you said, contest finalling can only look good when subbing. Great post and good luck in the EPIC!

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  2. Many thanks, Jen.

    Even with the most carefully compiled judging sheets, judging books in writing contests is subjective. It is going to depend on the judge's emotional reaction to what they are reading.

    I agree if you are entering contests, have a look at who the judges are and if they will suit your line.

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