… with More to Come!
One of the questions I’m asked by authors who are getting ready to bring out their first books is whether or not I think that contests are worth the time, effort, and entry fees. And my answer is–especially for the increasing numbers of authors who’ve opted for a non-traditional publishing path–yes! Enter every contest you can get your hands on!
That resounding encouragement is not just because my second novel, Separation of Faith, has proven (unbelievably) to be a story with “contest legs.” Contests are not just about placing or winning. (And so far, Separation of Faith has not grabbed a first prize but has come so-o-o-o close! A full list of the contests and the specific placements is at the end of this post.) For all of us, yet particularly for those of us carrying the entire promotional load required to get our work into the hands of readers, contests can provide a much-needed assist. Each contest–even the list comprising all of the “festivals”–has a separate and independent panel of judges, and no matter how your book ends up doing overall, you’ll receive at least one piece of valuable input per experience. Of course, that input might not be something you want to hear, but sometimes the toughest feedback can turn out to be the most important in the scope of your entire writing/publishing Journey.
A case proving that particular point involves my first novel, The Truth About Cinnamon. Just like every other aspiring author out there, I was absolutely convinced that Cinnamon was what the publishing community had been missing. This novel was going to change the world! Well … that was seven+ years ago, and although the world has changed, Cinnamon is certainly not the reason. Contests, however, were instrumental in helping me understand a lot of things about my debut novel, not the least of which is the key role professional editing needs to play in your process if you’ve decided to follow a non-traditional publishing path. Unfortunately, as I was working on the final iterations of Cinnamon, I still believed that all of the edits I’d performed on the book myself (especially since I was an official freelance editor, which surely gave me all the tools I needed) would be more than sufficient. Plus, the book had been put through several proofing rounds performed by educators in my circle of family and friends. What more could I have possibly done? Well … a lot! And I could not have been more wrong about thinking I could manage that critical element on my own! That fact first began creeping into my world through feedback from contest judges.
The Truth About Cinnamon never placed once in any contest. And, after awhile, I stopped entering the book because I recognized that the results were never going to change unless I pulled the book out of circulation, made a ton of major changes, and then handed the book over to a serious, professional editor. Eventually, that’s exactly what I did do, but not until I’d finished writing Separation of Faith, which was subjected to intense (and seemingly endless, at the time) rounds of professional editing from the get-go. Many of the major lessons learned through The Truth About Cinnamon originated in feedback from contest judges. Those lessons included favorable input on characterization, descriptive elements, and the basic storyline. “Needs improvement” comments almost universally centered around point-of-view inconsistencies, unnecessary background information, and confusion in the timeline. But the single most cited reason for Cinnamon’s lack of success in every contest was the poor editing.
That lesson was so indelibly (and painfully) etched on my writing psyche that Separation of Faith–my second novel and the beneficiary of lots of heartbreaking input from novel #1–has actually been cited for editorial excellence! And the whole subject and scope of editing was covered extensively in this blog as I was documenting the editing phases of Separation of Faith in real-time. If you search this blog for “editing,” you’ll find a whole bunch of stuff that might be of value to you, because the time to concentrate on editing, of course, is before you publish you book–:-)–not afterward, as I originally did with Cinnamon.
When readers order copies of The Truth About Cinnamon now, though, they receive a re-edited Second Edition that has addressed the issues raised by readers as well as contest and other feedback while also cutting 20,000 words. That re-editing effort took nearly a year (as I squeezed that work into the rest of my life). Aspiring authors often get themselves into the same situation because they’re so excited about “finishing” their first book that they become impatient. If they’re pursuing a traditional publishing path, they begin sending the manuscript prematurely to agents and editors and end up with piles of rejections. If they’ve decided to take an alternative publishing path, they do as I did and publish too soon. Note to aspiring authors: If you’ve finished writing your first novel, that book is still an early draft until you and the book have been through at least two rounds (and probably more) of professional editing. If you’re sending in a manuscript–or if you’re publishing a manuscript–that hasn’t been professionally edited, you’re submitting/publishing a premature draft that will inevitably disappoint you. And that was the most important lesson gleaned from contest input.
Even after pulling Cinnamon and basically rewriting the book, the editorial quality of the new version still doesn’t equal that of Separation of Faith. But at least the new Cinnamon is miles better than the original–and I’m even considering submitting the novel to a few contests again, just out of curiosity. 🙂
Meanwhile, Separation of Faith is on a contest role–and although the story and characters have obviously made some contribution to these placements, another primary reason for the novel’s success is the excellence in editing. A few competitions haven’t announced the winners yet, and I have a list in front of me of another dozen contests to enter (all named below). Here’s what’s happened so far:
- Amazon’s 2011 Breakthrough Novel Award: Made Round 1 Cut. Feedback from Round 2 was interesting and included reports from two judges. One evaluation was glowing and would have moved the novel into Round 3. The second evaluation was the exact opposite and didn’t even sound like the same book had been read by the two judges. So, keep in mind that there’s a great deal of subjectivity in contest judging–just like there’s subjectivity in readers themselves. That’s why I’m entering as many contests as possible. The more feedback you can get, the more you’ll see the consistencies (the positives and negatives) come through in the feedback.
- 2011 Paris Book Festival: Runner-Up to Grand Prize Winner.
- 2010 DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Book Festival (one of the most prestigious and most important for self-publishers): Runner-Up to Grand Prize Winner.
- 2011 San Francisco Book Festival: Honorable Mention (2nd from top) in General Fiction.
- 2011 Beach Book Festival: Honorable Mention (top of list) in Fiction.
- 2011 New York Book Festival: Honorable Mention (top of list) in Fiction.
- 2011 Hollywood Book Festival: Honorable Mention (4th from top) in Fiction
Still waiting for results:
- 2011 Reader’s Favorite
- Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards–winners to be announced October 14, 2011
- USA Best Books 2011–finalists and winners to be announced in October 2011
Contests still to enter:
- Los Angeles Book Festival
- Benjamin Franklin Awards
- IPPYs (Independent Publisher Book Awards)
- Los Angeles Book Festival
- Foreward Magazine Book of the Year
- London Book Festival
- New England Book Festival
- 2012 Indie Excellence Awards
- Green Book Festival
- Hudson Valley Festival of Books
And I’m sure there are others. You can’t enter too many, in my opinion. Remember, also, that placing is fun, but what you end up learning about your writing and the story you’ve entered is the most important part of the process in the long run.
Good luck to you if you’re also on the contest path! Please let me know how you’re doing!
- Separation of Faith (Kindle, Paperback & Hard Cover: http://tinyurl.com/3jaqgva
- The Truth About Cinnamon (Kindle, Paperback & Hard Cover): http://tinyurl.com/3fa3vqr