Saturday, April 7, 2012

A View from the Other Side of the Writing Contest

Hubby emerged from the bedroom the other day wearing a name tag. True story. I do not lie.

Six months ago I agreed to coordinate UTRWA Great Beginnings writing contest. During the last month, I've barely spoken to friends, let alone family. I'm "one with the computer." The seat of my chair has a "custom fit" I've spent so much time pressed against it. When I entered my office early one morning, I swear I found one of my characters whirling in the chair.

"What the hell's going on boss lady? You haven't written for weeks. I thought I was getting my name in lights, but you've ignored me. What gives?" Riley, from Riley's Pond. And he's right. I set my own work aside, including Riley's story that I wanted to self publish by April, to manage the mayhem that erupted in the final weeks of the contest. The tagline "shit happens" became my daily mantra.

Last weekend it finally closed amidst wailing and gnashing of teeth (my own), the finalists announced and their entries forwarded to agents and publishers who would make the final determinations. One finalist was discovered after the fact and added on. One agent emailed me requesting an entry resent. Apparently, I tried to help her out by sending an entry chuck full of comments from another judge. I knew it was too good to be true....there had to be one last hitch, and she was the lucky winner. What can I say? I try to impress (or not).

I've learned some things during my tenure on this side of a writing contest.

1.  People are flaky. Or busy. Or forgetful. Or rude. We had judges bomb out at the eleventh hour, leaving me pulling my hair out trying to find "judge homes" for the entries they'd abandoned. I've sharpened my use of profanity. I can spew a creative combination that would make a truck driver blush. And loudly. I also discovered several "earth angels" who came to my rescue at the last minute. Also a couple of sounding boards who kept the same "bat hours" I did, who let my cyber cry on their shoulders. With their help, we managed to pull it off.

2.  Your email address is your label. Never gave it much thought until it came time to notify entrants of their standing. In this new age of instant messaging and digital addresses, no one knows your name. They know your "identity tag" and in some cases, this is the only identity you have. Remember the old TV show M.A.S.H.?  "Hot Lips Houlihan?" When you think of Major Margaret Houlihan, her "brand" comes to mind first. When you're placing your contact information on your professional letter to an agent or publisher, look at your email address. This is your first "brand."  "" may not be the best tag to define you as an author. When you were sitting around with your friends setting up your account, "" may have been funny, and yes, would definitely set you apart in an agent's or editor's mind as "unique," but for the wrong reason. Your "brand" - the email address an agent would type every time they needed to contact you, could prove too much. I saw a lot of strange "monkeybutt" email addresses and thought these talented authors may not be taken seriously because their contact with the professional world is anything but...or butt.

3.  There is stiff competition in the writing spectrum. Lots of talent! Being the one person who received everyone's entries, I was privy to peeking at some that intrigued me. Wow! I've cataloged a few I hope to see published. We had 151 entrants, and out of those, only 22 were finalists. Tough odds, and the judging was tight. I can also confirm that vampires are still alive among the popular "undead." Check out the finalists at

So is it worth entering a contest? I have to say "yes." Why? Because the critiquing process is an essential part of writing. Even if you have wonderful critique partners like I do, you need the fresh set of eyes that's never seen your story to give that honest, sometimes brutal, opinion. However, I've learned to only take what applies to me from a critique, and shed the rest. In the end, it's my story to tell. When I enter contests now, it's because I want to get my work in front of a particular judge.

I applaud those who entered UTRWA's Great Beginnings Contest. It takes guts to enter contests. You essentially wear your heart on your sleeve when you submit your creative baby to the "lion's den." You never know what's going to come back. So far, the feedback from contestants has been favorable and complimentary of our judges. A great relief to me as coordinator and a huge "kudos" for my Utah Chapter of RWA. Congratulations judges for a job well done and contestants for your bravery in entering. It's a "win-win" for everyone, even if you don't make the top three. Everyone learns something.

As for me? Monday mornings are "staff meetings" with my characters. I have some hefty apologizing to do and a change of direction. Stay tuned. Until then, I'm entering another contest myself and getting re-acquainted with the stranger roaming my house and eating my food. He retires this week (refer to last month's blog). Oh joy.

Life is all about change...a constant evolution. Learn to "roll"....


Wendy S. Hales said...

Copious quantities of toasts and cheers are coming your way at the retreat my friend! I am searching ringtones for a special one just for you. How about 'Hail the Conquering Hero' or 'Hell's Bells'?(I like AC/DC myself)

Calisa Rhose said...

You survived! That is worth a badge of courage at the least, Joelene! I've been involved in a few contests, from entering, judging to coordinating categories. It's not easy. I haven't gotten brave enough yet to chair a contest. Mega kudos to you girl! I was very honored to be one of your Earth angels! You may, or may not know that during that same time I was active in the NRCA coordination, in full swing, as well as helping kick off a brand new ebook contest from OKRWA. But I think you have me beat for the too-busy-to-breathe award! I hope your hubby is able to take off his name badge soon. :)

Sandy L. Rowland said...

You covered it all. Well done on the contest. It's a bear hungry from a long winter.
Dangerous creature,but you tamed it.
Great comments.
an e-mail address that says "hotpantsmamma. com won't do your writing career any good.

Thanks for doing a great job and the fun post. You make me smile.
And sorry about the hubby retiring.

Loretta said...

Lord. After reading this, it has reaffirmed my committment, NOT chair one of these things:) I will probably judge, but never chair. I'm hearing too many horror stories in my neck of the woods too:)
As for that name tag, I suggest you both wear one when he retires, and mark it with an "in" or "out" if it's a high communication day or not.
Good luck with that, we have long periods of time at home together too...that's all I'll say about that:):) Read between the lines.
Great to see you bloggin' again, gal!:)

Christina Wolfer said...

So the nightmare... I mean the contest is complete. Hugs, girl. You are brave.

Now get back to writing! :)

J. Coleman said...

Hats off to you girls. People, meet my earth angels. A couple aren't here but I can honestly say I'm not sure I'd have survived without you. The night before the deadline to notify finalists, I was literally in tears. Nine entries were left in a basket on my doorstep.

stanalei said...

You are an amazing contest coordinator, Joelene. Way to hang in there!

Sandy B said...

You did an awesome job -- and are spot-on about the e-mail handles. Sorta like Facebook -- do you want your boss to see that entry?

You and hubbyneed to take time for a romantic weekend and get reacquainted.

Sandy B