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Getting The Most Out of Contests by Angela Johnson

by Special Guests 18 November 2010 11 Comments

Today, Happy Endings is pleased to welcome Angela Johnson, author of the new release VOW OF DECEPTION.   Welcome, Angela!

Your first allegiance is to your heart…

As a knight, Sir Rand Montague’s allegiance is to King Edward I. But when the king orders Rand to escort Rosalyn Harcourt to court in order to wed her off to Sir Golan—a crass knight Rand abhors—he’s torn between duty and desire. For Rand has never forgotten the woman he spent one unforgettable night of passion with…

After suffering abuse at the hands of her deceased husband, Rose wishes to never wed again. But when Rand rescues her after Sir Golan attempts to compromise her, she agrees to marry Rand in name only. However, sharing such close quarters with Rand brings back memories of their torrid rendezvous—and tempts Rose to give in to an all-consuming desire…


When I first began writing about ten years ago, I knew very little about writing romance, or the romance publishing industry. But eager to learn, I soon joined a local writers’ group that is affiliated with RWA.  The access and information I gleaned from my writers’ organization is the primary reason why I’m a published author today.

There are several routes aspiring authors can follow on the road to publication.  Today, I’m going to talk about one of them.  I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned about RWA sponsored writing contests, the opportunities they present to aspiring authors, and illustrate why I’m such a big proponent of them.

In the summer of 2007, I’d submitted a partial manuscript of Vow of Seduction to a New York editor.  But I’d also entered my manuscript in some RWA sponsored writing contests that had New York editors as final round judges.  Happily, I placed or won, in three of the contests. As a result, each judge requested a full submission of my manuscript.  One of those editors was Hilary Sares, who was at Kensington at that time.  She was the final editor judge in the GOTCHA Contest I had placed second in.  After reading my full manuscript, Hilary offered me a two-book contract from Kensington, which I accepted. The first book was Vow of Seduction, which began selling in October 2009. The second book, Vow of Deception, just came out in bookstores recently (November 2, 2010).

I sold as a result of placing in a writing contest, which is why I believe contests can be a useful tool to help writers achieve their dream of publication.  But I want to caution you that what may work for one writer, may not work for another.  Only you can determine whether entering writing contests is right for you. To that end, there are several factors you should consider first before diving into the numerous contests available to unpublished writers.

Begin by asking yourself, what do you wish to accomplish by entering contests?

There are several reasons for entering contests, but the two main ones are:

  1. Writers enter contests to get feedback about their work.
  2. The other main reason is for un-agented writers to get their partial manuscript before an editor, who will then request the complete manuscript, fall in love with it, and offer a contract.


The first reason to enter a contest is to receive feedback so you can make your manuscript stronger.  It’s imperative to do research ahead of time so you can choose contests that provide you with feedback.

A. Do Homework on Feedback

1. Firstly, make sure you enter contests that REQUIRE their judges to give feedback. Some don’t, like the RWA Golden Heart contest, which only gives a numerical score ranging from 1 to 9.  Also, to narrow down the specific type of feedback you want, study the contest score sheets to see which aspects of the novel are being evaluated.  Most contests will provide a score sheet on their website.

2. Secondly, look for contests with high page submissions. If you want feedback on your plot, you won’t be able to get much of that plot into a contest that’s only for the first 5 pages of the manuscript. That kind of contest is going to be concentrating on the opening hook of the book, not the manuscript as a whole.

B. Evaluating Feedback

Now that you’ve received feedback on your novel, you need to know how to interpret it. The judging in each contest is very subjective.  NEVER take any single comment as gospel, even if the judge is published. Only you can decide what works best for your story.

However, when you consistently receive the same comments from judges, it may be time to consider rewriting your work. If you’ve entered 3 contests, and 9 judges have marked your scores down for point of view, grammar, GMC (goal, motivation, and conflict), etc., you should pay attention. These may be reasons an editor will reject your book.


A. Factors to Consider

1. If your goal is to get your work before an editor, it’s imperative you know which editors buy the type of book you write. There’s no point in wasting time and money on a contest if the final round judge only buys Chick Lit, and you write suspense. She may love your entry but won’t request to see more of it because she doesn’t buy suspense.

In order to discover which editors acquire the type of book you write, read editor interviews or blogs. You can find them on various websites, writing loops, and in writers’ magazines. Attend conferences and listen closely to what the editors say they’re looking for, and what they’re not looking for.

2. Another factor to consider when choosing a contest is to decide what type of contest you want to enter.  Contests fall into several different categories. Some are very specific, and can include—the first scene where hero and heroine meet, a love scene, synopsis only, or last chapter of the book.  But most contests fall into one of two main categories — either the “First Chapter” (generally up to 20, 25, or 30 pages) or the” Opening of the Book” (generally 5 – 10 pages.)

The “Opening of the Book” contests are invaluable because those first few pages are all you may have to interest an editor, or agent, in your work. Most editors and agents will toss a manuscript aside after a page or two if your voice/style/story hasn’t hooked them by that point.  Whether for a 5-10 page contest or a 30 page contest, fill those first paragraphs/pages with interesting action and/or dialogue that intrigues the reader and makes her want to continue reading.

By the same token, you’ll want to end your contest entry on a hook so the judges will want to give you high scores. And so you’ll become a finalist, and sell your manuscript.

B. Maximize Chances of Winning

To maximize your chances of getting to the final round, there are several factors you should consider when choosing which contest to enter.

1. First, know the definitions of the various categories so you do not enter your book in the wrong category and have your work disqualified. Also, look for contests that are category specific. If you write historical romance, look for contests that have a historical category.  Judges tend to judge in the category for which genre they are acquiring.

2. You can also maximize your odds of winning by looking for newer contests and contests that don’t get many entries. The more prestigious contests can receive hundreds of entries each year, which reduces your chances of getting to the final round. Lesser known contests have fewer entries, and therefore, offer a greater chance of placing in the finals.

3. And finally, look for contests that have discrepancy judging. This means that if one judge gives you a score significantly lower than the other judges, the lowest score will be dropped and the entry will receive another judging.  What you don’t want is a contest that averages in the discrepancy score, thereby driving down your total score and knocking you out of contention.

In conclusion, I’d like to caution you about some pitfalls of entering contests for the purpose of getting your manuscript before a New York editor or agent.

The first pitfall writers may fall into is entering a manuscript that is not complete.  If you place in a contest and the editor judge requests a full submission, you have a small window of time to submit the full manuscript. Usually you will have a few weeks to make some requested changes by the editor.  But if you do not submit it soon after the request, the editor may lose interest, or feel she’s wasted precious time on a writer who is either unprepared or unmotivated.

Another pitfall writer’s should avoid is concentrating on the contest entry pages to the detriment of the rest of the novel.  You can get so caught up on writing and rewriting the first chapters of your book, you forget the middle and end of the novel are just as important as the beginning.  The purpose is to sell the book.  Not sell your first chapters.

If you do decide to enter your manuscript in writing contests to get your work before an editor, I suggest it as a supplemental route to querying agents and editor.  Doing both, can only maximize your chances of getting published in the long run.

So what do you think? Have you entered writing contests before? If so, what was your experience like?  Was it good or bad?  For those of you who’ve never entered a writing contest, have you ever considered doing so before today?  Why or Why not?

About Angela Johnson

Angela Johnson fell in love with romance novels in high school. In college, she earned a degree in history. Today, she combines her two favorite passions—history and romance—into a writing career.  Loving to research and spin sensual tales, Angela lives in Kansas, with Joe, her very own hero of twenty-three years.  Please visit her at her website http://angelajohnsonauthor.com or at her Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Angela-Johnson-Author/107353814770

Today, Angela is giving away a copy of her November release Vow of Deception to one lucky commenter. (Open to continental US and Canadian residents only)

In addition, for a chance to win a $50 Susan G. Komen for the Cure Visa gift card, simply go to her Contest page on her website and sign up. http://www.angelajohnsonauthor.com/contest.html



  • Andrea said:

    Excellent advice Angela! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Angela Johnson said:

    Andrea, thanks so much for reading and commenting on my blog post. I hope the information was helpful. Andrea has a wonderful blog called Write Life of Andrea and Corrina. I’ll be their Author Spotlight next week. I hope anyone reading this will go check out their site.

  • Clancy Metzger said:

    Angela, Thanks for the insight. You made many points I hadn’t thought of before. Very helpful.

  • Angela Johnson said:

    Clancy, I’m so glad you found my post insightful. Thanks for checking it out.

  • Laurie Ryan said:

    Thanks for the great tips, Angela. Until I find an agent, I do use contests for the same reasons (more objective feedback, and to get my work in front of a particular agent). And I query at the same time, so I think I’m on the right track. Best of luck with Vow Of Deception.

  • Lavada Dee said:

    Angela, a really well written blog on this subject. I entered contests before I published and found it a very rewarding experience as I got some really good comments back from them. Like you’d I recommend them subject to the research like you’ve stated.

  • Angela Johnson said:

    Laurie, sounds like your taking advantage of every means possible to get published. Good luck. Hope you land an agent sell soon. Thanks for your well wishes.

  • Angela Johnson said:

    Hi, Lavada. Like you, I used contests for feedback, especially when I first began writing. There are so many more contests, with a lot more editors/agents as final round judges, now than there were 10 years ago. That’s why it’s even more important to choose wisely the writing contests you enter. Thanks for your comments.

  • Lindsey said:

    I like getting an insider’s view of writing and getting published. Thank you for sharing part of your process. Are these contests free to enter or are there entry fees?

  • Angela Johnson said:

    Hi Lindsey, I was glad to share. Thanks for your interest.

    Entering contests is not cheap. The average cost of contest entry fees is around $25. To that, you have to add the cost of postage, paper and printing. Keep in mind that most contests require 3 – 5 copies of your entry. A contest for the first 30 pages of a manuscript, plus a 5 page synopsis equates to 175 sheets of paper. Shipping alone will most likely run you $8-10 each way.

    For that reason I’d recommend finding contests that allow electronic submissions. Many contests have switched from paper to electronic submissions. You still have to pay the entry fee, but you have no printing or shipping costs. Your entry is sent back and forth via email. Not to mention the environmental impact it has.

  • Robin Covington said:

    Angela: I am a big fan of contests and I early on was given advice by a published author friend who gave me much of the advice from your post. I was able to target the contests that I wanted to enter. My experience has been mostly positive – I’ve finaled and won a few – but the feedback even from a “losing” entry has been inavaluable. I also learned an important lesson – to get a tough skin and learn to take criticism well.

    Thanks for posting!

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