Monday, January 22, 2007

Contests and Tournaments

Two knights jousting, late 15th century.
Some earlier illustrations suggest a gory pitched battle rather than a organized sport.

Some writers are devoted to contests.
Some agents pay attention to contest short lists and winners.
Some do not.
Recently, we enjoyed the kerfuffle over the now defunct Sobol Award.
The Sobol sensation was barely in the cold, cold ground when the First Chapters Writing Competition was announced.
The winner of this blood sport - apparently stories will advance according to readers' ratings - will be offered a contract from Touchstone/Fireside, a division of Simon & Schuster.
I have read three or four of the First Chapters. While basically competent, they did not turn my complexion nile green. Nevertheless, the quality bodes well for the contest, they were not crayon by any standard.
Yesterday, I read a feature by Mike Gillespie in the Ottawa Citizen, about a Canadian mystery writer, Louise Penny, who could not, for love, money or her first-born, interest an agent or a publisher in her detective series.
Genre fiction is largely dismissed by Canadian publishers et al.
In desperation, she entered a British contest for debut mystery writers.
She came second out of 800 entries, was snapped up by an agent and Hodder/Headline. The novel, Still Life, went on to win the Creasy New Blood Dagger Award by the British Crime Writers Association and then the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award. Kirkus Review listed her novel as one of the year's top ten best.
St. Martin's Minotaur brought it out in the US, and other foreign right have been snapped up. Her second book, Dead Cold, is already out there. (Fatal Grace in the US, in May.)


Erik Ivan James said...

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast."
...or something like that.

Good post, Dear Gal.

Savannah Jordan said...

Rings familiar to the J.K. Rowling ms that no one wanted a few years ago. Bet those editors are all kicking themselves.

As to contests...No time, no money for entry fees. *sigh*

Ric said...

Over at Susan's question of the week is how much luck is involved. Sometimes it helps - but you still have to write the book.

Good anecdote.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Dear Guy.

Have never entered any ( not since university, anyway), Savannah. While I understand the rationale behind the fees, am not sure I approve of it.
One thing about this "gather" contest, apparently the writer cannot submit the MS elsewhere during the time period.

I find her example particularly encouraging, Ric. Not for the contest, per se, but for the subsequent success of her series.

Ballpoint Wren said...

I'm not sure I like the contests that charge fees, although I guess small, processing fees are probably okay. But where do you draw the line?

Bernita said...

Clearly, they also provide for the "prize" in many cases.
Great and cheap publicity for the sponsors.

Holly Kennedy said...

Interesting post... Prior to having my first novel published I entered a few contests with little success. However, that said, my debut novel, THE TIN BOX, was a finalist for the Rupert Hughes Award at the Maui Writers Conference. It cost $25 to enter. That it was a finalist made my agent perk up and ask for the manuscript, which she loved... and the rest is history, as they say. I signed with her, she sold rights to six countries, etc.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but if it doesn't cost much (in time or $$), it can't hurt to enter -- it may even help.

Thanks for popping by my blog. I'm really enjoying yours!

Savannah Jordan said...

Yes, actually, Bernita, I did enter a contest. It was my first (and only) contest; the annual short story writing competition on I placed in the top ten and took Honorable Mention.

But *gasp* a judge called my writing "vanilla"...I've since remedied that situation LOL

Anonymous said...

Canadians have such a strange sense of literature...almost snobbish.

I know I'm gonna get slammed for wondering why people keep publishing Margaret Atwood...

Bernita said...

Kind of you to drop by, Holly.

I can't speak to the "before," Savannah, but am choking with laughter over "vanilla" to describe the "after"!

Maybe because she sells, Jenn? Internationally, as well?
While I don't care for her essentially negative world view, she is a brilliant writer.
It's true though, the industry here,except for Harlequin, seems interested primarily in "literary" fiction. No wonder it is in terrible shape.

raine said...

Good for Louise!
I love hearing that kind of story...sigh...

I've entered a few contests. Very few. Generally speaking, I've finaled in them. And each turned out to be a dead end.

I do know people whose careers have been jump-started this way--but you've still gotta write a quality product.
Joust at your own risk. ;-)

Bernita said...

'Tis a very satisfying story, init, Raine?
Especially since she had "lost count of how many Canadian publishers and agents" to whom she had submitted.
Nice comment.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Hmm...I had completely dismissed the contest until I read this post. but I don't think I like the "not being able to submit while your waiting" part...LOL...not that I'm fallinf over myself to submit...I found new things to work on.

I just don't think it's ready yet. Working on the screenplay is showing me a lot of holes in the manuscript that I'm filling!

But at least now, I'll have to look deeper into this contest!

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spyscribbler said...

I'm all for contests charging fees. I know many RWA local chapters that are able to pay for many great things for the community of writers because of it.

Of course, they're all non-profit. So the money they get goes into the prizes (otherwise they wouldn't be able to offer them!) and/or stuff to benefit writers, i.e. classes, conferences, etc ... something.

Bernita said...

I don't have an opinion on it either way, Bonnie, because I haven't read the fine print. I suppose one should calculate the time carefully, because in effect one is offering an "exclusive" for the duration of the contest.

An association is one thing, Spy, a commercial enterprise is another.

Therese Fowler said...

Clearly, not all contests are worth the fee (if there is one), while some are worth the fee and more.

I had a novel place well in an international contest, but fail to sell to a publisher...while my novel which recently sold so well failed to place in the same contest!

Yet that contest helped launch the career of Nat'l Book Award winner Julia Glass a few years back, just to name one of their success stories.

Bottom line to all of this: persevere. That's how Louise Penny succeeded (not to mention myself, and Holly, etc.)

Scott from Oregon said...

I liked the whole Nanawrimo contest because it basically said all who produce are winners.

In other words, participate and put forth effort, and you are a winner.

Many of these other contests leave my head scratching. I think--"OK, what is the catch?"

I tend to think people who love to write should write for the same reason people who love to golf should play golf, not to be in the PGA but because it "gets them out" and is an enjoyable excursion.

Need a publisher?

Try blogger or wordpress....

Jeff said...

I have mixed feelings about writing contests. On one hand I can see how it would be encouraging and a boost to a writer's career if the judge/judges happen to like the writer's particular writing style. However, on the other hand I can see how it could be discouraging for an otherwise talented writer to never win or even be recognized for their work simply because it doesn't fit the judge's idea of quality writing.
I guess what I am saying is writing contests are not always an indication of a writer's talent and they shouldn't let not winning or placing disappoint them and cause them to quit writing. IMO :)

Shesawriter said...

I haven't entered one in ages. I'm too busy trying to get published.

Bernita said...

Yes, Terese, "perseverence' seems to be the prime essential quality.

Some of us are not so pure in heart, Scott, and want a tangible life beyond blogger.

That's very well put, Jeff.
One has to consider how the possible results might affect one's goals.

Good point, Tanya. Are some contests a detour or the main route?