Out of Control, my SECRETS VOLUME 13 novella, got its start by winning Lori Foster’s online “Pick of the Week” contest a couple years ago. So, a couple months ago, I launched my first ever “Chase the Dream” writer’s contest (with Leigh Michaels) in an attempt to help another writer like I was helped. Though the contest ended up being more work than I expected, it’s been great fun. I received a lot of fantastic entries, which made the job of choosing a single weekly finalist difficult. And I accomplished my goal – editors have requested work from all the finalists. What a rush that gave me! As did the numerous emails from writers telling me how much they’ve enjoyed the contest.
But the contest also gave me something I did not expect to receive: A greater understanding of what agents and editors must go through. Oh, I’ve given lip-service to understanding, but now … I really get it! Namely, the …
Importance of a Great Opening. The night before it was time to announce the weekly finalist, I read all the entries I’d received that week. As such, if I wanted to get to bed at a reasonable hour, I didn’t have a lot of time. So the minute I lost interest in an entry, I filed it in my “No” folder and moved on to the next. (The number one thing that caused me to lose interest was opening scenes bogged down with narrative, introspection, backstory – in short, no action). Since the number of entries I read each week paled in comparison to an agent/editor’s volume, I imagine that they give submissions even less time than I did! This has made me revisit the first chapter in my WIPs to make sure it is as interesting as possible.
Great Writing – Overdone Plot. There were numerous entries where the writer had a unique voice, great writing style, etc. but the scene had been done a hundred times. Girlfriends having drinks together while bemoaning the lack of men in their lives is one example that comes to mind. This made me think of a rejection letter I received for my chick lit that opened with my heroine discovering her boyfriend’s infidelity. Maybe the agent’s polite comment, “Our readers did not feel that this material would get the attention of editors” was a nice way of telling me my opening scene was unoriginal. (On the other hand, maybe he just didn’t want to tell me my writing sucked. LOL
Mood of the Reader. One night, I was stressed out over my own writing deadline. As I went through the entries, I was not as … forgiving as I had been in previous weeks. Entries that I had previously considered a “Maybe” were now a “No.” So maybe the agent who sent me the rejection form letter with her handwritten comment “You’re trying too hard” had just had a bad day. (Or, once again, maybe she just didn’t want to tell me my writing sucked. LOL
Empathy for the Writer. Some entries started out really strong – which had me cheering for the author. Then, when the story lost momentum, I got that sinking feeling in my stomach because I so wanted it to be good. This drove home the fact that, as a reader, I started out reading a story wanting it to be good — and felt “bad” for the author when the story lost its steam.
This leads me to the real point of this observation: For every entry I did not pick as a finalist, I wanted to let the writer know why. But there was no way I had the time to let writers know. So maybe sometimes agents/editors send out form letters, even though they’d like to give an explanation. This makes the personal rejection letters that I’ve received that much more priceless.
Good Writing is … Good Writing. Many of the entries I selected as finalists were not subgenres of romance that I typically read. But the openings were so compelling that they grabbed me and made me want to read more. This, once again, goes back to the first point – the importance of a gripping opening.
So, all in all, this has been a fabulous experience – for me and, hopefully, the contest entrants. Please stop by my site, check out the finalists, and cast your vote for the winning entry.