Thursday, August 27, 2009

Change Your Manuscript to Suit the Contest

I've been trying to complete Silent Keeper as well as work on some contest entries. If you follow my blog, you'll have noticed I haven't entered any contests since the spring. That's about to change.

Why do I enter contests? The reason is two-fold; the feedback and the exposure to editors. Take this contest entry I'm working on:

When You Least Expect It (When) is an inspirational. It was a finalist in that category in this year's Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest and although it wasn’t requested by final judge (an editor), I did receive excellent feedback from the first round judges.

So, I’m revising it and will try again. I’d like to enter it in the Southern Heat contest which has 2 final judges—an editor and an agent. That’s too good to pass up. Usually there’s only an editor for the final judge. The Southern Heat contest has 2 categories I can enter When in: Inspirational and Contemporary series. Because it’s an inspirational, I should enter it in the inspirational category, right?

Maybe not.

Remember my ms Charley’s Saint? I wrote it as an inspirational, but both times it’s been a finalist in regular contemporary categories. Final judges are not required to give comments, however one nice editor wrote to me that it was entered in the appropriate category but needed more sizzle. I don’t know if she said that because she sees many entries that don’t fit the category or if she wanted to reassure me the inspirational elements were okay for a contemporary series. Either way, I really appreciated her comment.

Now here’s the thing with When – although it has the 3 way relationship between the Hero, heroine, and God which all inspirations require, the ‘God’ aspect isn’t as pronounced as in some of my other books. So, it could do well in the Contemporary category. I just haven’t entered it in one yet. What a choice.

To help me decide, I looked at the next contest I want to enter: Finally a Bride (FAB). This contest is very special because you can’t enter unless you’ve finaled but never placed first. Yup, that’s me. You know the old saying, ‘Always a bride, never a bridesmaid’. So because both When and Charley’s Saint have finaled, I can enter them in FAB. But, who are the final judges? None other than the same editors who are judging the Southern Heat contest. Well, one is the same and the other one judged Charley’s Saint once before. If she didn’t request it last time, it doesn’t make sense to enter it where she’s the final judge.

Here’s what I’m going to do:
- Enter When in the Contemporary Series category of Southern Heat
- Enter When in the Inspirational category of Finally a Bride
- Enter Charley’s Saint in the Contemporary Series of Finally a Bride

But what about the sizzle? Well, I’m going to add some to Charley’s Saint for the Contemp category and tone it down (yes, that was the judges opinion) for the inspy category for When.

How will I add sizzle? Well according to that one judge in the last paragraph, When doesn't have much to alter. However, here’s some changes I’m making to my main characters:
- looking at each other with a higher level of intensity (awareness)
- thinking about hugging and kissing (carnal thoughts)
- expressing pleasure in each other’s physical attributes

The above changes won’t take away from the inspirational story, however they show a sexten level you don’t find in many inspy books (unless they’re from established and accepted authors). Since I write for both the secular and inspirational market, this isn’t a big deal for me. And before anyone gets all excited about this, the mss will still abide by my ‘closed door’ and ‘no sex before marriage’ rules. I’m not talking about going against my principles, just turning up the heat a bit.

Why would I change my manuscripts like this? Well, this may be my only chance to enter the Finally a Bride contest. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

So, what do you think? Would you change a manuscript to suit a contest? Do you have any ideas to up the sexten without being overly blatant? Do you have any questions about contests you’d like answered?


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Anita, thanks for sharing all this! It's great to see your internal processes as you prepare for these contests, and also see the strategy involved. I never would have thought of all those little details.

I think adjusting something like the heat level is perfectly acceptable. As I see it, it's no different than putting a slightly different spin on a query letter to suit a particular agent's preferences. As long as it doesn't cross a writer's personal boundaries, in this case your stand to build desire but not give in to it prematurely, it's a viable decision for fine-tuning a novel in my opinion. Depending on what market I wanted to pitch my wip toward, for example, I could probably increase emphasis on the romantic element, or write bloodier combat, or increase the sarcastic voice, or add more magical elements. It would still be the same story, just with a different side pointed to the camera, so to speak.

As far as sexual tension goes, I think it's all in the language and the subtleties. Sure, wanton thoughts of what the heroine would like to do with the hero and that bowl of whipped cream he's holding can certainly spice things up, but it's the sizzle in the words that really makes a moment pop. You can describe contact as touching a cheek, stroking it, caressing it, that touch could wander to a more erogenous area (such as around the ear lobe on on the throat... and it's still not lewd contact) and evoke a lot of pleasurable sensation without stripping off clothing or getting blatant. I often find it's the anticipation in a romantic moment I enjoy the most, and that evokes a response in me. Once you throw a lot of body parts in there, it can become mechanical, but that wanting and anticipating really builds a subtle sexual tension.. and it can be so easily snatched away by an interrupting best friend!

Or more simply put, it's not the food choice that gives you the sizzle, it's the pan you cook it in.

connie said...

Hi Anita
Great post great timing as I am about to enter my first contest. I am particularly interested in your strategies and willing to squeeze everyone for all the ideas in it and that it will generate.
How you find time to do all the writing you do beats me!
Hayley comments on adjusting the heat level are right on and expressed much better than I could do at the moment (I am on my way to buy lumber, tools and groceries before I join son and grandchildren at the lake so I am thinking stain, milk and cheese and 2X4s).
As for turning up the thermometer, I say yes as you will do it to the proper degree and it isn't as though Christians aren't good in bed!
The 'before' is half the fun. Sizzle away with the touches, kisses, romance, teasing, etc. Again, Hayley has said it all very well.

Karyn Good said...

Anita, I've got questioins! I'm off to doing some back to school shopping with my son but will definitely be back later.

I'd do it. I'd change a ms to suit a request that makes sense and doesn't take me over boundaries I don't wish to cross. There are lots of ways you can create sensuality without making it physical. A brush of their fingers with a hidden tightening of his hand in response.

Great post, Anita. I'll be back!

Helena said...

As long as the changes that are made to a manuscript remain true to the characters, I think it's okay. You may be doing it for a contest, or because your writing group thinks your story needs more sizzle, action, whatever, or ... maybe it is even for an editor who holds the power over the publication of your story in her hand. In all of the scenarios, it boils down to opinions about what will make the story better. And of course there's no single right way to tell the same story.

Speaking of publication ... are the odds better for the writers that submit to contests? Presumably, if they win, odds would be good they might get the ms published. Are there statistics anywhere that correlate contest winners/finalists/submitters to subsequent publication of the same or other manuscripts. If the odds are good (I try to anticipate positive results!) would you say it's because you put more effort into those stories, or the experience itself boosts your writing expertise, or is it the reputation or the networking that happens by getting your name out there?

Good topic, Anita (aka Contest Diva)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I totally agree with what everyone's said here. If the change is one that you feel good about and you think improves the story, by all means go for it.

I read your post quickly (I'm at work). If I understand you correctly you are entering your mss in different categories where you might get different judges, or at least have the judges judge the mss in a different category? I think it's wise to mix it up a little. And also to do some changes if you're submitting to the same judge. When I judged SRW's "We Dare You" contest nothing annoyed me more than someone submitting the same manuscript two years in a row, and not having changed one word, especially when I went to great lengths the previous year to give feedback and suggestions. You definitely don't want to tick off the judges!


Silver James said...

WooHoo on entering FAB, Anita! Absolutely go with your gut instincts when making changes. I think you have a viable plan and it makes a lot of sense to approach it the way you are. No matter how much imagination and skill a writer has, this is still a business, bottom line, and you need a good business plan. Sounds like you have one.

Adding spice and heat without being blatant? You know how to do that, too. The whisper of a kiss (lips brushing a cheek and describing the feeling like "the wings of a butterfly beating inside a cupped hand). Watching her lick the frosting off her lips with the tip of her tongue and his pulse starting to gallop. Five senses work so well for hinting at the heat and building tension!

Good luck with both contests! I know you'll keep us posted and we'll be ready to cheer you on and celebrate!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey there, Hayley, I read this earlier and wanted to answer but I was in a rush and so would your answer have been.

You brought up the one missing point I use but didn't mention: touch. Well, I guess I use smell and taste, too. When I wrote the post they didn't even cross my mind. Yes, touch is so important in conveying emotion.

Your points about changing your stories to suit different publishers reminded me that every contest gives a score sheet. I don't usually look at it because I don't have time or the inclination to change for every contest. But what the score sheet lets you know is what the judges are being asked to score on. They might give slightly higher marks for, let's say good dialogue, when another contest marks higher for unique character traits, etc. So yes, each contest is different in that respect.

Excellent comments, Hayley. Thank you.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Yes, Connie. Hayley did indeed say it well. And that's why we're all waiting for her to get pubbed. :)

Finding time to do everything is just a matter of prioritizing and letting go of non-essentials like TV, blog surfing, etc. It comes down to will power. Now, if I could only channel my willpower to work on my weight problem...

I hope you have a grand time at the lake. Have fun.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Good show, Karyn, I'm looking forward to your return. Oh, and don't let the kids over-ride your good judgement...they always want the biggest and most. LOL

Anita Mae Draper said...

Helena, good point about keeping the changes true to the characters.

...are the odds better for the writers that submit to contests
Not necessarily because an editor won't even see it unless you final. These 2 contests I'm talking about in the post won't announce the finalists until Oct. And then they won't announce the final winners until just before and just after Christmas. That's a 2 month wait to see if you final, then another 2 mos to see if the editor likes it.

The thing I like about it, though is I know my ms isn't sitting in a slush pile. I know 2 or 3 people are reading it during those 2 mos. And I know I'm guarateed to have an editor read it if it finals whereas most publishing houses have outside readers to pass through first. And then if you're rejected, you might not even get any feedback. That's a lot of wasted months for me.

Think of it as money...would you rather have your money sitting there in a sock until you need it...or would you rather have it sitting in a bank gaining interest.

As for the stats - I don't know but most contests will have a page to show how many of their winners have sold. Actually, the Contest Diva page ( ) shows you how many times some writers win and still don't get pubbed. I think in those cases, their story and writing is superb but the material they cover isn't saleable.

About the networking: it's a known fact that editors get to know contest entrants by their works. For some contests, especially Finally a Bride, we're not even to put our titles on our entries because they are already well known. They want the first few words of the first line in the upper left corner instead.

And about 'boosting your confidence', I cannot tell you the thrill I've rec'd when I get that phone call or email saying I'm a finalist. And the certificates are a physical reminder that somebody thinks I'm a good writer. They give me hope whenever I look at them.

Thank you Helena. I hope I've answered all of your many questions. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, I know where you're coming from. It doesn't make sense to me, either to pay a fee and then not accept the judges criticsm. But, as everyone keeps saying, judging is subjective and a writer has to know themselves what they want. Obviously, the entrant you judged didn't like or understand what you were saying. That was her perogative.

I know a writer who takes almost every course there is and yet her writing always stays the same. We've offered her advice on her plot holes and her answer is always that someone else said it was okay. She wants everyone's opinion but only if it agrees with her own. And no, she's not pubbed yet. Reminds me of my parents when they used to say, 'In one ear and out the other'.

I'm just thankful I understand what constructive criticsm means.

Thanks for taking time from work to give us your insights, Jana.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Silver, ooooh, love your lines. :)

Everyone here has always made me want to give that extra push because of their support. Thanks for being one of the cheerleaders.

Karyn Good said...

Okay, I'm back! Contest questions.
I plan to enter some contests in the near future. Besides looking at the final judging panel what other criteria do you use to pick contests? By reputation? I know you mentioned contestdivas. I've scanned the contests in the RWR, too.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Karyn, I've spent the last 45 mins answering your question and after 400 words, I realized it's too long for here. Is it okay with you if I put it in my next blogpost?

I'll tell you how to pick the best ones for your money.

I'll give links to find the contests.

And stuff like that.

Does that sound okay?

Anonymous said...

You know my answer to that question.

Pimp Your Contest Entry.

You go ANITA!!!!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Tina, do you know I was talking about you in my comment to Karyn? But it was too I guess this a heads up that you'll be on my blog next Thurs. Heh.

Silver James said...

Feel free to steal them, Anita! LOL. I can't wait to see your next blog post. There are times I'm sorry I didn't go the contest route, but that's a whole 'nother story!

I'm shaking out my pompoms and working on my cheers for you!

Karyn Good said...

Hey, Anita. Sorry I'm late getting back and I hope you get this comment.

That idea totally works for me and I can't wait for next week's post. Thanks so much helping me out! I've promised myself this fall I'm going to grab the bull by the horns and enter a contest!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Silver, there are still contests you can enter.

Actually, the Southern Heat contest encourages pubbed authors to enter on the same playing field as non-pubbed as long as they don't enter in the genre they're published. At first this put me off, but after thinking about it, I remembered the books I've read when I said 'I could write better than that'. So this is my chance to put my money where my mouth is. Also, I imagine the thrill of winning will be akin to getting a mark higher than the smartest kid in the class. :)

Thanks for the support, I appreciate it.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Oh good, Karyn, with writing like yours, you should do well.

btw - thanks for the fodder for another blogpost. Heh.