Monday, August 18, 2008

Writing Contests--OR-- I paid for this?

Conventional wisdom for writers says a new writer should enter contests in order to get unprejudiced feedback for your manuscript. That is, an opinion of someone who is not a friend relative or your regular critique partner who might have an emotional investment in your work. In other words, someone who does not want to hurt your feelings. Or better yet, someone who doesn't know you and doesn't CARE if they hurt your feelings.

OK, so conventional wisdom can be wrong. Maybe it is a mistake to send a section of your ms. to a contest. After all, it is just part of the fabulous great American novel that you have been slaving over for the last 3 or 5 or 15 years. Who can make a judgement based on a sliver of your masterful tome?

Contest judges, that is who.

I have entered five contests in the past few months. Some are sponsored by RWA chapters, some are not. The ms. I have been submitting is a "Historical Fiction with Romantic Elements" aka: "Mainstream".

Now, you don't have to be a historian (a "history geek" as one of my student's recently called me) to enjoy a historical novel. Think The Other Boleyn Girl, Outlander, Emilie's Voice, or any of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels. They are all popular books, most, if not all, have graced the NYT or USA Today bestseller lists.

I have received responses from three of the five contests. The critiques are amazingly varied. The problem I am seeing is that sometimes the judges just do not "get" your story.

Here is a comment that really sent me into a tailspin of despair-- not over the critique on my ms., but over the lack of background the woman had in history.

She wrote: My biggest problem is the main characters ages. I don’t think that any girl at age thirteen should be worrying about being married to an old wrinkled man. I would like it better if they were older. Even if this is for young adults, I think an older girl would be better suited. Other that that, it was well written. But I’m afraid I would see our heroine was 13 and I would read any further.

Gotta love it! Obviously she has never read her history-- or even Shakespeare. Juliet was 13 and was being betrothed to a Count who was much older than her. OY! And I am writing abour a REAL person using real ages, dates and settings.

Anyway the comments from the various judges from the various contests range from the fabulous (obviously discerning readers) and to a few others who have no clue about anything having to do with the past.


Well, I did get some great comments. I choose to ignore the ones who did not understand the premise or the period.

Hazard yet forward.

1 comment:

donna said...

funny you just brought up the issue of the uninformed reader. i received my scores back from a contest i entered in january and one of the judges complained she had no idea what period my novel takes place. i offered several bits of info in the first few pages and scattered throughout the rest (i was only to submit the first 30) that clued the reader into the time period. this judge claimed to have been reading historicals for over 30 years, yet she missed some fairly obvious clues ie--i mentioned georgiana cavendish, the duchess of devonshire, the type of gown worn by the protagonist, the setting of the inn, ship, etc in detail, King George 111, etc. somehow, she couldn't figure out the time period. go figure!