Sunday, May 23, 2010

Overcoming Disappointment: Contests

  • Sunday night I watched the season finale for Celebrity Apprentice. Sixteen proven celebrities, from the very well known to the lesser lights, competed for the opportunity to win money for charity. Fifteen proven winners turned into "losers" over the course of several weeks. In the end, Donald Trump chose Brett Michael as the winner.

    Any time we enter a contest, numbers predict we will lose. Yet it's always hard.

    One of the big contests for Christian writers, the Genesis contest for unpublished novelists sponsored by American Christian Fiction Writers, announced finalists a few weeks ago. My local ACFW chapter had finalists last year and this; it makes me proud to be a part of such a great team!

    (And speaking of finalists, Sandi Rog of Book Doctor was a finalist last year!)

    But five finalists per genre leaves scores of people who received no satisfaction from the contest beyond a score sheet with comments from judges. It hurts not to win.
    It's excruciating to receive comments that suggest you made a mistake to try.

    So that's the question I'm addressing today: What can you do with the not-so-good and downright-awful comments you received?

    Here are some tried-and-true ways I've discovered for turning disappointments into positives.
  • Do nothing for as long as it takes to gain perspective. When I first receive a response from an editor, I zero in on one statement, good or bad; I rarely get the true gist of their comments upon first reading. So, let it set before you take it out again.
  • Congratulate yourself for entering! You took a leap of faith.
  • Consider that contest entry fee as a paid critique.
  • Now go back to the comments.
  • What was your score? Anything over 50% says you got more right than you did wrong. As agent Terry Burns told our OCFW group on Saturday, "A lot of people write good books. You need to write an excellent book." You may be (probably are) in the good-but-not-yet-excellent category.
  • Don't let negative comments outweigh the positive. Put the positive comments in a "warm fuzzies" file. "She said I wrote natural-sounding dialogue." Breathe it in. Accept it. Give yourself peptalks: I can write great dialogue!
  • As for the comments, if all of the judges make the same comment or give you the same low score, there's a problem.
  • If only one judge makes a comment, take it or leave it.
  • If 2 judges agree? Something about it isn't working. Look, then look again.
  • The judges' comments may suggest they don't understand what you were trying to say. The problem isn't their understanding--the problem is with your communication. Is it a regional expression? Can the character's words or gestures be interpreted more than one way?
  • Dig into your resources to develop your weak areas.

Above all--need I say it?--keep on writing!


  1. Hi Darlene,

    Your post was helpful this morning as I'm trying to figure out my critiques from the Genesis that I received this weekend. My scores ranged from 63 to 91. Confusing. But realistic or not, I'm taking your word that anything over 50 is good.
    And I do think it is healthy to consider it as an opportunity for a paid critique.

    Most of all I pat myself on the back for having written something to submit and having the courage to show it to others, especially a stranger.

    Again, thanks for the post.

    A J Hawke

  2. Excellent advice, Darlene! This will be my go-to file every time I enter a contest--its a good reminder. I am pleased with my overall scores, but it is tough when you get two stellar scores and one lowball. But I intend to glean all advice and improve. That's the name of the game.

  3. Great advice, Darlene! Wish I'd known you - and these words of wisdom - when I started entering contests. But I have reached this plateau of acceptance (if not peace :D). The most important part is setting it aside until I can be objective.

    As for the lowball scoring judge...on average, I've learned more from those comments than the high-scoring judges. I relish the judge who told me the entry was fantastic and she couldn't wait to read the whole book. She gave me lots of other wonderful encouragements that I can fall back on when feeling down. But the judge who obviously "didn't get it" spurred me to fix things up and make them clear.


  4. Darlene, after wallowing all week-end in the comments of one judge, you made me feel so much better about my scores. The funniest thing was that I had already gone back and most of what she said, after I sent it to Genesis. Now, I do feel better. Your advice was so great. You are a big encouragement to me. Love ya!

  5. I'm so glad this has been helpful! Thanks for the encouraging comments (I appreciate positive feedback too!)Since we can't post the link on the ACFW loop, if you care to "spread the word" to others who need encouragement, please do so.

  6. Ahh! Such great advice and wonderful comments. I've never entered Genesis, but may try it next year. Thanks for sharing, Darlene!

  7. Thanks for stopping by, Barb. You're a true-blue friend. And yes, enter Genesis next year!

  8. That is great when a contest judge gives you comments. It would be a great help. The contests I've entered thus far don't give comments.

  9. Janet, that is SO true. I wish I had some words of wisdom to offer, but my brain seems empty at the moment. You can choose to believe you were at the "just missed" point of finalists; you can look for contests where feedback is offered; and in the mean time, look for good critique partners who will give you regular feedback.

  10. Good advice about contest, Darlene. I hear much from the entrants perspective and it is good to hear how to get the most from the judges remarks.