Monday, June 27, 2016

How to Be Successful in Romance Writing Contests

And Stop Throwing Away Money!

The Seekerville archives are chock full of contest posts. This one is a cumulative guide using all of that information. 

I have judged (and entered) quite a few contests this year to make sure the information was accurate.

Always make sure the contest you enter is legitimate. Romance contests offered through RWA and its affiliate chapters, or ACFW and their affiliate chapters can be considered legitimate. Do your homework on any other contest for romance writers. Read the fine print. Ask other writers if you are in doubt.

Seekerville provides a monthly contest update of valid contest opportunities. The June Contest Update can be found here.

1.Strategic Planning

Entering your manuscript in a contest is all about strategic planning. After you have done this for a while you recognize the importance of timing. A few tips to remember:

1. Some editors judge very few contests, which means you should be ready when you see their name. Always be ready for opportunities. 
 2. Harlequin often has contests. Love Inspired has had one a year for the last three years. Be ready for the next one. 
  3. A call out for entries due to low # of entries in a category means your chances of finaling just got better! 
  4. Harlequin editors acquire for all lines. Keep that in mind when you see a Harlequin editor judging a contest. (Keep this in mind if your entry can fit into more than one category.)

Reasons to Enter a Contest
  • To get a cold read
  • To get your manuscript in front of a particular editor
  • To get your manuscript in front of a particular agent.
  • To keep your name out there.
  • For the prize loot (contest entries paid for, bling, and cash).
  • You're supporting a contest or category. 

There are a few contests that are considered the cream of the crop. The RWA Golden Heart, and the ACFW Genesis.  These two contests are held the same time each year. The Golden Heart rules can be found here. The ACFW Genesis rules here.

Typically, if you are methodical in your approach to contests, you will want to start with contests that require only a few pages and work your way up to a contest with a synopsis and full three chapters. The Golden Heart requires a complete manuscript.

Consider entering local RWA chapter contests and/or the ACFW First Impressions contest first. Let your manuscript do the rounds a bit before shooting for the top contests where you will absolutely be up against top writers and in some contests up against publisher authors.

2. The Rules

Follow the Guidelines

These are some of the basic rules you may see:

  • electronic entry only
  • Payment via Paypal
  • at least 1-inch margins on all four sides.
  • 12 point Courier New, 12 or 14 point Times New Roman.
  • 25 lines per page.
  • Header with the title and contest category in the upper left corner of your entry.  
  • Single spaced synopsis.
  • Unjustified text, aligned left.
  • 1-inch margins (doesn't mention top or bottom). 
  • Manuscripts should have unjustified right margins.
  • Synopsis not judged.
  • Some contests still request you submit in RTF format.
  • Contest entry must be received by XX p.m. Month, time
  • Enter the first xx pages, to include any prologue.
What the rules SAY are as important as what the rules DO NOT say. That means if you need to adjust the spacing between the letters, the words, or the lines, in order to meet said guidelines... DO IT!

I suggest you print out the rules and check them twice before hitting send. If you have any questions about rules email the contest coordinator.

3. The Scoresheet

Make it a habit to read the scoresheet ahead of time. If you don't, how will you know if your manuscript is a good fit for the contest? All contest score sheets are NOT created equal. Don't throw money down the drain.

If the scoresheet is not on the website, email the coordinator for a copy. There are very few contests who do not offer the contestants the score sheet up front. The Golden Heart is strictly numerical and does not provide comments and has no scoresheet.

Once you have the contest scoresheet go ahead and judge your manuscript according to the guidelines. It's an eye-opener. You may be losing valuable points needlessly. You have two choices. Tweak your entry or choose not to enter. 

You may choose not to enter if tweaking your entry means changing your voice. Or if the particular contest scoresheet tells you that you are not going to fare well in this contest.

Otherwise, go ahead and adjust, tweak, revise your entry to take advantage of as many points as possible. Sure, go ahead and pull parts of chapter two into your entry. Whatever it takes. Then rejudge your entry using the scoresheet for the contest you are entering.

 The Lone Star Contest just closed to entries. Scoresheet was not on the web page. If you entered, did you ask to see it?

Here are links to the scoresheets for some popular contests:

From the Heart

The Genesis

Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense Unpublished Division

Tara Contest

Great Beginnings Contest

4. The Other Rules : Contest Newbie Questions

Q: Can I enter multiple contests with the same manuscript?

A: Of course. But always defer to #1. What's your plan? Why are you entering?

Q: If I tweak my entry for a contest and then get a request should I keep it tweaked or submit the work the way it was?

A: Your call. A contest can take months to cycle. You may have revised that manuscript by the time you get a request. Editors and agents get that. Submit your best work. Often tweaking for a contest produces a better manuscript.

Q: Should I enter a contest if my manuscript isn't complete?

A: My standard response to this is: How fast can you write? I'm serious. Contests run in a cycle. Can you finish the manuscript before the requests for fulls go out?  Can you produce your best work this way?

This is why you should be writing every day and creating self-imposed deadlines. You need to know how fast you can write. And you need to write to THE END.

Q: I got a request from an editor for my manuscript from a contest. It's been twelve months. The manuscript is finally ready to submit. Has too much time passed?

A: Obviously this is not the best scenario. Things change in publishing and what interested an editor twelve months ago may be what now saturates the market. Send the manuscript, but be sure to send a cover sheet to refresh the editor's memory. Include the name of the contest and that she requested the manuscript.

Q: I received a request from an editor/agent for my manuscript in a contest. Another editor also asked for the manuscript. What should I do?

A: Get down on your knees and thank God. If the editor/agent is at the same publishing house/literary service, first tell the editor/agent who has it and when it was submitted.

 If your manuscript is at a different publisher/literary agency, send it in with a cover page notifying them that the manuscript is also being considered by another publisher/agent. You do not have to reveal who. Yes, some publishers/agents do not want simultaneous submissions. Send it anyhow. This is the one time I recommend breaking rules. Remember that this is my opinion.

They can let you know if they want this handled differently. Or they can take your manuscript to auction and you can become a rich author.

We should all have this problem. 

Any other questions? Now's the time to ask them! 

5. Your Manuscript. Who, What, When, Where and How.

The entry and the scoresheet are what determines if you final or not. Keep these elements in mind as you prepare your contest submission.

--Hook-Not only is your opening hook the single most important part of your manuscript, but it is the single most important part of your entry. Don't waste words leisurely strolling into your beginning. More information here: Gotcha! Hooking the Reader

--Ground your reader-The job of the opening of your story is to ground your reader. Immediately set the stage. Give us when, and where of your story. The reader needs to know the year (contemporary or historical), time of day, season and the location of your story. You should also ground us in the choreography.

--Introduce your characters. The who of your story.

Hero and heroine- The first or second mention of the hero and heroine's name should include their last name. Immediately ground us in whose point of view we are in. Do not confuse the reader and make them wonder who the hero and heroine are. Your judge must be able to identify who they are rooting for and they must CARE. Remember Michael Hauge's rules of creating a sympathetic hero/heroine:

Apply 2 or more these:

1. Make the characters the victim of some undeserved misfortune.
2. Put the characters in jeopardy.
3. Make the character likable (liked by others in the story).
4. Make the character funny.
5. Make the character powerful.

Secondary characters- Do not annoy your judge by introducing an excessive number of characters in the opening pages. This pulls the reader out of the story. More information can be found in this post: Your Cast of Thousands.

--Faith Element-This is a tricky element as there are many types of inspirational romances and each writer is uniquely different. The scoresheet is going to be your guide here. This Bethany House Publishing blog post gives you something to consider as well. 

--Conflict: The what and why of your story. Even if your entry is only five pages long, there will be scoresheet questions on conflict. The more conflict hints you can provide the more successful your entry will be.

Give them external conflict- Let the judge know what's at stake. Create urgency.

Give them internal conflict-Make the judge CARE. Provide enough of a glimpse of internal conflict to at very least provide empathy.  

--Scene-The goals of scenes are to elicit emotion and move your story forward. Just like your book has GMC (Goal, Motivation & Conflict) , your scenes have GCD (Goal, Conflict & Disaster). Don't make the judge comment, "Nothing is happening!" Need help with scenes? Write the Scene may help. 

--The Final Hook- Never, ever, ever end your entry mid-sentence. Tweak your entry to end in an enticing place. Force your judge to mark your entry with the comment "I want to read more."

--Synopsis-You may be able to avoid writing a synopsis for a while, but eventually, you will need to learn how to master this tool, even if the contest rules say the synopsis will be unjudged.

Rules for the synopsis:
Write the synopsis in the third person, present tense.
Identify the hero and heroine and villain. 
Generally, the secondary character names are not included.
It should follow your plot progression including all plot points.
The voice of your synopsis should mirror your manuscript voice.
Do not leave out the ending of your story.

For exact how-to information on writing the synopsis, review these 10 Seekerville archived posts on the synopsis here.

Find The Grammar Queen's Archived Wisdom here.
6. And Then What?

Worth repeating: More and more contests are open to unpublished manuscripts. Your manuscript may be competing with published authors. Only send your very, very best. 

Grammarly is a terrific resource to check your spelling and grammar. 

Format your pages like a book to get your eyes to read the pages fresh. For Word docs: Go to Page Layout. Columns. Two. Now read your pages aloud. Mac users please tell us in the comments how to do this.

The last thing you should do is read your pages aloud. Anything that confuses you, pulls you out, or has an irregular rhythm should be addressed.
7. After You Enter

Finish the Book:You do not want to be that writer who finals and wins contests and never completes an entire manuscript. 

8. Got Your Scores Back? Now it's Time To:

Send thank you notes. The romance community is a small pond. Anything you can do to generate good will is a positive thing. Besides, someone took time from their writing career to help you. Say thank you. Melissa Jagears did a great post on why you should do this with her post: Thanking Writing Contest Judges Can Benefit Unpublished Writers.

Decipher Contest Judge Comments. Once you are feeling less defensive, go ahead and try to figure out what gold you can mine from contest judge comments. Missy Tippens offers a great post on how to decipher the most common responses here-Contest Feedback Glossary.

Go Ahead and Do It Again. Enter another contest. 

And now for some contest tips from divas who have had great success selling their manuscripts thanks to savvy contesting!

Be selective and only enter the contests that have a final judge you really want to get your work in front of. -LeAnne Bristow

Make sure the main character's story goals are apparent by the end of the entry so the judge knows what the characters want, why they want it, and what will happen if they don't get it!-Erica Vetsch

Even if it cuts your entry a bit short of the maximum length, end with a line that will make the judges laugh, feel, think -- and most important -- be curious about what happens next!-Laurie Tomlinson

Keep an attitude of gratitude: contest judges give of their time and energy to help other writers. No matter how high or low an entry is scored, there should be at least one helpful comment or suggestion that could help improve the story. Take note of that gem, see if it works in your story, and remember to include it in a thank-you note to the judge!-Susanne Dietz

When you've polished your manuscript until your eyes are blurring and you can't do anything more, read your entry out loud!-Annie Hemby

Entering writing contests can be a great way to gain useful feedback, but keep in mind the suggestions given are just the opinion of the judge...take the useful tips, but don't let the negative ones keep you from your dream of becoming a published author. -Mary Alford  

Pray to submit your best work before you enter, and pray to understand how the judges' comments will make your story better.-Jackie Layton

Keep your goal in mind and target contests wisely according to that goal; so if you need early feedback, go with contests that provide that, but if you're looking for quick access to an editor, look for ones that have editors you would like to work with (for most efficient use of money and energy). -Cate Nolan

Just enter! You'll never know what surprises God has in store for you if you don't. -Jill Weatherholt

Okay, divas and divos. This is the time to ask all those pesky contest questions. Seekerville began as a blog of contest divas. Anyone who has an answer to a question, please feel free to answer!

We have a surprise package of books up for grabs. Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.

Today we have a bonus opportunity for you.  And it's a good one. Check out TIP # 3 under strategic planning up above. 

Tips #1 and #4 Also Apply!

From the Heart Contests are low on entries in the INSPIRATIONAL CATEGORY in the Published and Unpublished contests. Everything you need to know can be found here.  Scoresheets can be found here. DEADLINE: JUNE 30th. That's Thursday. 

Not only that but the overall contest coordinator, LeAnne Bristow will be stopping by. Direct any questions you have about this contest to her in the comments!! 

Rocky Mountain Reunion

Tina Radcliffe is a two-time Golden Heart finalist, a two-time Carol Award finalist, and a 2014 Carol Award winner. Her 2015 release, Safe in the Fireman's Arms, is the recipient of the Holt Medallion Merit Award Finalist and a Bookseller's Best Award finalist. 


Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Weekend Edition

This weekend we're celebrating audio books.

Sandra Leesmith is giving away five audio books to weekend commenters. 
Winners choice of one audio book. Your pick from from these titles! 
Winners announced in the next Weekend Edition.

We Have Winners

 Giveaway rules can be found hereDrop us a line to claim your giveaway at Please allow us the 6-8 weeks per our legal page to get your prize sent out.  

** Effective 5/31/16 all winners are required to submit their address and phone number to verify their identity even if they win an e-prize. This is due to scammers attempting to claim prizes. ***

All prizes not claimed in 8 weeks go back into the prize vault. We wish we could contact all our winners individually, but we'd rather write books!

Weekend Edition Winners of Mary Connealy's No Way Up are Winnie Thomas, and Rachael Koppendrayer.

  Janet Dean is your hostess Monday. She shared about chacterization in her post "Put Meat, Not Fat, on the Bones of Your Characters." Dawn Leonard is the winner of The Bounty Hunter's Redemption. 

  We were super excited to have Villager Meg Brummer guest host in Seekerville on  Tuesday with "The Art of Drive-By Writing." Vince is the winner of a Seeker Book of Choice.

 Author and professional coffee drinker, Jaime Jo Wright was our guest on Wednesday, with her post, "End of Chapter Hooks." Sandy Smith is the winner of her choice of a print or e copy of The Cowboy Bride's Collection from Barbour Publishing, featuring her novella, "The Cowgirl's Lasso!" 

Thursday Erica Vetsch returned with "You've Got Style." She shared the ins and outs of an author Style Sheet. Katie Hart is the winner of His Prairie Sweetheart

“…sit back. Relax. Kick off your shoes, put up your feet, and get your ear buds in. It’s audio book time!” ~ David Radtke

Next Week in Seekerville

Monday:  Today we bring you a contest primer along with advice from divas, with a post called, "How to Be Successful in Romance Writing Contests: And Stop Throwing Away Money." Let's get ready for the big end of year contests (the Genesis and the Golden Heart) NOW. Lots of information. Bring your questions. The prize vault is open!

Tuesday: Come on over and join in the First Annual Strawberry Festival with Ruth Logan Herne! June is berry month in the Northeast, and what better way to celebrate that than to chat about why SMALL TOWN ROMANCE is such a hot seller in multiple genres, and nobody loves sweet Americana more than the Ruthinator. Come on over for some old-fashioned strawberry shortcake with real whipped cream and let's talk about Main Street, U.S.A. and romance! 

Wednesday: Brandy Vallance returns to Seekerville with her post, "Writing Scared: The Best Way Out Is Always Through." Stop by to chat and you could win a copy of Within the Veil, her brand new release.

Thursday: Tina Radcliffe brings you "Angst, Torture, and a Very Bad Day: Conflict!" Let's share the pain. The prize vault is open.

Friday: July 1. The Best of the Archives with Tina Radcliffe, bringing you a second look at professional jealousy with her post "I AM NOT..." Comments are closed on Fridays to give us all more writing and reading time.

How Audio Books Promote Literacy
Seeker Sightings

Summer reads from Seekerville authors! 

 Love Will Find a Way. Coming soon from beloved Seekerville authors, Sandra Leesmith, Myra Johnson and Cara Lynn James.

No Way Up! Releasing in July from Mary Connealy. Preorder here.

Her Unexpected Family. An August release from Ruth Logan Herne. Preorder here.

 California Gold Rush Romance Collection featuring Pam Hillman. Available August 1. Preorder here.

Castles in the Clouds from Myra Johnson. Releasing August, 26. Preorder here.

It's not too late to stop by the Yankee Belle Cafe and check out the Hutzler Banana Slicer. You'll be glad you did. And if you check out the blog post and come back to Seekerville and tell me you did, I'll put your name in for a $10 Amazon gift card. While a comment in Yankee Belle Cafe is appreciated, don't have to comment unless you want to. But anyone who already commented is already entered in. I am an equal opportunity briber. Winner announced in the next Weekend Edition.

GIVEAWAY on Julie Lessman's Journal Jots blog in honor of NATIONAL KISSING DAY (June 24)!! So come on by to check it out and enter to win an ecopy of both Julie's new contemporary, Isle of Hope, or it’s brand-new prequel, A Glimmer of Hope. And if you already have IOH, Julie will substitute with book 2 in the Isle of Hope series, Love Everlasting, which releases this September, so either way, it’s win-win! Note: Check Julie's blog out next week, too, for the cover reveal of Love Everlasting!! Here's the link:Julie's Journal Jots Blog


Random News & Information

Thanks to everyone who sent links. Lots of news this weekend. Pace yourself!

Congratulations to Diva Laurie Tomlinson. In her own words: "Can't be more thrilled to announce my first book contract with Harlequin Heartwarming!"  

 The 2016 RITA and Golden Heart Awards Ceremony will be streamed live on the Internet on Saturday, July 16, starting at 8 p.m. PST. The URL is

Oregon Christian Writers (OCW) will conduct its 27th annual summer coaching conference August 15–18, 2016, at the Red Lion on the River Hotel (Jantzen Beach) in Portland.  For more information check them out here.

Business Musings: The Midlist Rules!(Kristine Kathryn Rusch)**

How Much Christian Content Should a Christian Fiction Book Have? (Ask BHP)**

Overcoming the Emotional Obstacles to a Writing Career (Writers in the Storm)**

  7 Ways to Have a Jane Austen Summer (Gilead Publishing Blog)

And the Bride Wore Black (Romancing History)

The Legal Side of Writing for Anthologies (Writer Unboxed)**

 Book Promotion: 10 Ways to Build Your Author Mailing List without Paying for Facebook Advertising (ALLi)

 25 Things People Say to Writers—And How We’d Like to Reply (The Write Conversation)

Dangers for Prawny Authors (The Passive Voice)**

 10 Goodies to Help the Plot-Twistiness of Your Crime Novel (The Graveyard Shift)

Why Indie Presses are Opening Bookstores (Literary Hub)

‘The Oxford Comma’s Unlikely Origin’ Video Goes Viral (GalleyCat)

Overdrive Helping Librarians Reach New Readers (DBW)

9 Visual Tools to Create Awesome Social Media Images (Social Media Examiner)**

Short on time? Check out these links and come back later for the rest! **

 Chasing Publishing Trends (JA Konrath)******  Loving this article! Tell us what you think of a Seekerville coloring book-any and all suggestions accepted- to get your name in the draw for a $10 Starbucks gift card. Winner announced in the next Weekend Edition.*******

We expect you to have lots to talk about this Weekend Edition! Bring on the comments and have a great reading and writing weekend.

Friday, June 24, 2016


Sandra here getting ready for the RWA conference in July. I can hardly wait to fly down to San Diego and see my writing buddies?  Are any of you Seeker friends going?  If so, be sure and let me know as we want to have a Seeker get-together while there.  I'll be attending the FHL meeting and Awards assembly so maybe I'll see you there.

Even if you aren't planning to go to RWA, you might be attending other conferences or writing events. It is always good to have some promotional tools and swag on hand. Please read this post that was published in March 2015 for some great ideas.

Remember, its Archive Friday so no comments. Read for info and then spend time on your wip.

Last weekend I signed books at the famed Tucson Festival of Books. What a great experience. This festival is dedicated to publication, marketing, display and creation of books. What is not to like about that?

LeAnne Bristow found me in the crowd. Yay!

Over 100,000 people attend this event. One of my friends said, “This is like a swap meet for intellectuals.” So true.

Early Sunday morning before the crowds

So how do you make yourself known with all of these other authors? One of my fellow authors from Desert Rose RWA recommended making really nice flyers to hand out.  I have done this for over a year now and find it really helps. Actual print book sales have dropped because so many use e-books. When I meet people and they say they read e-books, I can hand them my flyer and they do take them home and order e-books and audio books. My Kindle sales always jump after these events.

Again, Sunday before the crowds
I am including the proofs for the flyer so you can see how I use it. It is made with a high quality glossy paper, which makes it a bit more expensive, but people value it more and tend to not toss it right away. It includes a blurb about each one of my books. Please note that I made this flyer before the cover of WITH THIS KISS was produced. I did know what picture the graphic artist would use, so my graphic artist at NW Print Solutions came up with a close replication so people would recognize it when they went to my Amazon page.

Outside page will be folded in half

These flyers come in handy in all kinds of scenarios.  When I meet people and they ask me “What do you write?” I can hand them a flyer and they will be able to peruse the books and go order one.

Inside page will be folded in half

Notice that I have the QR on the flyer also.  These are easy to obtain and young people use them a lot. It will take them right to my Amazon page and they can order on the spot with their phone. Yay!!!

There are other SWAG materials that are widely used as well.

Missy Tippins hands out bookmarks for each of her books.

Pam Hillman explains a SWAG that worked for her.  “Around Christmas, I had several speaking/signing events, and wanted something for readers to take away. I already had bookmarks with my first book (Claiming Mariah) on them and didn’t want to order more at that time. But I had several new books coming out in 2015, and wanted a way to show readers the covers, so I designed a postcard. Since I knew the bulk of these would be handed out and not mailed, I used the front and back of the postcard and was able to promote 5 books on the one card.

Since I already had a bookmark with Claiming Mariah on it, I included that with the signed books as well as a postcard.

Julie Lessman’s talented hubby makes book plates for her to include in each of her books. These advertise the whole series.

The Seekers provide SWAG when they attend conferences.  You may have seen it. Julie’s hubby designed our bookmarks. We have also provided pens and jar openers that had Seekerville printed on them.

My favorite SWAG items that I have picked up in the past are emery boards and letter openers with the author’s name on them. Of course, there are always food items, like candy, teas, energy bars, etc. But those wrappers with author names do disappear rather quickly.  A bowl of candy on your table at your booth does invite prospective readers to at least drop by and look at your books.

BTW does anyone know what SWAG stands for?  I asked Jeeves and many silly acronyms appeared. The closest that made sense was Something We All Get.

Sandra Leesmith writes sweet romances to warm the heart. Sandra loves to play pickleball, hike, read, bicycle and write. She lives in Arizona with her husband and during the hot sumers she and her husband travel throughout the United States in their motorhome where she enjoys the outdoors and finds wonderful ideas for her next writing project. You can find Sandra's books here on Amazon. Two of Sandra's most popular books are also audio books at Audible.  Love's Promises will be available on audio in April.

You can read more posts by Sandra here.

Keep your eyes open. COMING IN JULY a new Seeker Summer Anthology.  Cara and Myra have joined with me for a selection of Summer romances in LOVE WILL FIND A WAY.  Myra did the cover. Isn't it fantastic!!!    I love all the talent we have in this village. smile