To celebrate the New Year, I’d like to introduce you to Sara Ella, a brand new author of a soon-to-be-published YA novel.
Sara has a lot of experience entering–and winning–fiction writing contests, so I thought you’d enjoy the advice she has to offer. Take it away, Sara!
The last thing I ever wanted to do was become an author.
Actually, not really. I’ve always wanted to be an author. But if I began my post that way, it wouldn’t hook you, now would it? However, starting my post with a contradiction piques your interest, doesn’t it? You probably wondered how I ended up becoming an author if it was the last thing I ever wanted to do, and thus you continued reading to find out how it happened.
And that is what “contesting” is all about, my friends.
Contests rely on first impressions. You may have the most stellar fiftieth page ever in your unpublished manuscript, but no writing contest judge will ever know that (nor will an agent) if you don’t hook them from page one, sentence one, word one! Because this is what they see. So it really doesn’t matter if your ending rivals Gayle Foreman’s “What just happened?” last page or Mary Weber’s “Aha, I got you!” final sentence. What matters is opening strong and ending your entry at the perfect place to leave ’em wanting more.
When I entered my first contest, I had no idea what I was doing. The truth is, even now that I can say I won an ACFW Genesis Award, I’m still learning, still growing as an author (and boy, do I have a long way to go). However, I have learned a few things in my two years of entering writing contests and in my more recent excursion of querying agents. I’m no expert, but I am going to share some things I’ve discovered along the way.
- Just because the entry limit is fifteen pages doesn’t mean you have to end it exactly at that point. Sure, you want to give the judges the biggest bite of your work as possible. After all, many contests cost money and you want as much feedback as you can get. But you also have to end your entry on a strong note. What if page fifteen ends with something like, Jack walked into the house? Now, if the fate of the world rests on Jack’s entrance into that house, go ahead and end it there. But, more often than not, this will not be the case. Always make sure to leave the judges wanting more. That may mean ending on page fourteen, thirteen, or twelve. Whatever the limit, there is no rule saying you have to enter the full amount. Go it?
- Even if you happen to be the next John Green or Cassandra Clare, readers are still subjective. Your story will not be loved by everyone (sorry to break it to you). There are books I LOVED that other people hated. Judges are advised to be kind in their critiques, but there will be comments and scores that will sting (I know from experience). Just take it with a grain of salt and move on. It’s one person’s opinion, not the end of the world.
- Which brings me to this next point—if you get the same feedback from more than one judge or contest, take it into consideration. Yes, it’s your story, but judges do know a thing or two about writing. They’re experienced authors, and, if you make it to a final round, agents and editors (as in the Genesis contest). After receiving similar feedback across the board on the original prologue for my YA fantasy BLEMISHED, I decided to chuck that opening and start in a different place. And I am so glad I did. My novel is stronger now. Thanks, Judges!!!
- If at first you don’t succeed…I know, it’s so cliché, but it’s totally true. J.K. Rowling received tons of rejections for Harry Potter before landing an agent, and even more before getting a book deal. Don’t let a few low scores or silence from the agent gallery get you down. Keep studying the craft. Revise, revise, revise. And seek help from other authors you know personally. This is probably the biggest and best advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The worst they can say is no, right? And some might say no if they’re on deadline or have too much on their plate, but most (in my experience) are glad to help. If I hadn’t asked for help with my Genesis entry, there’s no way I would have won that award. So join organizations like ACFW, RWA, SCBWI, or others suited to your work and get involved in critique groups. Support and encourage other authors in their success. If you do, they’ll more than likely be happy to return the favor.
Thank you for the great advice, Sara. So happy you could join us today!
Thanks so much for hosting me, Cynthia! I’m glad I could share my experiences with your readers.
Fiction writers, don’t miss this opportunity to enter to win a critique from Sara. She is giving away a critique for the first 15 pages (or less, remember?) of one reader’s novel, novella, or short story.
To enter, place a comment below telling Sara why you’d like a critique from her. Please provide a website, blog, twitter, or email address where she can contact you if you win. Deadline is January 31, 2015.
Sara’s Bio: Sara Ella dreamed she would marry a prince (just call her Mrs. Charming) and live in a castle (aka The Plaza Hotel). Her fairy tale didn’t quite turn out as planned, but she did work for Disney—and her husband is far more swoony than any cartoon character could ever be. She now throws living room dance parties for her two princesses and conquers realms of her own imaginings. She is represented by Jim Hart of Hartline Literary. Visit her website at http://saraella.com, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube