Saturday, March 1, 2008

Writing is like Stripping . . .

You expose yourself little by little with words.

I'm not talking about sex scenes, either. Even without conscious effort, a writer's unique take on the world comes out in our stories. There is no hiding. It'll happen even if you try not to let it.

So if you want a writing career, the sooner you get used to the idea that you're going to put yourself out there for folk to slice and dice, the better off you'll be. To that end, let me suggest one of the best ways to get used to the feeling of exposure is to enter your work in contests.

I'm often asked to tell about how I broke into the competitive world of publishing. There were many factors, but one of the things that helped me most was entering contests. Before I'd even finished my first manuscript I entered my first contest.

No, of course, I didn't win. But I learned something. One of the judges asked if I was writing a romance or a straight historical. I'd read romances widely, but I never thought much about what makes a romance by definition, a romance. I needed to find out what the reader expectations for my genre were. Ignore reader expectations at your peril.

I know what you're thinking. It's scary to put your writing out there for strangers to pick to pieces. But you need to realize you'll never please everyone. Even J.K. Rowling has a few detractors. And each judge is only one person. But if you hear the same comments from multiple judges, you need to take the critique to heart.

Where do you find contests to enter? Since I write romance, there were plenty to choose from. Most RWA chapters offer contests. Check to see who the final judges are. Is an editor for a line you're targeting listed? Definitely polish up your work and send it in. Even if you don't win, a place among the finalists will get you listed in the Romance Writers Report. Your name gets out there and people notice.

People like agents. Until I had a few contest wins, I had nothing to put in my query letter under past publishing credits. This is such a subjective business. If you have some contest wins, it means someone else likes your work, too. It gives an agent or editor reason to take a chance on a newbie.

So, send in your contest entry, but don't stop at the three chapters and synopsis. Go ahead and finish the manuscript. That way when the editor or agent who's judging requests the full, you'll be ready. Remember, until you type THE END, you've got nothing but the dream of being published. So keep writing!

Check my website for more writing tips!

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