The Pitfalls of Contests for Unpublished Manuscripts

Breakfast at Epiphany's 3I used this cartoon in an online class I’m teaching on using the sexual journey as a tool for character transformation. It cracks me up every time, so I thought I’d share here. 

The other day I finished judging some entries for an unpublished manuscript contest hosted by a writer’s organization I’m part of. I judge a number of contests each year, both for published books and these unpublished manuscripts. In fact, this year I’m coordinating one for my local RWA chapter, The Rebecca, so disclaimer there. 

I passionately believe in hosting these contests, not only because they make excellent fundraisers for programming we couldn’t otherwise afford. They give an opportunity to aspiring writers to both gain feedback on their manuscripts and potentially get them in front of agents and editors who might otherwise be difficult to access. When I was shopping my first novel, I entered a lot of these contests, and it was great to have those venues.

That said… this recent experience gave me pause.

For this contest, authors submitted the first twenty pages of a manuscript. For The Rebecca, it’s the first 5,000 words, which works out to slightly less. At any rate, of the five entries I evaluated, two showed great promise, with beguiling premises and worlds, but both crammed WAY too much into those first twenty pages. To the point that I became overwhelmed.

Contest veterans will know this, but part of what’s happening here is that the writers know they’ll be evaluated according to a score sheet. Most contests ask if the internal and external conflict is apparent – for both the hero and heroine in romance – and if character motivations are clear. These are good things to evaluate and yet – very few books lay out ALL of the conflict and character motivations in the first twenty pages. Particularly if there are two or more point-of-view (POV) characters. In fact, they really shouldn’t do that because it mucks up the pacing of the novel.

Which is exactly what happened with these entries. They became to my eye – which is admittedly one reader’s opinion – almost kaleidoscopic in the rapidity of the scene shifts and changes of POV. I understood why the authors felt they needed to do this, but I ended up scoring down for categories like pacing and clarity of various characters.

What’s most concerning is – they didn’t read like the actual openings of novels. Since a huge piece of the contest involves sending the finalists to the final judges, agents and editors, to rank and hopefully want to see more of, possibly to acquire, I worry about this tendency. As a contest coordinator, I’m wondering what we can do about it.

The upshot is, for all of you trying out your manuscripts this way – please keep this in mind. The opening of your novel should read at the pace of an actual novel, not a construct created to satisfy all the points ticked off by a contest judge.

Anyone have thoughts on this, particularly how to address it?

SFWA Bulletin #207

You can buy a print or ecopy of the SFWA Bulletin #207 with my article Romance Tropes for SFF Writers here

Here’s a summary of what’s in the Bulletin:

Editor’s Note – Neil Clarke
From the President – Cat Rambo
Zen in the Art of Short Fiction Titling – John Joseph Adams
Ask N&E: Finding an Assistant – Nancy Holder & Erin Underwood
Writing and the Day Job – Patrice Sarath
Bad Reviews vs. Biased Reviews – Sam J. Miller
Running a Writing Workshop, Part III – Cat Rambo
Diving into SCUBA: Storytelling Basics – Rachel Swirsky
Academic Research for SFF Writers – Alex Dally MacFarlane
Writing Professionals: Geologists – Rachael Acks
Romance Tropes for SFF Writers – Jeffe Kennedy
Market Report: Year’s Best Anthologies – Cynthia Ward


Jump the Shark or Cut to the Chase – It’s All Cool Beans to Me

2016-06-18 14.58.01

I got to go on  a tour yesterday of Georgia O’Keeffe’s winter home and studio in Abiquiu. That’s been on my list for a while now and – wow! – it was totally worth it. I love studying how other artists live and it turns out that she and I share many aesthetics. No surprise as I love her work. Also no surprise that she’s more visually oriented than I am. My sister-in-law who’s a painter asked me if I got any “vibes” from the place. Yes. Yes, I did. Her powerful personality haunts that space and they’ve kept it exactly as the day she left. Remarkable experience.

This week on the SFF7 wonder blog, we’re discussing catering to younger generation – what words and ideas have we given up because younger readers won’t know them. This is my topic, so I’ll kick it off with a few stories for why this has been on my mind.

Clean Fire – Flash Fiction for James A. Moore


We’re playing a game this week at the SFF Seven, writing flash fiction inspired by a book cover belonging to the writer who posts on the day after us.

This means I drew Jim.

Hee hee hee. 

I love this cover! Oddly enough, it perfectly fits the world of the series I’m currently writing, Sorcerous Moons.

So it’s my pick for my little story over at the SFF Seven.

Lady Jane’s Salon

Lady Jane’s Salon – August 1

Founded in February 2009 by romance authors Hope Tarr, Leanna Renee HieberMaya Rodale, and  book blogger, Ron Hogan, Lady Jane’s Salon® is New York City’s first–and only–monthly romance fiction reading series. The Salon takes great pride in having hosted such luminaries of romance fiction as Eloisa James, Suzanne Brockmann, and Marjorie M. Liu while also encouraging debut and mid-list authors to “be our guest.” Past and present guest authors represent the full spectrum of the diverse and ever-evolving romance genre from traditional historical and contemporary romances to novels that cross over to science fiction and futuristic, fantasy and steampunk, inspirational and GLBT romance, to name but a few.

Lady Jane’s meets on the first Monday of the month, from 7-9 PM, at our host venue, Madame X in Soho (Top Tier). Admission is $5. Net proceeds from the Salon support our end-of-year donation to Win (formerly Women in Need).

Overcoming Two Towers Syndrome

CjzfuodUoAAK69GIt’s been a great week for my duology with Grace Draven, FOR CROWN AND KINGDOM! I’m frankly astonished at the response and grateful to all of you enthusiastic readers. If you’d still like to pick up a copy, here are some linkys:

Barnes & Noble

Now that the promo pony parade is wearing down for both this release and for THE PAGES OF THE MIND, which also released last week to the best rankings that series has seen so far (yay – thank you!!), I’m turning my attention back to book two in this new series I’m writing, The Sorcerous Moons. Book one, LONEN’S WAR, is done and I have an actual blurb now!

An Unquiet Heart 

Alone in her tower, Princess Oria has spent too long studying her people’s barbarian enemies, the Destrye—and neglected the search for calm that will control her magic and release her to society. Her restlessness makes meditation hopeless and her fragility renders human companionship unbearable. Oria is near giving up. Then the Destrye attack, and her people’s lives depend on her handling of their prince…  

A Fight Without Hope 

When the cornered Destrye decided to strike back, Lonen never thought he’d live through the battle, let alone demand justice as a conqueror. And yet he must keep up his guard against the sorceress who speaks for the city. Oria’s people are devious, her claims of ignorance absurd. The frank honesty her eyes promise could be just one more layer of deception.  

A Savage Bargain 

Fighting for time and trust, Oria and Lonen have one final sacrifice to choose… before an even greater threat consumes them all.

Book two is called ORIA’S GAMBIT and it’s slow going so far. I’m working hard to keep from hitting Two Towers Syndrome, which is a common pitfall of second books in trilogies – and I’m over at Here Be Magic talking about what happens in that syndrome and how to overcome it