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Guest Blog: Contest Diva Amanda Berry

LA Cinderella_lowresThe flavor of the month definitely seems to be guests and critique partners! With that in mind, I’m proud to bring to show-and-tell:  Amanda Berry, my critique partner and debut Silhouette Special Edition author.

Amanda and I met at the local chapter meeting and joined forces when she admitted being jealous of the other gals who had critique groups. So the two new kids on the playground started our own hopscotch club. In addition to being a great sounding board and CP, Amanda and I had something in common: we were both contest sluts.

Amanda managed to hit the contest jackpot, which she’ll tell you all about in her path to publication. Her debut book, L.A. Cinderella, is a June release from Silhouette Special Edition. I giggled and jumped for joy when I saw it on the shelves at the local Borders where we meet every week — the book for sale at the very same Borders where it was critiqued — ah, karma!

Here’s the blurb for L.A. Cinderella, Amanda Berry’s June 2010 debut from Silhouette Special Edition:

“Career-driven accountant Natalie Collins wasn’t the type to wish for a Hollywood hero to rescue her. She preferred life away from celebrity glitz. Too bad the man who drove her wild was an A-list actor.

With her understated beauty and brains, Natalie was the one person Chase Booker could trust. He could see the strong, sexy woman beneath her shy exterior, and she stirred a blinding passion in him that made it easy to forget that they were from different worlds. But when she was in his arms, their worlds were dangerously close to colliding….”

Find out more at: http://www.amanda-berry.com

Welcome Amanda!

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Amanda_touchup_lowres - color headshot for divasThank you to Jeannie for inviting me to blog on the Ruby Slipped Sisterhood.

My debut release L.A. Cinderella sold because of a contest win and since this blog was created because of contest finals, I thought I would share my take on the contest circuit.

Writing contests are a great way to get feedback on your work from an anonymous judge. I entered my first RWA chapter-sponsored contest in January 2008 with my paranormal romance, and my manuscript managed to final. I was ecstatic. Surely the final judge, who was an agent, would love it and offer me representation and sell me at auction and I’d be world-wide famous. Right?

Uh, no. I placed third with no additional comments to help me know what wasn’t working. But that acknowledgement and rush from being a finalist made me want to do it over and over again. Sometimes I would final, other times I wouldn’t.

Last year when I found out the Marlene contest was short on entries, I was bummed. I couldn’t enter my paranormal because I had already offered to judge paranormal. However, I’d written a category romance during NaNoWriMo and had set it aside to polish at a later date. When they said they were low in category romance, I polished up the first three chapters and the synopsis and sent it in. I had originally targeted Silhouette Desire, but by the end of the book, I wasn’t really sure where it fit in. So I hoped someone would at least tell me where it belonged in the Harlequin family.

Imagine my surprise when the manuscript was a finalist. I’d only received third place prior to this contest, so I didn’t have great hopes. But hey, Patience Smith was going to look at my manuscript. Maybe she could tell me what category it belonged in.

I was truly shocked and pleased when I won and received a full request. Then I had to do the hardest part. I had to polish the rest of the manuscript to submit. It took time, but I managed with the help of my fabulous critique partners.

Right before the call from Silhouette Special Edition for L.A. Cinderella, I sent off my paranormal manuscript to two other contests. I didn’t realize these would be the last contests I would enter. I did get another first place and full request, which I hope to have time to fill.

That’s one of the hardest things. It’s an odd feeling, but every time a contest comes up, I automatically scan the judges to determine whether it’s someone I would like to get my manuscript in front of. It’s not that I need to enter contests anymore, but I love the feeling of being a finalist. The acknowledgement that sometimes my work made an impression on the judges, and they felt it was good enough to move on to the final round. The anticipation of the announcement of the finalists and the placement by the final judge. It’s a thrill and I think it can be very addictive.

On the other hand, contests can be discouraging. One judge might have disliked my voice or felt that I might be more suited for a different style of writing. Another judge might hate my characters and think they are too stupid to live. I have to read these comments to find out what hadn’t worked, and sometimes they can make it hard to write. But it’s important to remember that everyone has their own opinions and that what works for some people won’t work for others.

I got a comment that perhaps one of my manuscript should be geared toward erotica, which made my eyes pop out of my head. Once I put them back, I looked to see what the judge was seeing. My heroine’s reactions were too easy to confuse with arousal rather than fear. Whoops. So I learned something for a comment that seemed totally off the wall.

So as a recovering contest… uh… diva *grin*, how many contests have you entered? How did the contests you entered work for you?

46 responses to “Guest Blog: Contest Diva Amanda Berry”

  1. Jeannie Lin says:

    I like how you were able to look into an off the wall comment and use it to gain some insight. That’s a skill than any contest diva should definitely acquire. It’s too easy to discount those comments sometimes, when they may offer a clue into something that no one can put their finger on.

    Major congrats on your debut! I’m going to grab a copy at critique group this Tuesday (if they haven’t sold out *G*)

    It was wonderful seeing this book travel from its manuscript stage through the whole process from submission to bookshelf in nine crazy months.

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  2. Welcome to the RSS blog, Amanda and congrats on your new release.

    My first contest enteres was the Windy City, years ago. At that time they gave a ranking sheet with results. Out of 114 entries, I had placed 20th. I was so thrill. I was just starting and had just joined RWA. The comments encourged me to continue on the path–as did other contests comments.

    Could you tell us a little about L.A. Cinderella?

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    • Jeannie Lin says:

      I love contests that do the rankings! In addition to trying to final and catch the eye of an editor or agent, contests were a way I tried to gauge my progress.

      I believe the Great Expectations contest and the MORWA Gateway contest also ranks the entries and returns that info.

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  3. Amanda Berry says:

    Thanks, Jeannie, hopefully they have sold out 🙂

    Autumn, I seem to be leaving that out of my guest blogs *blush*.

    “Career-driven accountant Natalie Collins wasn’t the type to wish for a Hollywood hero to rescue her. She preferred life away from celebrity glitz. Too bad the man who drove her wild was an A-list actor.

    With her understated beauty and brains, Natalie was the one person Chase Booker could trust. He could see the strong, sexy woman beneath her shy exterior, and she stirred a blinding passion in him that made it easy to forget that they were from different worlds. But when she was in his arms, their worlds were dangerously close to colliding….”

    BTW, you gotta love a Silhouette blurb. I laughed out loud when I read it, but it fits. Also, I have an excerpt posted on my website at http://www.amanda-berry.com/excerptlacinderelle.asp

    Chase and Natalie were a real pleasure to right and I loved the journey they took me on.

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  4. Amanda, congratulations on your debut! It’s so exciting that both you and your CP have sold after such a short amount of time working together. I’ll look for L.A. Cinderella on the shelves in June!

    I’ve entered five or six contests since I finished my first manuscript in 2008. I know the GH is a big deal, but the final that made me jump up and down the most was my first-ever entered contest, the ’08 Golden Rose. I literally jumped up and down with my beta reader, who happened to be nearby when I got the news. It made me think that maybe my work might be worth something, and I’ll always be grateful to that contest (which I didn’t win — maybe Kelly Fitzpatrick did?). The first-round judges were very helpful and kind, too. That’s what I most appreciated, and what I try to remember when I judge contests now. You never know when you’re judging someone’s very first contest entry, so I think it pays to be as kind as you can be.

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    • Amanda Berry says:

      It’s actually on shelves now. 🙂

      Judging is a whole new experience. And it does pay to be as kind as possible in comments. You never know who may take your comment too hard and leave writing behind forever. I love the romance writing community because it is so supportive.

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    • Jeannie Lin says:

      What Amanda didn’t mention was that this was also her Nano book. So the speed of which I saw this happen was just phenomenal. Of course, she had several other manuscripts under her belt as well, but this book really was a shooting star.

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      • Amanda Berry says:

        Ah NaNo, how I love thee…

        That was part of why it took me two months to revise. My standard comment during writing sprints with friends during NaNo was “Bunnies, man, bunnies.” When I edited a few scenes got *blush* changed from the original direction they headed. <>

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        • Bunnies! Maybe you were writing for Blaze and just didn’t know it yet…

          I’m excited to see your book, too, when I go looking for Liz Talley’s June Super release!

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  5. Jerri says:

    Congrats on the new release, Amanda! I took second in the third contest I entered, the first contest for the book I sent. That was exciting for me and I received a full request from it, though I didn’t sell the book. I don’t enter contests anymore.

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  6. Katrina says:

    Amanda, how exciting for you to have your first book out, and to sell it through a contest.

    A couple weeks ago I won first place in the Between the Sheets contest. It was such a rush that I’ve entered two more contests and have a few more lined up.

    For me, the best thing about contests is that they give me a deadline. When I set goal for myself (“I’ll have 70,000 words by the end of X), I rarely meet them. But if I have a contest deadline looming, I can tell my husband I need some writing time because I’m working to a deadline.

    I think it’s great practice for when I’m eventually published.

    Plus, it’s always good to have something to look forward to. Since neither of my ms is polished enough to send to agents right now, it’s exciting to wait for contest results and feedback.

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    • Amanda Berry says:

      That’s one of the things about contests that can sometimes cause more harm than good to a career. Not that I think you’ll fall into this particular pit. 🙂

      Sometimes that feeling is so good that people just start writing what’s necessary to enter contests and never put themselves out there any other way. Other times they never finish a full manuscript but have a ton of partials that continually win or final in contests.

      Contests are great if you continue to look at the big picture and figure out what you want out of them. I wanted to get in front of specific editors and that became my goal for entering contests, because I wanted that request for the full or at least some feedback from someone on the buying side of the industry.

      🙂 In other words, don’t forget to polish those ms. You want to be ready when they ask for more. 🙂

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  7. aj chase says:

    Congratulations to you on your new release. You must be so excited! I have to admit that I’m not much of a contest whore. I entered and placed in a few and then nothing happened and I started wondering why I was bothering since it didn’t seem to net much. But obviously I’m not entering the right contests with you guys as examples of what could happen.

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    • Jeannie Lin says:

      Hi AJ! Contests really are a bit of a gamble. I’ve finaled in a couple contests besides the GH, but out of all of them, only received two requests — One for the Gateway and one for the GH. I would say it’s the equivalent of having to go on a lot of first dates before getting asked out for a second one.

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    • Amanda Berry says:

      Thanks, AJ. I think it does matter which contest and which ms you are entering. Some ms will stand out because they are unique and unusual, like Jeannie Lin’s oriental settings, and they will perform better in contests because they are well written as well as unique. The accumulation of contest wins may make the industry look twice at a “hard sell.”

      Contests also puts your work out there, much like sending to agents or editors, but most contests will give you feedback (one thing I made sure was encouraged in the contests I entered). I always looked at how the finalists were determined. Three judges and drop the lowest score was my favorite. Because inevitably someone would take an instant dislike to my voice or characterization on my paranormal.

      And the same ms doesn’t allows final. So many factors go into it that it’s impossible to determine whether or not this time it’s going to the final judge. Which I think is part of the addiction. 🙂

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  8. Gwen Hayes says:

    It’s not on Fictionwise yet. 🙁 I can’t wait to buy it!

    Amanda and I finaled in the Marlene the same year. I did not have the same luck with that manuscript–no request for full. But it was a great experience. I was already working on the book that DID sell by then, so it all ended th way it should.

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    • Amanda Berry says:

      *hugs* Gwen!

      Gwen was the person who went out of her way to find me and let me know that I had won. I’m so psyched that you are going to be published and love your website. That happens to be designed by the same designer as my website. 🙂

      I think contest wins can be the confidence booster that we need sometimes to push us to the next level. All we need is to be told that our writing works for someone out there, besides our moms.

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  9. Elise Hayes says:

    Hi Amanda–congratulations on your debut release!!

    I’ve entered…hmm…seven contests over the past ten years (covering three different manuscripts) and finaled in four of them. I really do appreciate the feedback that I can get from a contest entry–it’s one of the major reasons that I’ll choose to enter a contest.

    I hear that the Maggies provide particularly high quality feedback, so I’m thinking about submitting to them this year!

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    • Amanda Berry says:

      Congrats on the finals. Feedback in all forms is good, whether negative or positive. It helps us grow as writers, or ignore it and eat a tub of chocolate ice cream. 🙂

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  10. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    I don’t do too many contests, but do find the feedback helpful—with a couple of glaring exceptions.

    Congratulations on the debut. With Jeannie in your corner, it’s bound to be a winner.

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  11. Hey, I’m a slut too! It’s bittersweet to sell and leave the contest circuit behind. Congrats on the new release.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Kelly, I know exactly what you mean on the bittersweet thing. There’s a period after you sell where you’re in somewhat of a contest never-never land – according to most (of not all) contest rules, once you’ve sold, you’re considered “published” – but you can’t enter published contests either, because your book isn’t on the shelves yet.

      I entered four contests with my GH finalist (first/only manuscript at that time). I got mixed feedback from two smaller contests, but I finaled in the GH and won an unpublished Daphne. I got requests for fulls from a GH judge (ugh, don’t ask) and both of the Daphne judges, one of whom became my agent and helped broker my sale to Sourcebooks.

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    • Jeannie Lin says:

      i check the contest postings still. Habits are hard to break, aren’t they?

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    • Amanda Berry says:

      It’s like an addiction that you just can’t give up. I can’t wait until next year, when I can enter this book into contests.

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  12. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Thanks for being here, Amanda. Sometimes the judges who give the oddest comments are the most help simply because they help an author see her work from another perspective. My attitude is that although that judge may be in the minority, there will undoubtedly be others who will see it the same way she did.

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    • Amanda Berry says:

      Exactly. I find this with my editor sometimes. She’ll give me a suggestion that I find doesn’t work for me, but there is usually an underlying problem that needs fixed. I just have to figure out what that problem is.

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  13. Tina Joyce says:

    Thanks for visiting the blog, Amanda! How exciting to sell as a result of winning a contest. I guess you found where that manuscript fit after all, didn’t you?

    I haven’t entered many contests this year, but I did in previous years. It was always so nerve-wracking to wonder whether or not I’d get a call or email saying I’d finaled. You do have to pick and choose which advice to take, but I found as time went on (and through listening to what the premilimary and final judges said) my rankings began to steadily improve.

    I’m looking forward to reading your book! Congrats again!

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    • Tina Joyce says:

      Oops, that should have said preliminary.

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    • Amanda Berry says:

      Thanks, Tina. Actually when I sent it to Patience, I mentioned I was targetting Desire. She’s the one who came back and said they wanted it for Special Edition and was that alright. I didn’t have any problem with that 🙂

      The big thing is applying that advice to the rest of the manuscript as well.

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  14. Your book looks great … another thing to go buy!

    I haven’t entered all that many contests. I also haven’t had that much luck in the ones I have entered. My 2010 GH entry got solid 6s (with one 5.7).

    I do, however, have high hopes for this year’s Orange Rose. My entry is the single-title contemporary that I want to enter in the next GH. Friends who’ve read it (all 2 of em) love the story.

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    • Jeannie Lin says:

      Good luck! I never entered the Orange Rose, but that’s a difficult and prestigious one to nab!

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    • Amanda Berry says:

      Good luck on the contest! It takes a while to figure out what works and sometimes a MS just isn’t going to final in contests because of the voice or subject matter. It may have nothing to do with the technical writing. I never entered the GH (I was going to this year, but was thawarted by my sale, not that I’m complaining). I didn’t enter the prior year because of the cost and the lack of feedback. I judged this year and it’s hard to put a number to some of them.

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  15. Elisa Beatty says:

    Hi, Amanda! Thanks so much for being here with the Rubies today! Great topic, and major congrats on the book–it looks great!!

    I’m a very new contest junkie. The GH last year was my first contest, but I’ve entered my new WIP in several since late summer, and it’s been doing well.
    I’ve learned LOTS from judge feedback (despite the occasional bizarre comment), and I do think my manuscript’s much stronger than it would have been otherwise…not to mention that it’s crossing several editors’ desks (I don’t have an agent, so contests have been an important door-opener).

    I am starting to sense the danger of focusing too much on the contest high, though, and fiddling too much with those opening chapters at the expense of moving forward. Must. Go. Finish. Book.

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    • Amanda Berry says:

      The ultimate downfall for a contest junkie….must finish the book. I don’t know if I would have gotten my agent if I hadn’t sold already. It definitely helped, but it’s not a guarantee.

      Good luck in contests and finish the book. 🙂

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  16. Liz Talley says:

    Sorry, I’m late as usual!

    Funny, how our stories are similar. Well, mine wasn’t a contest win, but I was writing in a different genre and pinning my hopes to that one. My contemporary that sold to Harlequin was a story written on a lark. Weird where the paths take us.

    Can’t wait to pick up your book! And thanks for visiting us today.

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    • Amanda Berry says:

      It is weird. 🙂 Originally when I started writing again I was targeting Harlequin Temptation, but the line fell apart and so did my ability to write. When I picked it back up, I decided on paranormal because I love that stuff. But I guess there will always be a category romance somewhere in my mind. Hopefully.

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  17. Thanks for joining us today and sharing your publication story, Amanda! Congrats on your release. Isn’t that a lovely dress on the cover?

    I first began entering contests for feedback, then later it became more important for me to enter if the final judge was an editor or agent who might like my books. Fortunately, I managed to snare an agent, though not through a contest. In the past year, I’ve pulled way back as an entrant so I can focus more on submissions, saving my money for one or two “heavy-weight” contests like the GH and Australia’s Emerald Award.

    Looking forward to reading L.A Cinderella, Amanda!

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    • Amanda Berry says:

      That’s the other thing. Now that I have an agent, I don’t “have” to enter contests because she’ll sell to the editors she thinks are right for my story. 🙂

      I think that it’s hard to give up something that seems to work so well.

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  18. Amanda Berry says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments and for having me here. It’s been a real pleasure.

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