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Guest Blogger Angi Morgan: Should You Listen to Contests? (part deux)

Thank you, Ruby Slippered Sisterhood for asking me to join you today. A couple of months ago, I wrote an article divulging all my contest scores from last year, along with a variety of comments. The article received a lot of positive comments and I’ve updated a few things: Like a finalist place in the 2010 RWA Golden Heart (Suspense & Adventure). You’ll also notice here that I have an (EXTREMELY GREAT) cover from Intrigue.

HillCountryHoldup-Cover

Judging is extremely subjective. When we write, we bring our life experiences to our work. It’s the same for a reader. Joy, stress, promotions, family problems–anything that’s happening in the life of the reader affects their interpretation of the writer’s hard work. Reading the story at a different juncture in their life, a reader could interpret it a different way.

The following are quotes that HILL COUNTRY HOLDUP received from 2009 judges. Each contest received exactly the same entry. No significant changes (only corrected errors) were made to the manuscript when it sold. I am neither endorsing nor condemning any of the following contests. This is my personal experience that I’m sharing, but I have found it’s very typical of any writer’s journey.

Great Expectations (130) WON FIRST PLACE, Editor requested Synopsis

130: “The story grabbed me from the beginning. I was intrigued.”

127: “Most everything reads very well, with the exception of needing more setting and clarification on setting in several places.”

120: “The first scene needs to be simpler and some of the motivations of the characters could be tweaked a bit.”

Dixie First (100)

78: “It’s disingenuous to save the Tah-Dah about the child until page 25. The sheer number of names you’re throwing around makes it hard to keep up.”

69: Grammar and punctuation need a second look. If you’re not in a critique group, you might want to consider joining one.”

Sheila (100):

98: “This is excellent, well thought out and developed. The GMC for both the H&H seems appropriate and with proper depth.”

95: “If the rest of the book is written in the same fast paced, snappy dialogue, intriguing characters, sexual tension and suspenseful emotional impact as the chapters I have read, then I believe this book will be published. I look forward to seeing it on the book shelf and reading the full book.”

84: “Because of the long passages of narrative and internal dialogue things get a bit slow at times.”

46 —this is not a typo–it really is a 46: “I had a hard time believing she doesn’t just tell Steve that Rory is his son. She would have done it the moment they were in the cabin together.”

Connections (200/20)

198/20: “Wonderful Opening Scene”

156/14: “Double check your vocab and word usage. Also with internal thought dialogue or brand name’s, I believe you should italicize instead of underling.”

139/8: “I’m not getting an original ‘voice’ here.”

Great Beginnings (4 ranks between 1 & 10)

9 – 8 – 7 – 8:    “I would have like to know a bit about the connection between Jane and Steve.”

8 – 8.5 – 8 – 8: “Well written and interesting.”

8 – 8 – 9 – 8.5: “While the characters were interesting, I didn’t feel connected to them.”

Daphne (123)

123: “Interesting. Guess I’ll have to wait for the book. Great story. I wouldn’t be able to put it down.”

121: “Gosh, what can I say?  Your story really held my attention, good action and interaction.”

119: “This was a fantastic read. I would definitely pick this up if I saw it in a bookstore. Good luck finding a home for it!”

88: “somewhat enjoyable”

WON FIRST PLACE, Editor & Agent requested full manuscripts

Received offer from Agent October 1st

Sold to Harlequin Intrigue on November 12th

Molly 1st Round (100): 95, 83 ADVANCED TO SECOND ROUND

95: “Good sense of time and place.”

83: “Make sure action and plot stay believable.

Molly 2nd Round (100): 86, 83

86:  “Jane’s conflict is great.  She has the promise of being quirky but doesn’t quite come off as interesting as I think she could be.  Steve might need a little more work too.  There’s nothing unique about him.  ”

83: “Make Steve someone I want to love – right now there’s nothing extra special about him.”

Rebecca (100): 73, 98

98: “The pacing is fantastic. Just the right blend of action and narrative.”

73: Judge made no comments, just re-wrote sentences.

Maggie (no scores or score sheets returned): two published judges

FOURTH PLACE, by Susan Litman, Silhouette

“Thanks so much for a very enjoyable read. I hope someday soon I’ll be able to read the rest.”

“Send it to a publisher!”

Daphne 2008 (123)

I mentioned that I have entered the Daphne several years. I used the same basic entry in 2008. What changed? The contest rules with the number of pages for each entry.

2008: 15 pages, 1 page unjudged synopsis

2009:  5000 word entry, 675 word synopsis

Words worked in my favor, I entered 5 additional pages in 2009. I have a lot of white space in my work.

119: “I love your story. I’ve judged this contest many years and the entries as a whole are much better this year. You have stiff competition. Good Luck.”

108: “Tightening your pacing will give the story more impact.”

101: “The writer should try to get out of her own skin and into the skin of the hero, heroine, and (most-importantly) the reader.”

99: “Bitchy I know, but I’d like to see a little more of where they are.”

THE LAST CONTEST SEE JANE RUN entered

2010 RWA Golden Heart  FINALIST

Category Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure

SO, SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO CONTESTS?

Honestly, you have to listen to yourself first. WAAAYY back in 2003, I wrote a book called See Jane Run. The entire conflict turned on the lie that the heroine kept from the hero: he was her son’s father. At the time, numerous judges and critique partners reflected the opinion of my low-scoring judge above: I needed to have the heroine tell the hero immediately. I listened. I changed the book. I did not sell the book. No matter how I changed the book, I couldn’t get a strong conflict onto the page. It was hard to pin (even for editors) exactly what was wrong with the book.

I set SJR aside for several years. I talked about it. Threw the idea around. Was fortunate enough to find a new critique partner who didn’t mind reading SJR. We talked some more. The book finaled in a contest and received a request. But I hadn’t made changes. I knew it would ultimately be rejected again.

Several years have passed since I changed my original story. For some reason–call it experience or gaining confidence in my own opinion or my own voice–I knew I had to rework SJR back to its original plot. I did.

And each time I received comments back in 2009, I stuck to my guns: my opinion, my vision for the book, my instinct that *I* knew the story better than anyone else. It definitely helped that I had a critique partner (waving at Amy) who supported me and continually told me the story was mine.

Can contests help? Certainly. I love comments and seeing how others view my work. I’m actually missing them.

Can contests hurt? Yes. Definitely. We’ve all experienced the hurtfulness of a stranger’s words regarding our work. I can’t say that the initial hurt ever stings less, but this past year, I laughed more than I cried. Especially when the book sold to Harlequin without me changing anything.

Have you found your inner voice? The one that’s not telling you to jump off a cliff? Mine came when I wrote a 1000 word chapter for eHarlequin® Round Robin (details on my book page). I wrote that chapter without letting anyone see it. Chapter 7 of The Rancher and The Rose was for fun, just for kicks, totally spur of the moment. And yet, it won. Winning gave me the confidence to trust my own writing a bit more, but it also surprised me that I liked to add a splash of humor into my stories. I try to keep my characters in one super-tense situation after another, and just a touch of humor allows me to release some of that tension so it can rebuild.

MY QUESTION for you? Have you been able to sift through the different comments and subjectivity to find your own voice? your own vision for your books? It could be critique partners or strangers from a contest…but are you ready to move forward based on your own gut reaction to your story?

This Week’s Lesson Learned: Seek the opinion of others all you need to, but always remember you’re telling the story.  “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.” ~~Yogi Berra.

‘Til next time,

~~Angi

AngiMorgan

AngiMorgan.com

99 responses to “Guest Blogger Angi Morgan: Should You Listen to Contests? (part deux)”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, Angi! Thanks so much for joining us, and kicking off the guest blogs by the Unsinkables!

    And congratulations again on your Golden Heart nomination, and on your SALES!!

    It is absolutely amazing how differently judges respond to exactly the same work. I find it incredibly inspiring that you stuck by your guns, and told the story you felt was right…and that you finally found the editor who loved it. And no doubt you’ll be finding many readers who love it as well! Good luck!

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      Thank you Elisa. And thanks again for having me as your guest.

      I’m soooo excited about Hill Country Holdup’s release. I was with my mom and aunts today and they were bragging about my sell. It just felt so very right. Not the bragging–LOL–but being able to sale I had a book that will be on shelves in September. What an awesome feeling. I hope EVERYONE gets to share that feeling.

      ~~Angi

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  2. It’s so great to see you here. Congrats on your final and sale. That is so exciting. I can’t wait to buy a copy.

    This is a great post. Kudos to you for putting it all out there. You can clearly see how subjective judging can be.

    And kudos for staying true to you and your story.

    (((HUGS, girl)))

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      Thanks for the hugs ! I’ll take ’em >>big grin<<

      I have to admit that I wasn't true to myself (my voice or vision for the story) for a long time. I feel strongly though that at some point you just have to say "wait."

      There are a few lucky souls out there who have that voice built in and wrote the right story, getting it in front of the right editor and the right time… Most of us though, have to work a little bit harder.

      ~~Angi

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      THANKS AUTUMN ! I have to admit that sticking to my guns wasn’t always my story. You have to know when to listen to critism and praise (and pay attention where it’s coming from).

      A wise author once told me regarding my much varied contest scores:
      If two out of three readers love your stuff, you’ll have a terrific fan base.

      Keeping my fingers crossed >>big grin<<
      ~~Angi

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  3. Kylie Griffin says:

    Hi Angi,

    I have a great saying on my wall from Cynthia Kersey and I think it sums up your story very well – “Believe in yourself and there will come a day when others have no choice but to believe in you.”

    I identify with a lot of what you said in your post – thanks for a great read.

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      “Believe in yourself and there will come a day when others have no choice but to believe in you.” Cynthia Kersey

      AWESOME QUOTE. I’m going to have to steal that one.

      You saw the quote I use from Yogi Berra… I am definitely finding it true while writing .38 Caliber Cover-Up. Gotta keep in mind where I’m headed, it would be real easy to wind up somewhere else.

      ~~Angi

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  4. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    Welcome, Angi, and congratulations on your sale.

    Great post and a necessary one. I’ve known writers so devastated by contest comments that they’ve stopped writing—at least for a while. I often wonder how many potentially wonderful writers have been derailed by a thoughtless or ill-concieved comment. It takes time to develop the rhino hide a writer needs, and so many young writers jump into contests ill-prepared on so many levels.

    One can hope your experience will open some eyes, be they those of writers or judges, so young writers are less likely to be annihilated by a comment, and judges will take the time to consider the impact of each comment.

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      Absolutely.

      There’s always a way to be truthful, but positive and tactful. And when you’re the receipient, you really do have to remember it’s just ONE person’s opinion. Even an editor is just ONE person.

      ~~Angi

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  5. Welcome, Angi! Congrats on your sales and your GH final. Thanks for sharing your contest comments. Such a wild variety of opinions! What really resonated with me was your advice “Listen to yourself first.” I think it’s important for beginner writers to distinguish between good and bad contest feedback, and often it’s that little voice inside you that helps you filter out the truth.

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      For me that little voice, just kept getting bigger and bigger. LOL Guess that’s what happens when it takes ten years to sell your work. LOL

      Don’t get me wrong…I am the first one to admit that *I* was NOT ready to sell before this moment. I am a firm believer that everything happens at the right time.

      ~~Angi

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  6. I loved this article the first time I saw it, and I’ll be forwarding it to all my contest friends. Thanks for sharing. I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to put all of my scores out there for public perusal.

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      Hi Clarissa! Thanks for the forwarding >big grin<

      I've spoken about the off-the-wall-comments to my chaptermates over the years and sometimes even received, "Just don't listen to them." But I've known so many good writers who do and just stop. Two rejections and they disappear from writing.

      I really wanted people to know that negative or good comments mainly reflect the person judging, not necessary all of the writing.

      ~~Angi

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      Thanks for the forward >>big grin<<

      BE BRAVE, Clarissa. At least with your CPs. Let them help pull the truth to the surface. And never let those judges see you sweat.

      ~~Angi

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  7. Kylie Griffin says:

    Vanessa’s right, listen to the little voice inside you – it knows your story even when you think others are telling you opposing views.
    Yes, you can receive valid, constructive feedback from contests but changing your story because judges suggest you do is an easy mistake to make.
    Listen to your inner voice – and if it’s kicking and screaming and protesting, don’t do it. Instinct is usually right. Regret can last a lot longer than you think.

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  8. Tamara Hogan says:

    Welcome, Angi, and congratulations on your sale and final!

    I didn’t enter a lot of contests before my sale, but those I did enter were eye-opening. I received some great feedback, but I also came to realize is that there are beginner or (bless their hearts) not very skilled judges out there, too: judges who don’t employ their very writing skill to communicate their feedback in a way that supports rather than hurts. Judges who parrot THE RULES, THE RULES!!! without explaining why what you’ve done doesn’t work for them. Judges whose feedback reveals a lot more about their personal frustrations than they might realize. Judges who haven’t yet removed the word “should” from their judging vocabulary.

    It’s important for writers to listen to their gut – but then, as Angi describes, also be open to that nugget of truth.

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      I love this: Judges need to remove the word “SHOULD” from their vocabulary.

      I’m the coordinator of the Great Expectations contest this year and I’m going to make certain ALL OUR JUDGES hear this piece of advice.

      THANKS !

      ~~Angi

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  9. Rita Henuber says:

    Thank you for this post. this is a keeper for everone entering contests. I suggest everyone read it before reading contest scores.
    The Yogi quote is one of my favorites. It is very true of this business.

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  10. Congratulations on your sale, Angi. As last year’s CSR:S/A winner, I confess to being wholeheartedly jealous of your success. The necklace is nice, but what I really want is that contract.

    (There. I said it.)

    However, she who writes the better book shall win the contract, and you’ve clearly done that here. Thank you for coming on the RSS and sharing your experiences with sticking to your guns.

    Regarding contests, I think that it’s useful to know how your work might be received by the public, but until you’ve reached a certain level of confidence with your material and voice, contests might just throw you off track.

    I’ve lately avoided the addiction of contests. I felt that I was growing too attached to the results, and so I gave them up.

    For now. 😉

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      I have to admit that getting the GH final call is right up there…but not as high as selling to Intrigue. >>Big grin<< I WISH YOU EVERY SUCCESS, Jamie.

      Find your way to your editor!
      "Never give up. Never surrender!"

      ~~Angi

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      • Thanks, Angi. I suspected that the Sale Call was better than the GH call — or getting the GH award.

        I have, unfortunately, worked my way to an editor, and heard the big fat R after many rounds of revisions. But it’s all a learning process, and your story proves that nothing happens overnight.

        Thanks again for coming on our blog and sharing your tales of triumph and woe. I’m excited to pick up Hill Country Holdup, and then .38 Caliber Coverup. It’s exciting to “know” someone as their career begins, and to watch it take off. Helpless envy aside, I wish YOU every success!

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Jamie,

      I have to say that I gave up all contests for a number of years. Then I was at a writer’s conference with some buddies and all of them were finalists in the chapter’s contest and I felt left out and miserable.

      Then I realized I had only myself to blame. I had been rejected by everyone for so long that I needed something to lift me up, and entering a contest just might give me something positive, if I could just ignore the (usually) unhelpful comments from judges.

      So I got back on the train. And to my utter astonishment I finaled in the Golden Heart. And I was a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. It was a huge lift to my spirits, and ultimately it got me an agent and a sale. So, while I’m not a big fan of contests, they can provide some wonderful entre and, at the least, give you a feeling that you’re working at making that first sale.

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      • Ah, so true!

        I, too, feel left out, but it’s only my fault, as you say. If I want that warm and fuzzy feeling, than I need to sell a book or at least enter a contest. But I think I’m stubborn.

        No, no, don’t say you’re shocked to hear it. I know it’s hard to believe that I’m a stubborn, hard-headed little snit who thinks she knows How It Is In The World. But it’s true. I am that snit.

        I also think I’m just a little dejected over my recent soul-crushing rejection.

        🙁

        I admit that I’ve been looking at contests again, thinking that maybe I needed to enter one for a pick-me-up, but then I have to consider the possibility that I’d not final, and end up in a worse spot than I’m in now.

        But the Golden Pen is calling…

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        • Angi Morgan says:

          Again, Jamie, don’t let the rejection get you down. They happen. You just haven’t connected to the right editor. I think you’re at the stage to get your accolades from your critique partners or have someone read your book who isn’t a writer and see how much THEY ENJOY it. Give yourself a boost.

          Enter a contest if that’s the best way to get in front of another editor.

          ~~Angi

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        • Hope Ramsay says:

          Oh Jamie,

          I’m so sorry you’re feeling down. It happens to all of us. I struggled to make my fist sale for more than 20 years. I have a file filled with rejections. But Angi is right, it only take ONE EDITOR to change that. So concentrate on writing the best book you know how and then get it out there widely. Because this is like love. If you stay home like a wallflower, you’re gonna be alone. But if you get out there, you never know what might happen, even though most of the editors you meet are not going to be people you want to have a relationship with. Because, really, you only want a relationship with someone who loves the book.

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      • Angi Morgan says:

        I’m so happy for you Hope, my fellow Unsinkable! Contest finalist, agent, four book contract ! What a way to jump back in!

        ~~Angi

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    • Thank you for sharing why you’ve stopped entering contests for awhile. It resonated and was helpful advice.

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  11. Kim Law says:

    Welcome Angi! Congrats on the final and the sale!!!

    I love this article. It so clearly shows that you can’t just go by everything you get back from a contest. That’s hard for some people to get, especially early on. I’m one of those who get a wide variety of scores, and fairly often there’s two that love it and one that just flat out HATES it! But when this happens, I can’t help but smile. I’m getting some sort of reaction and that’s better than no reaction!

    I do love your comment above, though. If 2 out of 3 love it, you’ll have a terrific fanbase. Never thought about it quite like that, but so very true.

    Again, welcome to the Ruby blog and good luck with the GH and your book coming out later this year!!!!

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      Thanks again for welcoming me to the sisterhood. And just keep reminding yourself that 2 out of 3 people LOVE you (and will buy your book!)

      ~~Angi

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  12. Elise Hayes says:

    Hi Angi! Thanks for posting the scores and comments. It’s SO interesting to see the wide range of scores and comments the same manuscript can receive.

    And good for you for going back to the story of your heart–in spite of the naysayers. Can’t wait to see your book on the shelves!!

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      I can’t wait either.
      Or wait to get the cover flat (I’ve only seen it electronically).
      Or wait to read the back cover blurb.
      Or smell the first copy that I hold (seriously, don’t you love the smell of a book that’s never been opened?).

      Can you tell I’m excited?
      ~~Angi

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      • Hope Ramsay says:

        Angi,

        When is the release date?

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        • Angi Morgan says:

          Hill Country Holdup is September 14th, 2010
          I believe the ebook version is available in August.

          .38 Caliber Cover-Up
          (I just love that title)
          Releases in February 2011.

          Intrigues are released the 2nd Tuesday of each month.

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      • Angi, will you be at Nationals? If so, will you be signing your book anywhere?

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        • Angi Morgan says:

          I WILL BE AT NATIONALS in Orlando.
          Alas, the book isn’t available in July. So my first national signing will be 2011 in New York City.

          I have several signings that I’ve been setting up (nothing firm yet) locally in Dallas. And I’m trying to set some up in California when I’m there in October. (A girl can try) I think I’ll be signing in some other cities in Texas, too.

          ~~Angi

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  13. Edie Ramer says:

    Thanks for sharing! I haven’t kept the judged hard copies from contests I’ve entered, and I’m not sure if I’ve kept the ones emailed to me. But your scores and comments, with the big difference between scores, are pretty much what I’ve gotten. I’m so happy you didn’t let the bad judges stop you and that it worked out for you!

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      Edie, you’re an inspiration to everyone. THANKS for the support and best of luck with all your books.

      (And I’m sort of happy I didn’t let the judges get to me either — but on the flip side, A LOT OF THEM helped me out of rejections and slumps! and I’ll take their positive comments.)

      ~~Angi

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  14. Congrats to you, Angi. You’ve worked hard to get where you are. I’ll be cheering for you in Orlando!

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  15. Gillian says:

    Good morning, Angi! What an excellent article. I’m a firm believer in contests but I think if you’re going to enter them (not counting the GH), you need to enter a bunch at once—you’re looking for some kind of commonality among the comments and scores. And even then–who knows? My scores always varied wildly.

    You enter the GH for one reason only–to final. It’s a comfort, really. No feedback to mull over.

    I did the exact same “change-it-cause-others-said-so” thing with one of my beginnings–only after I went back to my original did things click. Now I’m supremely grateful for my CP, who always calls me on my weak spots.

    It’s part of the learning curve when you start to write. You may as well throw your work out there and get used to hearing critiques. It’s like building writer’s callouses. Then you can learn to trust yourself.

    Huge congratulations on your sale! Was your agent search long and drawn out, or short and sweet? And wanted you to know, I really like your website, especially your trailer. 🙂

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      THANKS. I’ve enjoyed my website and the trailer is what the hubby and I refer to as simple (no pictures, no anything). I’m having knee surgery tomorrow and he’s promised a revamp of the website and a new trailer that will have more pictures and feature the book cover (YAY). So come back and look again next week!

      ~~Angi

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      AGENT SEARCH:

      I was fortunate to have an agent in 2003 through 2007. We still have a great relationship, but my writing fell off after several rejections (yes, me Positive Patty here) so we parted ways. Even though I was still involved in the writing world, I graduated two girls from high school, concnetrating on them for a while. THEN I began seriously writing again with my well completely refueled.

      During that down time though, I kept my ears open and listened to comments about agents. The Daphne had both the agent and editor I wanted to work with, I entered, finaled, was requested and signed with both.

      So although I didn’t query a lot of agents…and it seems fast…it doesn’t mean I didn’t do my research. INCLUDING which one might actually like my style of writing and my voice.

      ~~Angi

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  16. Cindy says:

    Congrats on your final and your sale! Awesome news!

    It’s so true that you have to listen to yourself. You know your story best. I do listen to feedback. I don’t always change the story based on it.

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  17. Wendy says:

    Hi Angi! I can’t wait for HCH to be released (and I LOVE your cover).

    I remember the exact moment I learned to take contest feedback with a grain of salt. On page two of the historical manuscript I was sending around at the time, I mentioned a “chaise longue.” One of the judges commented (very snippily) that it was unbelievably unprofessional to have such an obvious spelling error in the first two pages and no editor would continue to read after that.

    Yep, she wanted me to change it to chaise lounge. She wanted me to plop a piece of 1950s patio furniture in the middle of my Regency boudoir.

    I didn’t hold it against her that she thought the word should be spelled differently, but her assertion that (a) I was a lazy writer and (b) this spelling error was the kiss of death for my manuscript were both so blatantly wrong. After that, I read the comments from judges to see if they resonated with me (yep, that’s right, I do need to change something here); otherwise, I ignored them.

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      MY COVER: it is the MOST EXCELLENT COVER !

      Interesting sidebar here: I modeled the three year old in my book after my grandson, E. When I got the cover, I was amazed that the little boy looked so much like him. Same eyes, same style of haircut. Freaky actually. And very cool.

      ~~Angi

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  18. Hi Angi!

    I think it’s funny that when I read comments from contest judges, I believe all the positive comments and almost all of the negative ones too!

    Always ready to listen to everyone’s comments, I’m diving off the deep end and trusting my own voice for awhile.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

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  19. Marsha R. WEst says:

    Good blog, Angi. You do have to pick and sift through what judges say, but it does drive me crazy to see the “I hope to see this published.” along side the “Your characters don’t move me.” Even with subjectivity you’d think there’d be more middle ground. Whether I agree with the judges or not, my little ego takes such a battering, I almost always swear off contests…until the next one. And the more pages the better for me. Interesting that only 5 extra pages made such a difference for the Daphne. Appreciate you sharing.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      —-> Interesting that only 5 extra pages made such a difference for the Daphne.

      This was my experience as well. I’m absolutely convinced that the reason I finaled in both the GH and the Daphne last year was that more of the manuscript was judged in the first place.

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      ME TOO !
      I always did better in longer contests. But here’s another thing to consider:
      Are ALL your pages clean and driving the story forward?

      Unfortunately, with most of the longer entries I’ve judged recently, the first chapter is very polished…but not the second or third.

      I heard an editor on a panel once state: It’s not the beginning or end that sells a book, it’s chapter FOUR. Think about it.

      ~~Angi

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      • Tamara Hogan says:

        Yup. At last year’s Golden Network retreat, one of the panelists talked about how heartbreaking it was to request a full manuscript from a contest finalist or winner, only to discover that the remainder of the manuscript wasn’t quite as polished as the chapters that had traveled the contest circuit.

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      • Hope Ramsay says:

        I recently had an agent tell me that she had been terribly disappointed in the Golden Heart manuscripts she had requested. She had expected them to be much better than they were. I don’t think she fully realized that the Golden Heart is only judged on the first 50 pages. When I told her that, she nodded sagely and said that probably explained her experience.

        I think we’re all guilty of polishing up those first 50 pages and then rushing around trying to finish the book in order to enter the contest. I think it’s important for people who DON’T final in contests to remember that you’re only being judged on the first 50 pages (or less in some contests). I know a lot of folks who regularly final in contests but have not sold, and others who struggle to final and then sell a bunch of books all at once. 🙂

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        • Elisa Beatty says:

          Yikes on the agent saying she was disappointed in GH manuscripts she requested!!!

          My GH book is actually polished, polished, polished at this point, but the WIP I’m trying to finish isn’t there yet, and I have requests on it….

          Must go gird my loins and get to work!!

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        • I had an agent enthusiastically request my GH ms and then just as quickly reject it basically saying that she’d had high hopes for the premise but the book failed to deliver. That was one of the hardest rejections to take because I felt like I’d totally let my story down. It took me a while to realize that the book just wasn’t for her.

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          • Angi Morgan says:

            You nailed it, Cynthia! The story wasn’t for her.

            You definitely want an agent who believes in the story, but ALSO who believes in you and your career.

            ~~Angi

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  20. Angi, what an inspiring story for all those out there who, like me, have received comments that dinged the heart. A long time ago, I swore never to enter another contest. Two of the judges usually loved my writing and one wondered why I even bothered. I never won a contest – never even finaled. I now know I wasn’t writing romance and usually got downgraded because I didn’t follow the rules. (Yeah, that’s what I tell myself. It couldn’t have been the writing!!)

    I have to note here, though, that I gave most of the criticism a hard look – after the intial disappontment wore off- and I usually saw some good in the comments.

    I can’t wait to read your story. It sounds wonderful.

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      Thanks, Liz.

      But you left off an important part of your story.

      DUCKS IN A ROW: A CASSEROLE LOVER’S MYSTERY
      Coming July 2011 from Berkley Prime Crime
      by LIZ LIPPERMAN !!!

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      • Ah, Angi, thanks for the plug. I still can’t wait for your book.

        I never told you this, but I was judging a contest once and I got SJR. You were winning a lot of contests at that time and I knew this was your manuscript. Like the honest person I am, I sent it back saying I couldn’t really be unbiased since I knew you well.

        I think you finaled in that contest anyway.

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    • Liz, thanks for stopping by and speaking up. How exciting that you’ve got a Berkley Prime Crime release coming up!

      Lately I’ve been wondering if I’m actually writing romance, too. I love mystery and suspense with just a twinge of romance thrown in, and … well, maybe that is what it is, for me. I’m very glad that you’ve found your voice and your path, and look forward to seeing your debut on the shelves.

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      • Hey, Jaime, it sounds like you are in the same boat I am. I tell people I write mystery with romance. The Casserole Lovers books are cozies, so no sex but a lot of sexual tension and romance. I even have a hero’s POV.

        Give mystery a shot. You never know what might happen, especially if dead bodies keep turning up in your stories.

        Thanks for the congrats.

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  21. Hope Ramsay says:

    Angi,

    Welcome and congrats on your sale. This was a wonderful post. It should be required reading for anyone who enters contests.

    I just recently sold a four-book series with a book that has NEVER EVER received a decent mark from a contest judge. In my case, the hero and heroine go to a no-tell motel in chapter two without exchanging names. This is such a taboo that judges have regularly marked me down. But I knew the hero and heroine needed to make that mistake so they could grow for the rest of the novel. The point is that the story that broke the “rules” is the one that ultimately lead to my first sale. Welcome to Last Chance will be out on shelves next April.

    So, listening to your inner voice and being stubborn when you really feel it in your gut, is very important.

    Also the wide range of scores you got just indicates that winning a contest is sometimes the luck of the draw. Talented writers with great stories often do not final in contests.

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  22. Darynda Jones says:

    I totally remember this article! I thought it was fantastic.

    And, yeah, grain of salt, baby. Some judges are perhaps just having a bad day. LOL. I have gotten comments that are so all over the place, they could cause whiplash. I try to laugh at the completely unrealistic ones, but every once in a while, someone will say something that really hits home and, as a result, improves my writing. That’s when it’s all worth it.

    Great post!
    ~D~

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    • Angi Morgan says:

      Thanks, Darynda. Sometimes those “grains” hurt a lot, but we just have to brush them off and move ahead. Get a game plan and push forward.

      I met with my critique group this morning and talk about the eye-openers!! I’m thankful to be working with them.

      ~~Angi

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  23. I haven’t entered a lot of contests, but when I do, I get some pretty strange comments. My favorite? The judge who said I don’t know how to punctuate. I’m a freakin’ copy editor … I punctuate just fine (maybe not according to antiquated rules, but everybody can read newspaper style).

    0
    • Angi Morgan says:

      When you receive those type of comments — write a sarcastic “THANK YOU NOTE” and tack it onto the end of your scoresheet. You’ll be the only one ever to see it, but it will make you feel much, much better !!

      😀
      ~~Angi

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  24. Tina Joyce says:

    Great post, Angi! Congrats again on the sale and the shiny new cover that goes along with it!

    How interesting to see all these scores pulled together and compared. It really does show how varied tastes are. Some readers like detailed descriptions of the book’s setting, while others prefer a more minimalist approach. And, wow, does that affect how they judge. Good for you, staying on course and believing in your story!

    Doesn’t a little voice inside wish your title could have remained the same, just to show the judge that gave you the 46 that you indeed had a story worthy of being published? Just sayin’…

    Thanks again, Angi. Oh…and I think Great Expectations was one of the first contests I entered. It’s a great one!

    0
    • Angi Morgan says:

      SEE JANE RUN was a great title…but hey, Harlequin bought the book and can call it ANYTHING ! LOL

      You reminded me Tina — another point about contest judges. Remember that most of the time, you won’t be getting a judge who WRITES in your category. Most of the time, the judges who write suspense actually ENTER the contest. SO you might actually be getting someone who studies and writes HISTORICALS judging the Category Suspense entries.

      LOVE THIS: “Grain of salt, Baby!”
      ~~Angi

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  25. Carolyn Williamson says:

    Angi,
    Great picture. I found it interesting that you went back to the original plot. I’m amazed you got a 46 from one judge.
    I enjoyed reading the version I saw just before you sold.
    Carolyn Williamson

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  26. Jerrie Alexander says:

    Angi,
    Thanks for sharing your adventure with us. I believe you have to sift through the scores and decide for yourself. The first few negative comments hurt my feelings, but now I take the good and bad comments with a grain of salt. In the end, you should make up your own mind. It’s your voice, your words, and your decision. It sure worked for you!

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  27. Angi, thanks for blogging with us and sharing such great words of wisdom on contest feedback. I haven’t entered all that many contests, and most of the time I’ve been lucky enough to come out with fairly positive scores and comments. But, I think being true to your story is the most important rule of writing. I’m glad you stuck to your gut! Congrats on your sale!

    0
    • Angi Morgan says:

      Thank you Cynthia!

      And I’ll say it again…it took me a while to trust this gut of mine. I still have problems connecting that feeling to my head. LOL But my CPs try to keep me in line.

      ~~Angi

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  28. Angie,

    Thank you so much for your generosity and openness. This was very helpful to read. I’ve taken a really long break from contests (with a few exceptions) bc I had started to drive myself crazy making stupid changes based on judges’ recommendations instead of trusting my own voice/story. Perhaps I need to reconsider and enter a few more contests.

    Congrats on your sale, and best wishes for your knee surgery tomorrow!!!

    0
    • Angi Morgan says:

      Thanks Michelle. I hope the surgery will actually lessen some pain and make it easier to walk at National. 🙂
      (and DisneyWorld)

      I might be plugging my own contest here, but Great Expectations has great judges, positive feedback (from most of them), a fast turn-around, and category-specific score sheets. So if the final-round editor works for you…give us a try!

      ~~Angi

      0
      • Thanks, Angi! I just looked Great Expectations up, and the next one is in 2011, right? I’ll certainly keep it in mind. Thanks again for your generosity in sharing your comments. So impressive.

        0
        • Angi Morgan says:

          The deadline will be the last month of December. We’ll have final round judges by September. (We start in 2010, but announce finalists & winners in 2011, so we call it our 2011 contest.)

          Best of luck!
          ~~Angi

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  29. Great post, Angi. I have had both kinds of comments myself and used to take all of them to heart, but not anymore. I tried changing my story to please the judges and then I couldn’t work on it anymore. I hated it. I put all the stuff I took out back in and now it flows and so do my ideas and words. You are so right about having CPs you can trust and who know your voice and how to help you create your story so it is interesting and will hold your reader’s interest. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, but I am so much happier with my work now.

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  30. Shea Berkley says:

    Hey Angi! Great blog and a subject we don’t talk enough about. Critiques are invaluable, but they have to be used smartly. Even the best critiquer can get it wrong, just like an editor who passes on a prime project for one reason or another only to have it hit the NYT bestseller list for another house. Pay attention if the same kinds of comments are coming up time and again. I always look at critiques with an eye that they are right, and then try and prove them wrong. It’s helped me grow in places I would have ignored as a writer.

    With that said, always, always go with that gut feeling. If we don’t, there is a real chance of homogenizing our stories, and what a shame that would be. Best wishes on your success!

    0
    • Angi Morgan says:

      I really can’t write without a critique. I love bouncing ideas off everyone within talking distance.

      I recently added a couple of people who are NOT writers to my layer of “does this pass muster.”

      So I’m a firm believer in CPs and comments.

      ~~Angi

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  31. Shoshana Brown says:

    Welcome, Angi. Congratulations on your sale!

    You made a great point about how the same reader might interpret a story differently if reading it at a different juncture in their life. I’ve been rereading some old favorites and it’s really interesting to see which ones I still love and which ones don’t work for me anymore.

    0
    • Angi Morgan says:

      That’s interesting Shoshana. One other point about re-reading your favorites. The more you learn about the craft of writing and what you prefer in your OWN writing/voice…the more it affects who you judge and interpret your favorites.

      Interesting idea to re-read and see just how your opinion may have changed.

      ~Angi

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  32. Thanks for sharing, Angi. What a great post. Congratulations on Hill Country Holdup. The cover is fantastic!

    0
  33. Angi Morgan says:

    THANK YOU RUBY SISTERS !!

    It’s been a pleasure hanging around all day. Lots of good discussion and comments.

    I hope I can come back soon,
    ~~Angi

    0
  34. Angi Morgan says:

    For those wondering about the knee surgery…Everything went well. Thanks for the positive thoughts!

    ~~Angi

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