Strokes

Very often, writing is a thankless task. Hours slogging away at words that people may or may not like, that sometimes don’t even make any sense.  Once you’ve made all the edits you can stand to make, you submit your words to the gatekeepers of the publishing world–editors and agents who judge you, your writing style, your ‘voice,’ your marketability. Sometimes they like your words enough to request more of them. Sometimes–far more often than not–they say, “thanks but no thanks.” Every once in awhile, though, you get that ‘yes,’ or at least that ‘maybe,’ that gives you the boost you need to write more words.

In the romance world–and I do think this is more true in romance than in other genres–writers enter contests. Contests are easy, and fairly painless, ways to put your work in front of readers. You can test the waters for a new manuscript, try out new subgenres, take a chance on getting your book in front of the wonderful editors and agents who serve as final judges. Worst case scenario, you receive mediocre (or downright awful) scores, hopefully accompanied by constructive feedback and thoughts on what isn’t working in your manuscript and how to fix it.  Best case scenario, you final, and your words are read, and maybe even bought, by those final judges.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been working on words I absolutely adore. I’ve been submitting them to agents and editors, and have received mixed but overall encouraging feedback. I took some of the feedback to heart, made some significant revisions (namely lopping off the first three chapters–ouch), and submitted the book to a contest to see what people thought.  And just when I was beginning to think it was all a waste of time, this week I received the email telling me I was a finalist. I was literally dancing and fist-pumping around the kitchen while my husband looked at me as if I were a lunatic.

Although I have the greatest respect and admiration for the folks who put on and judge contests–it is an INSANE amount of work, and even less (more?) thankless than writing–the contest itself is not really the point. What finaling in a contest represents is validation: I don’t suck as a writer, and people like my stories, enjoy the tales I have to tell. And all of us–writers and non-writers alike–need to know that what we feel passionate about matters.

 

So all of that is my weird way of announcing that I am so pleased and proud to be named a finalist in the historical category of the 2017 Pages from the Heart Contest for my manuscript, Buying Max.

Those of you who are new writers, and even those of you who’ve been weaving words for awhile, consider entering a contest. You might just get the validation you crave–YOU are fabulous, and so is your story–just when you need it the most.

 

 

Grumpish about Grammar

This post is very late. I was in a super bad mood last Sunday and couldn’t think of anything I wanted to write, and I was too busy reading contest entries anyway.

Back in the spring I volunteered to serve as a first round judge in several contests. I actually love judging contests, but when I volunteered I stupidly failed to realize that all of the entries were due back in the same week. Nevertheless, I was happy to do it–it is great fun to read the entries and to help a writer (often a brand-new writer) learn a bit more about craft, and I never fail to learn something myself. Sometimes the entries are absolutely wonderful and truly a joy to read. Other times, not so much. This year, I had far more not-so-much entries than wonderful ones. Most of the entries I read had a great plot–original, interesting, and fun. Unfortunately, many of them were also riddled with errors in grammar and punctuation. Some had clearly not even been proofread, and were full of typographical errors and spelling mistakes.

As a result of this experience, I have spent the last few days wondering why writers would enter a contest without dealing with at least some of these problems. It is important to realize that a contest is, in some ways, a trial query. Most contests have agents and/or editors serving as final round judges. If you final, you get your work in front of one of them. If she likes it, she may request a partial manuscript, or even a full. And sometimes–as I can gratefully attest–an editor buys your book or an agent agrees to represent you. Why, then, would you not make your manuscript the very best it can be before submitting it? Especially because contests cost money?

Now, I will admit that the first time I entered a contest I had no idea what I was doing, and it is certainly possible that some of the writers I judged were in a similar place in their writing careers. My entry had many, many craft errors, but it had been carefully proofread. I learned a lot from the judges in that contest, and in my critiques of the entries I reviewed in the last couple of weeks, I tried to do the same for those writers.

My point here is two-fold: First, if you are an author, especially a published author, consider donating your time and expertise to juIMG_3137dge a contest. You will make a huge difference in a writer’s life, and you will learn something too.

Second, if you are a writer wishing to enter a contest, polish that manuscript! Proofread it–do not rely on spell check alone. Check your grammar. If you need to brush up on grammar rules, do so. Pick up a copy of Strunk and White. Go online–there are a lot of sites which offer help on grammar issues. For example, I like the Grammar Girl for short and sweet tips. There’s Grammarly, which scans your text for grammar and punctuation. (I’ve never used it, but it gets good reviews.) From the Write Angle has blog posts about grammar, craft, querying, and a bunch of other good stuff. Or just Google “grammar” and see what you get. Once you have these basics down, it’s much easier to focus on the craft–all those things that make you a better writer.

I’ve decided to stop whining and do something to help (hopefully). Once a month, starting next week, I’ll do a post on issues I’ve spotted in manuscripts, or things I’ve been curious about. If any of you have a grammar or craft question you’d like me to discuss, or if you’re interested in doing a guest post about your grammar pet peeve, or if you are better than I am at coming up with catchy names for my grammar posts (because honestly, who isn’t better at that than I am?), leave a comment here or drop me a line at marinmcginnis@yahoo.com.

 

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