Winning the Bronze

Jane Austen (“our” Jane Austen, not the real one) clued me in to the ArtsJournal website, which gathers interesting articles about the Arts from all over. Besides such fascinating topics as how insomnia shrinks the brain or, correspondingly, how napping makes you smarter, this article caught my eye, Why You’re Better Off Winning A Bronze Medal Than A Silver.

The logic is quite understandable. From the article:

“Third-place winners have upward thoughts (“at least I won”) that increase satisfaction, researchers have found, whereas those who come in second tend to have downward “if only” thoughts that decrease happiness.”

I think just being an Olympic athlete is a great achievement.

This got me thinking about the Romance Writing contests that abound at this time of year. Not only RWA’s Golden Heart for unpublished manuscripts and the RITA for published, but the RWA chapter contests, like my home chapter’s Marlene Contest. Does the logic fit romance contests? I actively used contests to reach my writing goals, both when unpublished and published and I’ve been successful at both, winning both of RWA’s top prizes, the Golden Heart and the RITA.

For the published author contests, like the RITA, the Holt, NRCA, Golden Quill, etc., there is typically only one winner. Reaching finalist status does feel like an achievement, like winning the Bronze. Same is true for the Golden Heart.

But when I was entering lots and lots of unpublished contests, my feelings were different. If I was lucky enough to make the finals, I always prayed that I would at least get second place. To me, the Bronze merely meant my manuscript wasn’t good enough.

Now isn’t that silly?

The more rational part of me knows that, like in the Olympics where some events are measured in fractions of seconds, there may not be much difference between first place and third. I also know that reaching the finals is some validation of one’s writing skill, but not reaching the finals does not mean your manuscript isn’t just as good. Like figure skating, there is a subjective element. If your manuscript doesn’t reach the finals, then it may mean you got judges who subjectively scored it lower than other judges might have. I know I missed the finals on some unpublished contests because judges scored me low for what they assumed were errors in research, which, in fact, were not. These things happen, just like in some events of the Olympics, where judges might make mistakes because they know only what they subjectively see.

So, have you writers out there entered any contests this contest season? What are your hopes for the contests? What have you entered in the past? Have contests made you feel encouraged or discouraged about writing?

For readers, does it make a difference to you to know a book has won a contest? Does it make it more likely for you to read it, or does it make little difference? What contests mean the most to you, if any?

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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Jane Austen
12 years ago

I used to compete in forensic competitions (speech) and I remember scoring the same points as one girl, but she made it into the final and I did not. We never found out why. Now I realize in the long run it really didn’t matter.

I do not read award winners because they are an award winner. I won’t pick up a book just because of that. So it really doesn’t matter to me. There are some books that I love that get panned and some books that get rave reviews that I just can’t finish. You never know how a person will react to a book. Something could resonate with one reader and turn another reader off. Same goes for judging.

For an interesting take on judging one should watch the movie Stick It. While I thought this was just a teen flick about making it big, I was wrong. It’s not about making it big at all. It’s more about how ridiculous judges can be and sometimes it’s not about your performance but about who is your coach or publishers or etc. Very interesting and true. We all have biases even judges.

I judge a poetry contest every year and I’ll admit there are just some poems I’m against. Like if you’re 12 and you write about how your heart is broken and it will never heal. Well I know that’s not true so these poems never win. Maybe they should. Maybe some are good. Maybe I need to let go of my own bias in judging.

Janet Mullany
12 years ago

I was a Golden Heart finalist too in 2003, same year as Diane (which is how we met), and I was glad I didn’t win. Okay, for about two minutes, at the awards ceremony, I really, really wanted to win. I think had I won then it would have put unreasonable pressure on me because that ms. didn’t/couldn’t sell and at that point, it was the only one I had. I’ve since recycled bits and pieces of it elsewhere–a chapter was recycled into Improper Relations!

On the other hand everything I’ve entered into the RITA has tanked bigtime altho I’ve done okay with other contests for published books. I don’t think contest wins impress readers. They don’t impress me particularly as a reader. As a writer, I have a love-hate relationship with them.

12 years ago

“I do not read award winners because they are an award winner. I won’t pick up a book just because of that. So it really doesn’t matter to me. There are some books that I love that get panned and some books that get rave reviews that I just can’t finish. You never know how a person will react to a book. Something could resonate with one reader and turn another reader off. Same goes for judging.” I agree with Jane Austen on that!

Last year, I entered a contest. I wasn’t happy with the results at first. Then I re-read a Wet Noodle Posse post on the importance of being a judge. When I was a judge in a recent contest I recognized why my judges said what they did. My judges were mostly right. I was annoyed to be counted down for spelling, when I was writing an English romance, but someone who isn’t familiar with it would find it distracting. And they were both absolutely spot on about my problems with point of view, and a scene that didn’t really move the story along.

Will I be entering any contests again, soon? Not at this point. I need to work out glitches, and entering isn’t cheap when you’re on a really tight budget. Then I want to enter as an opportunity to see if I’ve progressed.

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

JA, the subjective nature of judging came home to me when a book I absolutely HATED won the RITA that year. Obviously some people did not share my opinion! Luckily this happened before I was published and put my books in the contest arena.

Janet, My Wet Noodle Posse buddy, your point is excellent. Sometimes winning is not a good thing. I think with the Golden Heart winning raises the expectation that you should sell and it doesn’t always happen.

Judy, I’m glad you got useful information from judges, but as I say as often as I can, don’t listen to judges unless what they say gives you that, “Doh! Why didn’t I think of that?” experience. As you also noted, judges aren’t always right.

And contests are not the only way to publication. I used them successfully that way, but many many many others have reached their goals without ever entering a contest.

Amanda McCabe
12 years ago

I think I’ve said everything I have to say (which is not much!) about contests on previous posts about them here, but I think I know too much about them now as a writer to have them make any difference to me as a reader (if that makes sense). I would love to see more publicity out there for RWA contests with the general reader not just the “insiders”–I don’t think they’re as widely known as they should be, unlike the Edgar or others of that sort…

Amanda McCabe
12 years ago

But speaking of third-place finishes–that “aboriginal” ice dance from the Russian couple last night was just as nutty and ridiculous as I had hoped it would be 🙂 (loved the Bollywood skate, though)

Susan Wilbanks
12 years ago

I’m a recovering contest junkie who said I’d never enter again, because contests just weren’t worth the angst and entry fees to get feedback that’s all over the map, especially when I rarely finaled. (I seem to get a lot of “Goldilocks Feedback” where I’ll have three judges, one who thinks my writing is too cold, the other too hot, and the third one just right, but the near-perfect score from the just-right judge is almost never enough to put me in the finals with the other two pulling my average down.)

But I decided to enter the Golden Heart this year with my 2006 manuscript, the one that’s never seen the light of day because it’s a prequel to my 2005 manuscript that didn’t sell. Partly I entered just because I’d gotten so tired of always writing and never submitting in the years it took me to finish my alternative history. But also it feels like the historical market has shifted and broadened in the past five years, so maybe it’s worth trying again. And the ’06 manuscript is a bit more of a “classic” Regency with a noble hero and a house party and balls and all that…so maybe I should give it a chance to see if it can find a place for itself, and maybe even make room for my beloved ’05 book of my heart with its star-crossed lovers in a Napoleonic war zone. 🙂

So I’m going to enter it, and the ’05 manuscript, in a few other contests just to see how people react to them, and maybe if I’m lucky to get them in front of an editor or two. Sort of testing the waters with the tips of my toes.

12 years ago

Laughed out loud at the Goldilocks reference! Priceless!

12 years ago

I check out who won and the nominess for the RITA and the Christy so I may pick pick up the book if the synopis sounds interesating.

12 years ago

Love the silver medal study!

Amanda, my roommate actually called me up from the basement to gape in amazement at the Russian ice dance routine. Wow. Words fail me.

The Olympics/Regency connection had me wondering what a Regency decathlon would look like. Here are my suggestions for events:

cravat tying
phaeton driving
maintaining secret identity as a highwayman

embroidery (points given for ineptness and lack of interest)
defending life & virtue with fireplace poker
dressing up as a boy
maintaining secret identity as a highwayman

Jane Austen
12 years ago

Greta, I think we need to add:
Brummel like insults
Ability to climb out windows when caught inflagranti dilcto with someone’s wife

Looking bored and uninterested
Ability to throw a book at hero

Louisa Cornell
12 years ago

First of all I think we need to enter some of our favorite Regency heroes and heroines in these Regency Olympics events and score how we think they will fair !! Too funny !!

And I am a somewhat reformed contest slut. I’ve been most fortunate in contests and frankly I consider any contest in which I have finaled a victory. Don’t get me wrong, I love to win, but I know how many hopeful writers enter these things and to be counted in the top percentile by people who are my peers and sometimes by people who are my superior (pubbed authors) is a big deal to me.

I have received some great feedback in contests and when I was just starting out the feedback gave me some places to start, some places to really work at refining my craft. The best storyteller in the world won’t get far if they can’t present that story in a way that doesn’t confuse the reader.

And some of those non-winning placements have definitely given me the boot in the pants to up my game. Some of those third and fourth and even eleventh (yes, 11th out of twelve finalists. OUCH!) place finals have forced me to really look at what I’ve written and see that perhaps it just isn’t quite ready yet.

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Okay, Greta and JA. Why didn’t I think of a Regency Olympics??? Very clever.

Susan, with the Golden Heart, you just never know what can happen. Good for you for taking the chance.

jcp, I’m glad to know that the RITA contest at least makes you take a closer look at those books.

Louisa, you’ve used contests well, IMO.
And, Amanda, I wish I could be watching the Olympics with you. What fun.

12 years ago

JA, I volunteer to judge the Insults event! That would be great fun.

Louisa, I love your contest comments. What a great attitude you have!