RWA contests

This past year, I co-chaired the Beau Monde’s Royal Ascot Contest with the lovely & talented Sarah Tormey. On Friday, after an exhaustive week of receiving judged entries, checking and re-checking score calculations and ranking the entries, we announced the finalists:

Eileen Emerson, Embracing an Unloved Earl
Anna Genest, The Duchess and Mr. Smith
Terri Gibson, Violet Camberwell
Sandra Owens, The Letter
Joanna Shupe, Drawn to the Earl
Amy Villalba, To Pluck a Rose

Woo hoo for our finalists!

The conclusion of the first round marked a milestone for me. I have now participated in ALL aspects of a RWA chapter contest:

First Round Judge
Category Coordinator
Contest Chair

Here are some reflections & recommendations for contest entrants:

After you’ve entered a few contests and have had some critiquing experience, volunteer to be a first round contest judge. Why? Having to judge a contest will soften your reaction to the scores you receive in other contests and will help you understand the challenges facing editors and agents. After judging, you will understand how quickly a reader can get a ‘feel’ for a blind submission in a way no other experience can provide.

After you’ve judged a few times, volunteer to be a category coordinator.  What do you learn as a category coordinator? Well, there are some interesting insights to be found when compiling scores. In my experience, a judge’s three or four scores will often (but not always) be closer together than the three scores given to a particular manuscript. Seeing the wide variation in scores helped me be a more conscientious judge and helped me receive my scores with more equanimity.

You’ve already been a judge and a category coordinator, you say? Now then, you’ve reached the final challenge. Chairing a contest is not for the faint-of-heart, but it is deeply rewarding.

The most obvious benefit is the chance to interact professionally with editors and agents without having anything personally at stake. I love this part. Editors and agents are book lovers, and, with no nerves involved, interacting with them is enjoyable. (Gasp! Shock!) The second benefit is one I never considered. As you publicize your chapter and your contest, you also publicize yourself. I’ve had people say “you are everywhere this year!” Huh. Who knew? Lastly, when chairing a contest you are forced to think through the contest process from every prospective—the entrant, the judge, the coordinator and the final round judge. This gives you a deeper understanding of each piece needed in a submission packet. For instance, entrants despise the synopsis. For the last two years, the Royal Ascot has not included a synopsis. The down-side? If a judge is unclear where the romance is heading or how the primary conflict could be sustained through an entire book, they score down the entry—a risk that could be avoided if the contest included that dreaded synopsis.

There you have it. My two cents on how the volunteer experience can expand your perspective as an unpublished author.


Last June I had one of those story ideas that make one all warm and tingly. My agent gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up and we brainstromed ways to make the story better. I threw myself into the story, finished a first draft, and then polished those all-important first 50 pages. Both my chapter, The Beau Monde, and my writing group, the LaLa’s, offered ample opportunities to exchange pages. I collected all sorts of advice while having the chance to read marvelous partials (All of them were good but I’m specifically looking at you Sarah Tormey, Anke Fontaine & Miranda Laisson)!

Heart-in-throat, I mailed off my GH entry in November.

The book was finished, yes, but I wasn’t happy. There was something off in the middle…one of those nebulous problems that garner editor/agent responses like “it just didn’t grab me” or “I wasn’t quite satisfied.”

I set a time frame of one month to fix the problem. December came…December went. Discomfort. January came…January went. Panic. 

I gave myself an ultimatum: Fix the problem or withdraw from RWA.

Then, my lovely, talented friend Inara Scott hosted a writer’s retreat. In a quiet place by a lake five women collaged, cooked, hiked, typed, plotted and laughed. There was wine. There was crisp air. There was a wood stove that smelled divine. Most importantly, there were 4 other women willing to talk openly and honestly about their journey, their triumphs, their fears and their frustrations.

I was not alone. All that stood between me and a ‘the end’ that made me happy was determination.

I came home, focused and started typing. After six weeks of daily work (thank you for those check-in’s Sally MacKenzie), I was 2/3 of the way there…but the GH calls were only 4 days away.  I had, I estimated, 80 pages between me and my second ‘the end.’

I’ve entered the contest before. At three pm on call days past, I’ve drunk the cocktail that is one part happiness for friends who finaled, two parts despair and a splash of get back to work. That is one potent cocktail and the only thing I could think of to ensure the drink didn’t break my stride was to finish. Again. Final push: 20 pages a day, 4 days in a row.

I finished in the wee hours of Monday morning and collapsed into bed. At nine am, I woke up, checked the time, groaned and slumped back into my pillow (We both work from home. Our days end late and start late). At 9:17 I heard the Iphone jingle. I picked up the phone.

“Texas?!”  I hit my husband. “Oh. My. God.”
“Answer,” replied my helpful spouse.
Ah. Yes. Right.

I did. It was Julia London. Fan girl squee. Julia freaking London. She said things. I said things. This sounds like a bad day on a first rough draft because I honestly cannot remember.

I hung up the phone, fell back into my pillow and cried. I thought of my Beau Monde sisters. I thought of my La La sisters. I thought of the ladies on that February retreat. I thought of my actual sisters and all the people who have been so supportive for so very long. I thought of RWA and how the romance writing world has given me friends and support and courage and knowledge and strength.

I was indebted. I was grateful. I was weepy.

I still am.


Finaling in the Emily, the West Houston RWA Unpublished Contest, has been a long-held dream. Yesterday, it came true! Yippee! Horray! Huzzah & Squee!

Congrats to all the other finalists! (List from the Emily Blog)

Contemporary Series

  • Dawn’s Light by Jo Anne Banker
  • Mistress By Blackmail by Caro LaFever
  • The Seduction by Mary Oldham

Contemporary Single Title

  • The Last MacKlenna by Katherine Logan
  • Hope’s Gentle Touch by Laura Hodges Poole
  • Teach Me by Ella Sheridan

Futuristic, Fantasy & Paranormal

  • When Angels Soared by Lana Dahlen
  • Seeker: Aiodhan by Sandy James
  • The Vessel by Mary SeRine

Historical Romance

  • The Enemy Spy by Jinhee Jun
  • Scandal in Spades by Wendy La Capra
  • Lady’s Knight by Kayla Westra

Novel With Romantic Elements

  • Princess of Bosque Bend by Jeanell Bolton
  • Princess Redlander by Jeanell Bolton
  • Missing You by Tracy Brogan
  • Trust Me by kimberle swaak

Romantic Suspense

  • Portrait of a Dead Guy by Larissa Hoffman
  • Catch Me by Kiersten Hallie Krum
  • Deception by Jennifer Beane

Young Adult

  • Forget Tomorrow by P.H. Dunn
  • Invisible by Abby Gaines
  • Dust to Dust by Virginia Munoz