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.

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