07 June 2008

The Tao of Contests

I always fret on what I should talk about whenever someone invites me over to his blog. I lucked out this time because Maia gave me the perfect segue. Since she looked up some of the contest winners from Samhain's First Line Contest, I thought it would be apropos to talk about contests.

I've had pretty good luck in contests. I usually final and sometimes I win. Recently, I was asked if I had any tips on placing in contests.

This is what's worked for me.

• Always follow directions. If they want no more than 25 pages, don't send 26.

• If it's a huge contest, you'll want your entry in early. Judges can get tired and jaded toward the end. Catch'um while they're fresh.

• Read your entry backwards. You'd be surprised how often you can catch errors and readability issues.

• Find a virgin reader. Hand your partial to a crit partner who hasn't read the entire novel. You'll get a purer reaction.

• Target your entries. Always look for contests that will put your work in front of editors or agents you'd like to work with.

And now that I've told you the right things to do, let me assure you that luck plays just as important a role. I am living proof.

When I entered the Samhain contest, I had exactly five lines! Pathetic, I know. A friend of mine talked me into entering. I waffled a bit, knowing I had nothing to offer, but then I came across a short story set on a post-apocalyptic Earth. I had written it as a workshop assignment. The more I thought about it, the more the setting piqued my interest.

I entered the contest on an idea and a bucket load of chutzpa that I could pull this off. TOUCH OF FIRE was born.

By the time the contest ended, I had a full outline and the first three chapters polished. My little fingers flew across the keyboard because I knew exactly what was going to happen in the story.

There was going to be adventure, sacrifice and sex. Leda, the haughty young mage learns a lesson no elder can teach her. And Grey, an ex-soldier turned scavenger discovers danger he can't fight alone.

The world building is probably the most intriguing part of Touch Of Fire. I love blurring the lines between science fiction and fantasy. And this world is unlike any other.

Set 1200 years in the future, Earth is a fusion of language, culture and religion. Society is divided between the plainfolk and fae, mages who can manipulate the four great elements: air, earth, water and fire. When a dangerous alchemist's book surfaces, it threatens to introduce technology to a world that knows only magic.

These are the lines that started it all:

The Reverend Mother used to tell acolytes that if men were going to brawl, they should at least be naked and glistening with oil.

Leda’s money was on the hulking brute with the Cydian blade, but right now she needed the other guy to win. That one had information she needed, and she wasn’t going to get it if he got himself killed. She was just about to intercede when her quarry tripped on his feet and knocked himself out cold.



I'm glad Maia looked me up. Her blog party is a great idea and I'm thrilled to be here! (I really don't get out enough.)

And now that you know who I am, I hope you'll pop over and visit me over at my place.

During the week, you can count on me to discuss publishing news, business, markets and gossip. (The good gossip--like new agents in town or the latest conference intel.) On the weekends, I let my hair down and talk about movies, dogs, or weird-but-true stories.

Stop by and visit me. Read an excerpt for Touch Of Fire here. And buy the book. Buy Maia's book. You'll love'em. Honest.

We wouldn't steer you wrong.

Links o' Luv




Buy: Touch Of Fire


Kate Davies said...

Great suggestions, Maria! I remember your entry from the contest, and I'm thrilled that it's now available to read in full. I'll have to head over to MBaM and pick up a copy!

Jane said...

Welcome Maria,
What happens after you win a contest? Do they publish the winning work or do they contract you to write something new? Congrats on "Touch of Fire."

Maria Zannini said...

Kate: Thanks! I'd love to hear from you after you read it.

Maria Zannini said...

Jane: In Samhain's case, there was no guarantee that any entry that won the contest would get published.

I don't know about Maia's case--maybe she'll add to the conversation--but in my case, I offered the first three chapters to the editor to see if she was still interested.

She was.

So I worked my butt off to finish the manuscript and send it off. I heard from her again within a couple of days of sending the full, saying she'd like Samhain to offer a contract.

I've promised a sequel to Touch Of Fire. I also have a paranormal historical that finaled in a different contest that I think has the chops to go the distance too.

I haven't had a moment's break since then. :o) How about you, Maia? What are you working on now?

Great questions, Jane!

Maia Strong said...

I had a completed manuscript when I entered the contest. Unlike Maria, I didn't have the chutzpah to enter the contest with an unfinished story. (Kudos to you, Maria! :D ) Like Maria, though, I polished up the first three chapters and sent them in. The editor liked them enough to ask for the rest, which I'd been polishing in the meantime with my fingers crossed all the way. I sent that to her and she decided it was worth buying.

Of course, to keep my mind off of the fact that I was waiting to hear from her, I wrote a follow on novel to Ballad... It's almost ready for submission, but first I'm waiting to see if she wants the short story I sent her. No rest for the wicked, right? But whether that's me or her is in still question. ;)