Remember the grade school track meet where you earned a ribbon for finishing among the top three runners? First place received a red ribbon, second got blue, and third got green. The girls in my class were fast. I attribute their speed to the habit of boys relentlessly pursuing them during recess.
Naturally they were faster.
Anyway, I grew up and now—instead of running on gravel in my street shoes—I boldly submit my writing to competitions including the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2019 Colorado Gold Writing Contest. Entering was a major decision. Was I ready to be judged?
The contest rules—outlined in detail on the RMFW website—were straight-forward and encouraging. And the fact that the competition began on April Fools’ Day seemed a good omen. Even the non-refundable $45 entry fee didn’t dishearten me. It would mean going without cappuccinos for ten days, but one must sacrifice for one’s craft, no?
So I was in and it was time to make another crucial decision. In addition to a general review of my work by two RMFW judges, one of them would evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of my submission and provide suggestions for improvement—all for an extra $30 critique fee bringing my total investment to $75. That’s a lot of cappuccinos, I told myself. However I decided to jump into the race with both feet and—awkwardly mixing metaphors and cuisines— take the plunge and pay for the whole enchilada.
I polished the first 4,000 words of my mystery novel,THE ROAD TO LAVENDER. No problem. I’d been living with my characters for a year and I had confidence that they would carry my story. Then I faced one final hurdle which turned out to be a high one. The contest required a 750-word synopsis and I soon discovered that the word ‘synopsis’ is Greek for “good luck with that.” The May 31 deadline was near and my task of condensing my 80,000 word novel was making me crazy.
At last I succeeded and submitted my entry with time to spare. Instantly I received an email from Shannon Baker, co-chair of the contest, confirming that I had been added to the contest roster. Weeks passed and then, in early August, Ms. Baker delivered the exciting news that I was one of five finalists in my genre category! She also forwarded the judges’ score sheets and detailed critique and I began pouring over the evaluations. And I can honestly say that every bit of feedback was professional and spot-on and useful. The judges’ input was well worth the cost of my caffeine sacrifices.
The main flaw in my entry was—you guessed it—the dreaded synopsis. The judges all agreed that I failed to disclose the arc of my story from beginning to end. Instead I submitted a cliff-hanger book blurb which didn’t specify how the novel ended. Note to self: don’t make that mistake again!
All Colorado Gold entrants received detailed feedback from conscientious judges which made the contest worthwhile for finalists and non-finalists alike. But it was good to be a finalist because, as the September RMFW conference approached, I received a generous opportunity. The penultimate finals judge, the person who would rank the five entries in my genre, was available for a 10-minute one-on-one appointment prior to the awards ceremony—if I so desired.
I so desired and my meeting with Jill Marr, a veteran agent with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, became the frosting on my contest cake (another culinary chestnut, in case you’re keeping track). At the meeting, I was nervous but Ms. Marr apparently overlooked my anxious declaration that my novel encompassed 80,000 pages rather than that many words. I made my pitch and survived the encounter which ended with an expert in the publishing industry complimenting my submission and inviting me to query her.
There were 175 Colorado Gold entries this year, spread across five genres. My category was mystery/suspense/thriller. The other categories were: women’s fiction/romance (22 entries); science fiction/fantasy/horror (33); young adult/middle grade fiction (36); and mainstream fiction (whatever that means, maybe stories about the Gulf Stream, 33.) On Saturday, September 7, the top five writers in each genre assembled at the RMFW conference in Denver to learn his or her fate.
Think of it this way: There were 46 competitors in my genre category and, including me, about a third of them submitted mystery stories. Now picture 15 kids lined up along a playground fence, getting ready to sprint to the monkey-bars and back, and…
Two women beat me fair and square and I finished third. Some things never change, but I am content, and I’m already working on my submissions for the 2020 Colorado Gold Contest.
To see how the other 2019 finalists fared, visit: https://rmfw.org/contest-2/