October 25th, 2006

books

writing contests

Random thoughts brought on by working on entries in a contest that I agreed to judge. They may seem more disorganized than usual (or at least I think they are) because I'm in the midst of an insomnia binge. Of course, less sleeping means more time for reading. I'm currently 200pp into The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust and doing serious damage to my submissions pile. Anyway...

There sure seem to be a lot more contests in the romance and women's fiction genre -- why is that?

So, I was judging the romantic suspense category. One of the things that struck me was that in five entries only one of them did not feature a member of law enforcement as one of the protagonists. Perhaps it's an obvious thing to do in order to set up a suspense plot. If either the hero or heroine (or both) are assigned to the case then it gives them an easy motivation to be there. But it did make me want to give that one other person points for originality. Plus, easy motivations don't always make for complex and compelling characters. Also, I've read many other proposals for this subgenre and keep finding a lot of projects in which the research, or rather the lack thereof, is going to contribute to making it an easy rejection. I went through a big forensic interest phase a couple years ago which included reading a book on the history of fingerprinting as well as textbooks regularly assigned in forensic courses. I know less about actual department procedures and I haven't yet taken one of those citizen police academy tours. But one tends to notice when L&O or CSI have more realism and internal consistency.

Nearly every time I sit down to read for a contest, I remember this one time when I got a set of finalists and was just stunned that this was the best they could offer. I actually wanted to not give an award in that case because I didn't think any of the entries were even close to publishable. People sometimes use contest wins as credits in queries. This experience made me feel a bit dubious about that prospect. And does the sheer proliferation of these contests dilute their value? This goes to that question that I have occasionally been asked about why I might agree to judge these, especially when my time for reading tends to be evenings and weekends. Of course, I would love to find something in a contest that was just so compelling that I had to ask the contest coordinator to pass on a request for more - which has happened a handful of times. Even more, I'd love to actually find a client this way. I don't believe that's happened yet. Then there's the plain old issue of giving back to the writing community. If authors, in fact, get enough of a return from the experience.
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