Author Tamela Hancock Murray

A Contest Win May Not Help You Get Published

If you are looking to be published, yes, DO enter contests.

But a contest win may not result in your book’s publication by a traditional publisher. Today I hope to help you become less frustrated and more understanding regarding some reasons why.

First of all, contests’ criteria don’t reflect all the requirements of publishers, nor should they. Most contests judge on such factors as grammar, compelling hook, character development, and story. This world exists outside of the constraints of a traditional publisher.

However, since agents and editors seek excellence in these areas, competitions are relevant and can be a great way to receive helpful feedback. A book can win a contest, but then editors and agents have other factors to consider, such as:

  • Word Count. Most contests don’t focus on word count. Yes, there can be calls for “long” or “short” entries, but these are usually for published books. An author can win an award, but an editor needing a 90,000-word book will not contract for a 40,000-word story. Authors revise and resubmit every day; but when you’re looking to be published, why not start with a book that fits the publisher’s guidelines for word count?
  • Judges Don’t Consider Category. Most contests allow the author to select the category to enter, which makes sense and should not change. However, many authors mislabel their genres. I’ve judged many an entry that didn’t fit the category, but still gave the entry high marks based on the contest’s criteria. However, when an author submits to agents and editors, a mislabeled manuscript shows shaky knowledge of the market. Please know that I won’t turn down a fantastic romantic suspense novel mislabeled as a contemporary romance, but why not be accurate from the start?
  • The winning entry may be a standout among a bunch of duds. I don’t mean to be harsh, but no contest boasts the same number of stellar entries each year. To cite another example, a horse that wins the Kentucky Derby one year might have won fifth place the previous year among faster horses. In any match, the pool of entries is a factor. Yes, the winning entry has been judged best out of that batch that year, and that’s always great. But there’s more.…
  • The world outside of the contest is colossal. You may be the hometown beauty queen; but regional level comes next, then state level, then national, and international. Small contests are like the hometown pageant. Yes, you want to tell everyone about your success; but know that traditional publishers seek to crown Miss Universe.

Your turn:

Have you ever been a contest judge? What did you learn?

What do you do when feedback from a contest seems harsh?

What have you learned from entering contests?

Which contests do you plan to enter this year? How did you choose?

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Tag, You’re It!

One of the most common habits I see burdening stories is overemphasis on conversational tags, which goes hand in hand with not making good use of action tags. Here’s an example I just made up:

“No,” she exclaimed. She looked at the the pot of stew bubbling the stove and saw red juice splattering. She began to stir.

Unable to resist multitasking, I demonstrated several bad habits in the above sample of poor writing.

First, punctuation. When a character exclaims, use an exclamation point.


“She exclaimed” adds no new information unless you need to designate a character from several so in almost every case, omit it. Same can be said for tags such as “said” and “asked.” In fact, “asked” accomplishes nothing because the question mark says it all.

Any tag should reflect what the character is saying. “He’s a slippery snake,” she hissed, trumps, “What a viper,” she hissed. If in doubt, entertain the office cat. Read sentences aloud to make sure the tag works.

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A Different Perspective

When I was in grade school, a nosy neighbor decided my parents were too conservative, so she loaned me some of her old books by Helen Van Slyke. My parents let me read anything in book form, so we were good to go. Helen was a divorced New York City …

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What Were They Reading?

In attempting to declutter, I am culling my book collection. Parting with beloved tomes is one of the hardest parts of decluttering for me since I enjoy books so much! I’m keeping copies of all the books I’ve written and the many I have had the honor of representing. Because …

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To Romance or Not to Romance

According to St. Teresa of Avila’s biography, the battle over romance novels has been going on at least since the 1500s:

Teresa’s father was rigidly honest and pious, but he may have carried his strictness to extremes. Teresa’s mother loved romance novels but because her husband objected to these fanciful books, she hid the books from him. This put Teresa in the middle — especially since she liked the romances too. Her father told her never to lie but her mother told her not to tell her father. Later she said she was always afraid that no matter what she did she was going to do everything wrong.

Those of us who write, represent, and publish Christian romance novels can be made to feel the same way when our brothers and sisters in Christ object to our efforts to provide readers with God-honoring entertainment.  I have spoken with authors whose pastors have derided their writing, read negative blogs, and heard conference speakers criticize Christian romance novels.

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