How Entering a Writing Contest Just Might Change Your Life

Guest Post by Susan May Warren

susanmaywarrenSusan May Warren is the RITA, Christy and Carol award-winning, best-selling author of over forty novels. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the founder of, a craft and coaching community for novelists. I, Steve, have had the privilege of working with her for a long time covering about 25 new projects. She is a delightful person and quite the visionary/entrepreneur.
Visit her at:


Far East Russia in the middle of January has all the charm of a mausoleum. Our missionary family lived in a three-room flat on the ninth floor of a cookie-cutter apartment building that, to the untrained eye, resembled a recently shelled building in Chechnya. We had no running water during the day, no telephone line and the Siberian wind froze the windows shut, sheeting them with curlicues of frost.

Four children terrorized our 900 square foot flat, drag racing their tricycles down the hall, scattering their land-mine Legos and scribbling their names upon the walls like gulag prisoners. My husband too eagerly escaped to plant a church an hour from our city while I stayed to patrol the borders. Honestly, I felt like one of the captives.

At night, the wind howled against the panes and, locked in the now quiet house with the slumbering rabble-rousers…I wrote. I penned story after story of romance, adventure and suspense. My first was an epic tale of survival against a backdrop of war in 1940s Russia. The second, a story of a missionary fleeing a serial killer. Again, set in Russia.

I may have been channeling some inner angst.

The third story I set in idyllic northern Minnesota, in a town I vacationed in as a child. I dreamed up a tale of second chances about a bookstore owner meeting the author of her dreams.

So, more channeling, perhaps but this is where the light speared through the darkness. One night, while surfing my spotty internet, I found a contest for unpublished authors, the grand prize being a one-line mention in a magazine.

What if?

I entered…and won. Suddenly, everything changed.

No, the children didn’t stop their pursuit of destruction; the water didn’t gush forth from the rock (faucet), the wind didn’t cease its incessant howling….But, I began to believe that maybe I wasn’t just writing to whittle away the dark nights.

  1. Winning a Contest gave me VISION. I realized that if I worked hard, I could possibly, someday, get published…
  2. Entering a Contest gave me SKILLS. With my contest entry came feedback. I analyzed it over and over and began to apply the suggestions. It made me a better writer.
  3. Entering the Contest required me to take my writing SERIOUSLY. No longer a hobby, I suddenly wanted to play this game, to win. I carved out time, invested in writing books and set my mind toward the goal.

I rewrote that story and, a year later, sold it to Tyndale. You know it (hopefully!) as Happily Ever After, my first novel. Amazingly, I’ve sold 40 more novels since then. (That still takes my breath away.)

Those dark nights, wrapped in a blanket, tapping on my keyboard in the darkness fueled a desire in me to help other writers who feel trapped – maybe by discouragement or perhaps confusion as to how to improve their craft. That’s why I started My Book Therapy – first as a blog, then as a community, then as a writing coaching service. We launched or Frasier Contest for unpublished writers 5 years ago.

My vision for the Frasier zeroed in on craft more than genre. Writers must have solid writing skills for their stories to stand out in a cluttered world, so we threw out the categories, creating a contest geared at the skills of delivering a great story.

More than that, however, we focused on the need to capture a reader in the first few sentences, even the first scene. To, in short, hook them with amazing prose.

And, because writers need that shot of vision, our contest does not require a finished manuscript to enter. Sometimes you just need to know if you have it, if your story works and the direction to know where to go from here.

Vision, Skills, a Serious Focus – these are the benefits of entering a writing contest like the Frasier, and so many others out there, from the ACFW First Impressions and the Genesis, to RWA/FHL’s Touched by Love and so many more.

Are you an aspiring novelist? Add “entering contests” into your game plan for 2014.

Who knows, it just might set you free.

Question: What writing contests will you be entering in 2014?

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9 Responses to How Entering a Writing Contest Just Might Change Your Life

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Layton January 27, 2014 at 4:10 am #

    Hi Susie,

    I loved Happily Ever After and still have it after three moves.

    This year I plan to enter the Genesis and Frasier. Saturday night after work I shared with my husband that after we get our son through college that I want to attend the Deep Thinkers Retreat.

    Thanks for this encouraging post today. Have a great day!

  2. Avatar
    Piper January 27, 2014 at 5:56 am #

    Hello Susan,

    Thank you for a great column. Winning a contest does put a certain kind of emphasis on a writing career, but it can take a lot of pain to get there! I’m still trying to decide whether to enter the Genesis, Frasier or the FHL contest, but your words make a lot of sense, and I just might get up the courage to step up to the plate. Thank you!

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    Lora January 27, 2014 at 6:23 am #

    I would like to offer a different “take” on a good post. My life has been changed more by the writing contests that I didn’t win than by the ones I did. My failures forced me to acknowledge the hard truth that I wasn’t as accomplished as I thought I was. Plus, not everyone could or should be a writer, and sometimes losing contests forces us to admit our time and talents should be devoted to other pursuits.

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    Jeanne Takenaka January 27, 2014 at 8:25 am #

    Susie, there is something about entering contests that makes me feel like I’m moving forward on this writing journey. Finaling in a few gave me a boost of encouragement, sometimes just when I was tempted to quit.

    I haven’t decided which contests I’m entering this year. I’m thinking about the Genesis and the Frasier. Not sure about which other ones.

    PS—I’ve learned a ton from My Book Therapy! Thank you for that.

  5. Avatar
    Cristine Eastin January 27, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    Writing contests are a great way to learn discipline and humility, and how to handle the angst or writing. I’ve entered Operation First Novel (CWG) twice and plan to enter Genesis this year. I’d love to win, but reality has taught me that the feedback alone is worth the pain. It’s all up to the Lord anyway.

  6. Avatar
    Shadia Hrichi January 27, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    As a self-published author, I’d LOVE to enter more writing contests; however, I’ve found that contests for non-fiction writing are hard to find. I’m considering the Writer’s Digest contest but after looking at their past winners, I’m not sure a traditional Christian author will appeal to their judges since the ‘inspiration’ category winners from prior years appear to be very new-age/universalism type writing. I’d like to submit a story-driven Scripture-based bible study for post-abortion healing (which I recently self-published) but I hesitate to spend $100 only to be considered too ‘extreme’ or too conservative, etc. Do you or anyone else reading this have experience submitting Christian works to a non-Christian contest?

  7. Avatar
    J.D. Maloy January 27, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    Susan, thank you for this post! I’m not planning on entering any contest right now, but thinking about it from time to time does encourage the soul. Oh, and I wasn’t a follower of My Book Therapy, but I am now 🙂

    Cristine, I agree… respected feedback is priceless and worth the pain. We just gotta get through it 🙂

  8. Avatar
    Kathy N. January 28, 2014 at 6:02 am #

    I am also a contest enthusiast. I entered Operation First Novel twice. The feedback from the judges last time helped me polish the manuscript and gave me enough encouragement to submit it to traditional houses. Thirty Days to Glory was published in October! Hurray for contests!

  9. Avatar
    Sondra Kraak January 31, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    Susan, taking your class last May at the BRCWC was one of the highlights of my year. You’re an inspirational teacher. Now when I read your books I can hear you teaching, like I’m reading an example from your power points! Thanks for your ministry in My Book Therapy, which I haven’t had much chance to be a part of, but hopefully that will change. And thanks for sharing a bit of your story in this post. I’ll count my blessings now when I huddle in my blanket at night in my peaceful, warm house with my running water.

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