Tag Archives: self-publishing

Why Are Romance Writing Contests Becoming Less Popular and Can We Save Them?

27 Jan
Awards and contests have historically played a part in helping authors get noticed (and get a contract). (Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock)

Awards and contests have historically played a part in helping authors get noticed (and get a contract). (Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock)

There was a fascinating discussion on RWA (Romance Writers of America) Chapter Leadership group just a few days ago about how so many established chapters are jettisoning their long-established writing contests or have already abandoned them.

This is a bigger deal than it seems since, in the past, contests were a great way for chapters to fill their coffers, supplementing dues with entry fees that enabled its members to benefit by having the funds to get terrific speakers, which in turn attracted new membership, etc. It’s unlikely we’ll see the end of the Golden Heart (the RWA’s premier award for an unpublished romance fiction manuscript) but chapter contests? According to the listserv, there were a decent number of responses indicating they had given up their contest within the last five years.

Will chapter romance writing contests go the way of the dodo bird? (Public domain image via Wikipedia)

Like so many endangered species, the contest appears to be dying, with many RWA chapter board members saying they could no longer garner the minimum number of entries required or that well-known authors cranking out multiple books a year and the overburdened editors reading them were no longer as available to wade through submissions. So why is the demise of such a time-honored writing tradition taking place now?

I’ve got a few educated guesses, but my main reasons for the end of the chapter writing contests are improved technology, the recession, and the meteoric rise of self-publishing.

Technology

Older technology made collaboration and feedback harder. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Older technology made collaboration and feedback harder. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Technology is clearly a biggie. Even ten years ago, social media was still in its infancy (we are talking the Friendster era) and videoconferencing for people who did not work at a fancy corporation with a dedicated room didn’t really happen until 2003 when Skype was born. Even then, most people had a very variable (and slow) connection which would have made the transmission rather hiccupy, so this particular technology was reserved for a few years for loved ones thousands of miles apart (and probably phone sex).

You’re wondering what this has to do with writing contests. Since a major reason for people entering contests is for the detailed critiques often given, entering a contest in the hope you’d make the top entries and warrant detailed feedback from a knowledgeable person in the industry must have been incredibly attractive. Now, we have Harlequin contests where readers can vote on manuscripts in real time and regular writing critique groups meeting on Google Hangout where they can not only chat with each other but look at one another’s screen to see specific comments made on their story by other members. Even editors have said that the electronic revolution has made it easier to find good writers with manuscript acceptances also much faster (sadly, the rejections are faster, too).

With blogs maintained by well-known editors and even publishing imprints (Harlequin is truly a coach to fledgling writers of category romance), authors are no longer writing blind, instead inundated by the crap-ton of information that exists. While this can certainly be overwhelming, none of us lack information from expert sources, which is more than could be said even a decade ago, when would-be authors clutched a copy of The Writer’s Market in one hand, and Stephen King’s On Writing (originally published in 2000) in the other. Both are still terrific, but check out all the other books that now exist – just for romance writers!! Note the majority of them are available in ebook format only. More on that later.

The Recession

With contest fees ranging from $10 (often a member price) and up, entering a manuscript (or just the first few chapters of a hopefully completed manuscript) can get pricey.

We all need a little help getting published. But with so much technology at our fingertips, are contests the answer? (Public domain image via Pixabay)

We all need a little help getting published. But with so much technology at our fingertips, are contests the answer? (Public domain image via Pixabay)

It’s like the college application process – first the standardized testing scores, then the application fees, etc., and all sent to a person (the college admissions officer) whose job it is to tell people “no” and take only the best candidates. With most publishing houses in the “most selective” category – accepting only a tiny percentage of applicants from their slush piles or even agented manuscripts – this business of entering contests to garner attention or have a honor or two for the query letter can get expensive.

There is no writer out there not feeling the recession. Belts have been tightened and while RWA members are scrimping to pay their national dues and perhaps belong to a couple pertinent chapters, I doubt many people feel there is a lot of extra cash to spend on contest entries. The would-be or even published writer’s emphasis is instead on what can be done to bring in income while waiting on their first (or next) contract or working to add to the books or novellas they’ve put out that year. Conducting online workshops, self-publishing (see below), and adding new skills like copyediting, cover design, or helping authors with their WordPress site are frequently heard additions to many a writer’s arsenal. With an unemployment rate of 6.7% as of December 2013 in the United States (and that’s not including all the people who got kicked off the rolls because their benefits ran out – they still don’t have a job, FYI), the pressure is on to bring in income and contests are an outgoing expense with little future realization of funds. In short, they can be a bad investment.

Self-Publishing

With any luck, this fairy godmother has got a publishing contract under that cloak! (Image by Kerri Polizzi via Flickr, labeled for reuse with attribution)

But even with technology offering more options to writers for feedback and the recession putting the kibosh on non-essential expenses for would-be authors, the biggest factor in the demise of the chapter writing contest is undoubtedly self-publishing. The sole reason for entering contests has always been for professional feedback so you could get published. In the past you would hear the occasional NYT best-selling author discussing how they garnered the attention of an editor because of a couple of chapters that got in front of an editor judging a contest…and the next thing they knew they had a contract. *waving fairy godmother wand*

This is a story you rarely hear any longer, first and foremost because there are fewer editors in the world with the seemingly endless consolidation of traditional publishing houses. The ones left are also working their asses off to find fresh voices from the comfort of their offices, while their assistants read slush pile submissions and mine the web for prospects and everyone pulls a ten hour day while wearing the editor uniform of New York Black. But the real reason no one mentions contests as a stepping stone for publication is because authors can do it themselves.

We’ve all heard of the self-published writer who posted something to Amazon and ended up saving their house or the success of the outstanding hybrid author Bella Andre, who was dropped by her publisher, and decided to publish her own books (woo-hoo Sullivan series!) only to make an astronomical amount (in 2011, she reported to the Washington Post that she was topping $20,000 per month and the number was climbing). In an outstanding turn of events, she then was able to turn back around and re-sell those publishing rights to her self-pubbed work back to traditional publishing house Harlequin, who re-released them in paperback form for the readers without a Kindle or Nook on their bedside table.

The dilemma for the self-published always seems to come down to how to reach the target audience. Certainly these authors earn more per book (a LOT more) in terms of profit but move fewer books on average, so self-publishing has its pros and cons. Forbes magazine actually found the authors with the greatest income to be hybrid authors, ones who capitalize on the traditional publishing promotion yet add to their (and the publishing house’s) bottom line by keeping their audience interested with frequent novellas or short stories related to their series between full-length novels.

With authors becoming more comfortable either DIYing their own book covers or having some good friends in their chapter who are excellent copyeditors or website designers (see above recession skills section), authors are feeling like self-publishing is definitely within their grasp. I think most authors I speak to are leaving traditional publishing on the table and participating in online pitches (Twitter is a common space for this) or saving their pennies to attend RWA National or great state conferences (New Jersey’s Romance Writers conference, Put Your Heart in a Book, is popular among mid-Atlantic writers for the number of New York editors who hear pitches at it). Somehow having control over publishing a book or two, while perhaps also looking at going the traditional route, is seen as more attractive then submitting manuscripts to chapter contests, and I can understand why.

How Chapter Contests Could Evolve

Awesome chapters like mine (I had to show our killer logo designed by the ever-so-talented Vikki Jankowski, our president) are eager to combine our efforts with other chapters. Who is with us? What would that look like?

Looking at the above pressures and taking a new approach to chapter contests is the answer to save the genre. The goal is to help writers get published, right? The foremost piece to consider is that there are chapter costs to pay judges (good ones) for their time. Why are we all so separate as chapters even though each of us belongs to RWA? If several chapters in my home state of Pennsylvania could band together with some New Jersey chapters and the awesome Maryland Romance Writers, think of how much money we could offer as a prize or to pay the fee of a big name judge!

This type of contest could also garner more media coverage, giving the contest more cachet in terms of the author actually being able to use the award in a query letter or to help sell a pitch. With videoconferencing available, there are no longer the same set of excuses to not do this kind of collaboration. Let’s wake up, people, and smell the 21st century coffee! My awesome chapter, Pocono-Lehigh Romance Writers, is already reaching out to local chapters to see what cooperation potential exists – let me know if you’re interested in getting on our outreach list.

So what are our possible options for the reinvented contest?

  • Since increasing use of technology is vital for successful writers, what about a “best romance author website contest” with maybe unpublished, debut author and published author categories? The chapter can collate a rubric based on the many best practices articles out there by publishing house editors etc. and publish their criteria. Not only does this make what is being evaluated clear, but it can be used as a template for new authors when designing their site. The top 5 finalists could receive a critique and suggestions from the judge(s) with a cash prize or in kind design services (can you give a gift card for WordPress plug-ins?).
  • American Idol and Dancing with the Stars know what they are doing in terms of crowdsourcing with polls. What about a contest for “best use of social media by a romance author”? This doesn’t even have to include a fee but could simply be utilized as a method for getting some media attention to romance fiction and/or the chapter.
  • Best book cover design. There are some truly awful book covers and some that you would never know were not done by a Big Five publishing house. You could have individuals, small presses, ebooks only, and traditional publishing each have their own category in this kind of contest.
  • With academic analysis of romance fiction a growing field, a contest could be built around “best literary, historical or popular culture nonfiction work (article or book) about romance fiction”. Promoting the contest to the universities with romance writing and popular culture programs would garner a slew of entries from students perhaps looking for extra credit and you might be able to convince author/academics like Jennifer Crusie or Eloisa James to be a judge. I bet websites like Popular Romance Project and Romance University would be great partners for a contest like this.
  • Pitches are still something most writers need to do…and they are scary. What about a contest that is a “best pitch” contest with video, Twitter, and email categories? Getting name editors would be key here for cachet and for relevant feedback, but technology would make this straightforward to do.

Contests can be made relevant for the modern age, we may just have to rethink what the current demands are on writers and adjust accordingly.

Have your own thoughts on the romance writing contest? Please feel free to add to the conversation by leaving a comment. Let’s all figure out how best to help writers!

Love and Cordite Make an Unbeatable Combination in Kaylea Cross’ Titanium Security Series, Including Her Latest Novel, Extinguished

26 Nov

Ignited (Titanium Security #1 – Khalia and Hunter) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, June 2013)

I’ve definitely told you how Kaylea Cross is a terrific suspense/military romance writer, but I’ve been remiss in hogging her Titanium Security series all to myself. With the latest release, Extinguished, published just this past Friday, this seemed like a great opportunity to let you in on a terrific series (and an even better writer).

Cross’ strengths are that she possesses the ability to write empathetic, courageous characters (every hero or heroine would be sorted into Grffyindor), mix in steaming hot sex scenes, and tie everything together with a badass story arc that keeps the action moving through each book and into the next one. Her military details are meticulously researched and she doesn’t shy away from specifics or dumb anything down for the reader, placing her on par with terrific military romance writers like M. L. Buchman, Maya Banks, and Catherine Mann.

In the first book of the series, Ignited, we meet a grouchy but incredibly efficient Hunter Phillips, an ex-Navy SEAL, who has taken on the head of a security detail escorting a rich woman into the heart of Pakistan where her father was just recently brutally murdered. His daughter, the beautiful Khalia Patterson, doesn’t know if her father’s foundation (which seeks to help young women get an education) was worth dying for, but she plans to honor his sacrifice and continue his work. Completely out of her depth in terms of the danger, she finds herself relying on the taciturn and compelling Hunter, despite his standoffishness.

Hunter is doing this detail as a favor to his boss since he is still reeling from losing a friend in the line of fire. Khalia’s honesty and bravery is not what he expected from the head of a charity, and he finds himself dangerously falling for this beautiful woman despite every effort to keep his distance. When things heat up and she (and his team) are in serious danger from the same people who killed her father, Hunter knows that he will do whatever it takes to both keep her safe, and make her his.

Hunter is smoking hot and Khalia’s refreshing honesty and sense of what’s right is so appealing that you fall for both of them pretty quickly. As the first book in the series, Ignited does a great job setting up the quality of Titanium Security, some of the work dynamics and lays a foundation for the other characters. Clearly the hints at the machinations behind the scene help the reader understand the psychological makeup of the villain and the pawns he uses to further his goals, as well.

Singed (Titanium Security #2 – Claire and Gage) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, July 2013)

The next book, Singed, is downright gut-wrenching as the two protagonists actually broke up not six months before (I have a problem with reunion stories, but for Cross, I’ll read them). NSA analyst Claire Tierney couldn’t handle all the obstacles in her path to happiness half a year ago, despite her knowing that she couldn’t love former Special Forces Master Sergeant Gage Wallace more. Her father is an alcoholic who needs her and her brother is walking the line with suicide, having returned from combat with severe PTSD. Just when her life couldn’t get any more complicated, she’s assigned to Titanium Security’s team to help them hunt down a Taliban assassin who plans to make a stateside strike – and discovers she’ll be working with Gage. Even better, she also finds out that she’s been named a target by the terrorist in question.

Gage knows he has strikes against him with Claire – he’s a lot older than her and he’s got a teenage daughter – but his life has been so empty since she left him that this assignment feels like the second chance he can’t screw up. When he discovers she’s in danger, it’s not even a question of insuring her safety – and what better place to be than right by her side? The spark still exists between them and as it flares to life once again, Gage only wonders if he can convince Claire to let someone else share her burden and her life in these dangerous times.

OMG – Gage is such a teddy bear deep down and his love for Claire (and hers for him) is so strong. You absolutely empathize with Claire – I was exhausted seeing her level of caretaking and co-dependency with both her father and brother, so it would be very easy in her shoes to feel like she couldn’t take on anything more with Gage, particularly with him having such a dangerous job. I loved seeing Gage with his daughter (and his daughter with Claire since she clearly was helping foster their relationship). The ending was heart-stopping and propelled me into pre-ordering the next book long before it came out. Cross can write her mysterious villains in a big way!

Burned (Titanium Security #3 – Zahra & Sean) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, August 2013)

I was chomping at the bit to read Zahra Gill’s story in Burned – after all, this mysterious woman has always been strongly protected by Alex Rycroft, head of Titanium Security, but there clearly wasn’t anything sexual about it. Since she walked with a limp and had lost her family, something heinous had clearly shaped her in her past. Seeing this beautiful woman rebuff former Force Recon Marine Sean Dunphy (a charming prankster and Zahra’s personality opposite) again and again was both amusing and intriguing since there was more than a frisson of sexual tension there if she cared to move on it. Her cryptology work has always been vital to the firm’s safety and success, but with the terrorist threat having heavily escalated and Zahra specifically in danger, Sean Dunphy decides he is not going to leave her alone, and that he’s also going to use his proximity to get behind those shields of hers.

What he discovers is an unbelievably brave person who has faced death at the hands of those people she most wanted to trust, but who still found the courage to follow her dream, even though it came at an incredibly high cost. Sean decides that Zahra is the person meant for him right around the time that the threat to Titanium Security escalates into a situation that feels like deja vu for Zahra, and it is going to take everything Sean has to keep her safe.

Sean is not just unbelievably sexy (like, melt-your-underwear-sexy) but he’s so protective and tender with Zahra, despite her initial prickliness, that you are reduced to a puddle while reading about him. When you find out just what this poor woman has been through – and how she channelled all her reaction into working for the good guys – you just want to be her best friend (and tell her to go for Sean, already!). Cross develops the threat as she always does, on two levels – the local sleeper cell manipulated by the big bad boss from afar as well as what’s happening back in Pakistan. Like any good writer, you understand how the master villain really does see himself as the hero of the series, but that only makes his evil more chilling. Cross has a deft hand in writing not only fundamentalist Muslims bent on terrorist activity as our villains, but also writing the three-dimensional, very modern Zahra who has rejected the dictates of the fundamentalist interpretation of her religion while still being a spiritual person who loves Islam.

Extinguished (Titanium Security #4 – Blake and Jordyn) by Kaylea Cross (November 20, 2013)

In the latest book, Extinguished, we get to see where Sean’s good friend, the strong and silent sniper, Blake Ellis, went when the team decided that they needed to add another member who was good with guns and machinery. Blake has had to face some demons, namely one hot former Marine, Jordyn Bridger.

Jordyn is the younger sister of Blake’s best friend who died six months ago in combat. The Bridger family has always been Blake’s extended family as well, but he’s had very non-brotherly feelings for Jordyn for a few years now. He’s done a good job hiding them from her, at least until she broke down after her brother’s funeral and a session of comforting turned into a hot kiss that rocked Blake’s world. Worried he had betrayed his friendship with her and his former friend, he fled and has been out of contact ever since.

Jordyn can’t believe when she slides out from under one of the cars in her father’s shop that Blake has the gall to be standing there, offering her a job. She’s been in love with him for years, even having to suffer through his idiotic infatuation with the trashy Melissa who he almost married until she dumped him when he was overseas. That he respects her work enough to unequivocally recommend her for this position is a balm to her shredded heart, but she’s not sure she can move past how he gutted her – first by leaving after the kiss she’d been dreaming about for most of her life, and second by apologizing to her about it. Men!

Nevertheless, she does take the job since it would feel good to dust off some of her abilities in the field. When Jordyn finally tells Blake in Pakistan that they are fine and he shouldn’t worry about their relationship, she understands if he doesn’t feel anything more than friendship for her, Blake feels like his world just tilted on its axis. Jordyn has feelings for him, and he’s been an unobservant idiot apparently for years. Despite the fact they are stuck in tight quarters and facing death every time they walk out the door, Blake is determined that nothing is going to keep him from claiming her as his – not even a very determined terrorist.

Wow and double wow. Jordyn is awesome, fitting into the team very easily since both Blake and Sean Dunphy are friends of hers from the Marines and they know her ability behind a gun or buried to the elbows in an engine. When Sean gets hurt (and I’m going to have insomnia until the next book comes out and I know if he’s going to be okay), Jordyn has to go in the field with Blake and they are terrific team. Their hot first time in the ammunition closet had me wondering at the fact that all those incendiary devices didn’t explode from the heat, however! The next book featuring head of the firm, Alex Rycroft, and the woman whose life he ruined four years ago (but never stopped loving) is going to be as amazing as the first four! When is it coming????

Because this series has been self-published (and I bet most readers don’t even realize it, considering how well-written and edited it is, as well as the outstanding cover designs which exceed the anemic offerings of so many publishing houses), we are fortunate to have a rapid timeframe for each succeeding novel, so my fingers are crossed that there will be a December or January timeframe for Alex’s book. Kaylea Cross has written another wonderful, suspenseful series which manages to prove why she is on my “must-buy” list!

Happy reading!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week Ending August 4th

4 Aug

Upcoming Books

For fans of the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, the next book, Takedown Twenty, will be available as of November 19th, so pre-order your hilarious dose of Lula and Bob (the golden retriever) right now. Get ready to imagine the next demise of a vehicle driven by Stephanie as she attempts to track down Morelli’s mobster godfather so he doesn’t have to, while also helping the oh-so-sexy Ranger determine who killed an important client’s mother.

FYI, I mentioned the other week that Jaci Burton was coming out with a new series and the first book, Hope Flames, was going to out this fall. She just announced on her website that the publisher moved the date out to January 7, 2014 *shakes fist* because they think it will be more successful in that time slot. Far be it from me to deny success to Jaci Burton, but one solace was the publisher will be offering 200 copies of the book to random readers in November. A new novella, Holiday Games, for the Play-by-Play series will also be out by November 19th, starring none other than hot baseball player Gavin Riley and his favorite agent and wife, Elizabeth, as they reflect on a year of trying to unsuccessfully make a baby. Their full story can be found in the second book of the series, Changing the Game, and visiting with the Riley clan, particularly during a holiday, is always worthwhile. I think I’ll review this novella for my December holiday-themed posts. 🙂

Fun Stuff

It’s easy to forget all the great people in the world of romance who spread the word about how awesome our genre really is. One of them is Bobbi Dumas who has designated August “National Read a Romance” Month, and WOW am I glad she did! Take a look at her Read-A-Romance website to enjoy three famous romance writers posting daily (so that’s 93 best-selling authors for the month) about why they think romance is so important, while also entering the weekly contests for amazing prices like e-readers and romance novel collections (print and electronic). If you are interested, there’s even a grand prize drawing and you just need to write a short essay about why you think romance is so important to qualify to win an iPad mini and 31 Grand Central Forever ebooks! Twitter users, follow hashtag #RomanceMatters for plenty of updates and posts from name writers.

Ever wonder at what goes into making a great historical romance cover? History Hoydens shares the process with Isobel Carr’s latest self-published work and you’ll be dazzled at the process and the options. With great resources like Seductive Designs (Take a look at some of these covers! Yowza!) and The Illustrated Romance providing base stock images for authors to play with, New York publishers are going to have self-published works give them a run for their money. Do yourself a favor and glance at Illustrated Romance’s main page where you can see their image and the final book cover design to really appreciate the process.

Regency readers and writers be aware, there were LOTS of naughty terms for sex back in 1811, when the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue came out in England. The witty magazine Mental Floss has put together seventeen terms ranging from genteel to baffling for bow-chicka-wow-ow times from this resource. I’m going to see how many I can weave into casual conversation.

Great Deals

I’m really beginning to enjoy the themes of some of these awesome ebook bundles writers and publishers are pulling together! This one, Wicked Firsts, gives you six books by six different authors with every story involving a “first” – someone one of the characters lost their virginity to, doing something sexually adventurous for the first time, a first tattoo with your lost love as the artist, etc. Available as of August 19th, these novella length stories (total page count for all six is 450 pages so we’re looking at a 75 page average length for each one) are being offered for the asking price of $.99 for all of them, but this price will only be for the first week of publication, so move quickly. Since this includes such writing powerhouses as Elisabeth Naughton, Cynthia Eden and Alexandra Ivy, you are getting a lot for under a dollar!

Did you know that Overstock.com and Amazon are having a massive book price war? Overstock is currently underselling Amazon by 10% on a huge number of titles. Take a look at the romance section and see if there’s anything on your wish list that’s currently discounted. It has to be a paper book, but this might be the time to check on those backlist items or new releases you’ve been dying to have on your shelf.

%d bloggers like this: