I’m not sure if I said anything about entering the RITAs, or the outcome of that contest.
The RITA award is a prestigious award given by the RWA (Romance Writers of America). I didn’t win, nor did I advance, and I did not attend the RWA conference this year that was held in New York City. I didn’t expect to win (though when you enter a contest, there’s a little bit of you that will hope you’ll at least advance.) Anyway, I didn’t advance, didn’t win, and I didn’t expect to hear anything more about it.
But I received an unexpected email in my inbox today. The email contained my overall score of All of Nothing, something I didn’t know the RWA sent out.
To say that I was stunned would be an understatement, but when I thought about the score, and I mean, really thought about it (meaning, I put away my ego and my pride and honestly evaluated the kind of book All of Nothing is) the score made sense.
I knew a long time ago that All of Nothing didn’t advance to a finalist position. I figured since the contest is open to everyone who wanted to enter, traditional and indie, I had a slim to none chance. After all, when Kristin Higgins and Brenda Novak enter their books, you’re up against talent, several years in the industry, and name recognition. Heck, Nora Roberts has won 21 of them. I won’t disclose whose books I judged, but I will say I judged a big name, too.
I had thought, at least, even if my book didn’t advance, it had receive average scores.
My book received a 4.33 out of a possible 10.
I don’t know how private the scoring is, so I won’t show you the email contents, but suffice to say, I didn’t make it into the top half, and I didn’t expect that. I also didn’t expect that one judge did not think my novel had a central love story, and a different judge didn’t think it concluded with an HEA. And that makes me wonder if she somehow missed the Epilogue, which clearly shows that they did have a happily ever after.
Anyway, so here’s what I learned entering the RITAs, how I felt, and what I will do differently if I should ever enter again.
What I learned:
- Your book won’t resonate with everyone.
You can use this as a way to shake off a bad book, (NO ONE is going to like a book full of plot holes and flat characters, so that reasoning only goes so far) but even a well-written book with amazing characters and the best plot twists known to man won’t appeal to everyone. This is okay, and as authors, something we all deal with. I know All of Nothing is dark. I know Jax is an asshole to the extreme. Maybe even too much. He doesn’t redeem himself until almost the end of the book, and that could have been too long for some readers. Even my reviews on Goodreads are split down the middle. Either readers are blown away or they hate it. There’s not a lot of middle ground in reviews, and I didn’t see any in my scores.
- You’re forced to read, and that can put you off from the very beginning.
The RWA has changed this policy for the next contest, but when I entered my book, you had to judge the preliminary round to submit. Being forced to read is akin to being in school and assigned War and Peace. Not everyone wants to read books they are told they must. Also, you were only able to opt out of one genre. My book was in the Contemporary Romance Long category, and it could have been readers didn’t like the genre. Maybe they preferred Romantic Comedy, or Romantic Suspense, or Paranormal. That’s not really an excuse, but it’s natural to not be excited about a genre you don’t care to read in the first place.
- Have a professional cover.
This might seem like a no-brainer, or something that you wouldn’t think of for a craft contest, but either way, I have a feeling that somehow the entire package is judged. When I judged and found the author’s name on the title page, you bet I looked on Amazon for the author and what else they had published, and who they were published by. I’m sure the judges did the same for me, and the overall look of my catalog and All of Nothing‘s cover maybe have influenced their feelings toward the book. This is a professional contest put on by a professional organization. Submit a book that is professional from cover to cover.
What I would do differently:
- Enter something lighter.
All of Nothing was dark, and it didn’t hit the right notes, obviously. Something lighter might fare better. When you’re reading at the end of the day, and you’re on a deadline to submit your scores, giving your reader something a little more light-hearted may be easier for them to enjoy. Is this playing the system? Nah. I can only think back to the books I particularly enjoyed while judging. I would also offer something with more . . . I don’t know. I don’t want to say chemistry because I think Jax and Raven had chemistry. But maybe a more steamier, sweeter, attraction? Not all of my heroes are jerks. But I would definitely try something not so dark.
- In that vein, I would enter something shorter.
All of Nothing was entered into the Contemporary Romance Long category. There’s nothing worse than being forced to read something you don’t like, and having so much of it. I would do the short category. Though I don’t tend to write novellas, so that category may always be out of my reach.
- Take the contest more seriously.
I’m a newbie writer. Without written feedback, I can only guess why my book didn’t resonate with readers. Had it been a debut, I would worry that my voice wasn’t strong enough. But I think my voice is strong–I’ve written enough words to find it, and I’ve received compliments on the book. In fact, a woman at my work read it. She’s a prolific reader, and she told me she enjoyed All of Nothing very much and that I was extremely talented. I didn’t know she read it, so I don’t think she said anything because she thought I was expecting it. She didn’t have to say anything at all. I went into that because I’m thinking it was the plot and characters the judges didn’t care for, and not the writing itself. (Which I feel is a very important distinction.) But, I have never worked with a developmental editor or a professional editor of any kind. And if I ever hope to advance in a contest like this, I may have to hire someone who knows the romance market, knows all the tropes involved, and can tell me if I’m on the right track with my writing. I have never queried, have never sent out any of my books on subs, so I don’t even have a line or two from an agent/editor saying I’m on the right track, either. All I have to go on is reviews from my books, and that’s not saying a whole lot because I haven’t put much into marketing preferring to use my time to write instead.
How I felt about the contest:
I don’t feel terrible about my score. You have to face rejection with a thick skin. Since All of Nothing I’ve written five more books. So maybe if my tone or voice missed the mark, at least I’m still working on my craft as it’s natural for every book to be a bit better than the last.
It was interesting being a part of the RITAs. I liked seeing how the process worked and the quality of books entered by my peers.
I may never enter again. Or I may enter a book I haven’t written yet. Something that takes my breath away. Who knows. I do know that if you’re going to compete with the best of the best, you have to take your craft seriously, and if you can do that year after year and get better year after year, then maybe, just maybe, one day, you’ll win.
Have a wonderful week!
Want to try your hand at a contest? Poets and Writers Magazine offers a long list of contests to enter. Everything from poetry to essays. Look here to find out more.
You don’t have to enter the RITAs to enter a contest hosted by the RWA. All the chapters offer some kind of contest, too, though they can be seasonal and not offered at the same time. For a list of contests and chapter events, look here.
Thank you for sharing your experience with this, I was curious on how it all went. As a reader of almost all of your books (still haven’t read the first one), I think The Years Between Us would have faired better. I say this based on what you shared here about the process. You know All of Nothing is dark, but you never know what readers are looking for when it comes to contests like this. I think you did well considering going in not knowing what to expect. I hope you’ll give it another shot down the road, I believe there’s a place for you there.
You’re probably right. TYBU may have done better. But at the time of submission for the RITAs, it wasn’t published yet LOL
Thanks for reading!
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oooooh! Yeah, that would be a problem. Haha!
You’re way braver than I am. My mental health and emotional wellbeing don’t do well with competitions, judging and scoring and so I doubt I’ll ever enter any of my books in a competition, especially the RITAs. One thing I did learn in the only romance competition I entered (Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write) is that the romance genre has specific beats inherent to the genre and I just don’t hit them even if I want to. I write a combination of women’s fiction and romance, or if I had my way, I’d write women’s fiction with elements of romance.
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That’s very true! The RITAs do have a category of Novel with Strong Romantic Elements, if you ever wanted to give it a go. 🙂 I think you would do great!
Romance is very particular, and I think the only part I get right is the “big bad” around 3/4 through the book. I know it has to seem as all hope is lost, and I usually can nail that. other beats? don’t know. i’ve read books on it, and I’ve been reading Harlequins since I was 13 years old, but writing and capturing the rhythm is a lot different than reading it.
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The romance beats finally clicked for me when I read Gwen Hayes’ Romancing the Beat. You can use the beat sheet for any genre and I was able to write my Christmas novella, The Replacement Fiance, following those beats and have also created a template that I can use so I don’t miss any of the expected romance beats. I’ve found that if I write following only that beat sheet, I lose interest right away because it’s not “me” but I’m now going back to the way I write while at the same time lightly applying the romance beats to my story.
I read that. I also read The Bestseller Code, which made more sense to me. It explained the ups and downs of 50 Shades that made the series so popular. I understood that a lot better.
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