Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dishing with the Contest Coordinators


Contest coordinating isn't glamorous, but the benefits for the chapter and the entrants make it worthwhile. As coordinators, we wear many hats, and not all of them are pretty. First, is our begging hat: finding first and final round judges requires a lot of generous people -- and sometimes a little bribery! Next, is our captain's hat: overseeing all the submissions, getting the entries to the judges and staying on top of the deadlines. Then, there's the postal hat: many entrants do not put the right amount of postage on their return envelope. So, we spend a lot of time at the post office making friends (and one enemy) with the postal workers. And the dictator hat: dealing with judges who don't return their score sheets on time means being hardcore and making the uncomfortable e-mail or phone call. The best part is wearing the party hat: notifying entrants that they're finalists.

We coordinate the Greater Detroit RWA's Between the Sheets contest and the Golden Network's Golden Pen contest. Both unpublished contests are unique. Between the Sheets is a love scene contest, with entries varying from sweet to erotica. This is one of the few contests where writers can get feedback on their love scenes. The Golden Pen offers critiques on proposal length entries from experienced judges -- with a guarantee of one published author and one Golden Heart finalist per entry.

Why do we do this? Gluttons for punishment? Inability to say 'no'? It's actually for a more selfish reason. The contests are one of the many ways for our chapters to make money. And when our chapters make money, we benefit through the programs. Coordinating the contest also gives us a chance to interact with authors around the world.

Contest coordinating may not be glamorous, but we are.

~ Liz Heiter and Robbie Terman, Coordinators
Greater Detroit RWA's Between the Sheets Contest
& The Golden Network's Golden Pen Contest


I volunteered for such a time-consuming job to give back to my local chapter. Of course, when I volunteered it wasn't supposed to hit at MY busiest time -- seven book releases this year, a new time frame for Heart of the Rockies, a brand new, full-time job, and a part-time job on weekends. Still, I volunteered for it and something inside me wouldn't let me back down, especially when I could help so many newbies out there -- I was just there as one, after all.

Something for contestants to remember during contests. The most important thing is: FOLLOW THE RULES. The envelope is always pushed in this day and age, but the problem is you're preparing yourself for publication by entering contests. Push it with the publisher and your manuscript won't see daylight.

2) A coordinator can't "bend the rules" for one person. Every contestant out there is "one person" but I deal with at least one hundred. That's a hundred broken rules, not one. I guarantee, you're not the only one asking for a deadline extension or a do-over in sending your manuscript in because you forgot something.

3) What makes our contest stand out is the final judge target. While I didn't have a say in every judge, I was able to secure two judges who are very active in getting unknowns published, Raelene Gorlinski and Sue Grimshaw. In fact, both helped in getting my critique partner, Melissa Mayhue and me published.

4) What stands out the most in contests is the professional contestant. The person who submits, follows the rules, everything's on time and perfect. Not that I mind when people are confused and send me e-mails to clarify things, but the person who doesn't actually stands out from the rest. In fact, I have someone in mind right now; I could repeat the name etched in my brain if I released personal information.

5) I hope that aspiring authors realize a contest is a tool, not a crutch. You learn from contests, you hope to catch a judge's eye by entering IF you plan to publish. Don't fall into the trap of submitting the same "winning" manuscript over and over to add "winner" notches to your belt. A winner title does nothing for you if you're not getting paid.

~ Rena Marks, Coordinator
Heart of the Rockies, Colorado Romance Writers

Born Again, Forgotten Kisses (Ellora's Cave) ~


Okay, I've been a contest coordinator. After being a contest junkie. And a contest judge. I've seen contests from all sides. I am a seasoned contest person. I have "creds." Why did I agree to take on contest coordinating? Because no one else was available, I'd been a category coordinator, I'm a responsible Capricorn, and the eldest female child of an Irish Catholic family. I understand responsibility, guilt and duty.

This is what I've learned about coordinating.

You need to be more ORGANIZED than you ever thought you could be. That's even if you're used to having daily lists, weekly objectives, strategic plans and five-year goals. And you've achieved them. You need DIPLOMACY and shoulders wider than Joan Collins' suits in Dynasty.

No matter how clearly you think you've set things up, explained, taught, given directions, minor skirmishes will arise, feelings will be bruised and bridges must be maintained. These situations are equal opportunity: judges, entrants, coordinators, past coordinators -- any or all may at times have issues that need a shoulder to cry on or words to calm seething feelings.

You need the WISDOM of Solomon, times ten. Without a doubt, you will have to arbitrate issues or interpretations of rules that come at you from a world far beyond your wildest imaginings. And you will admit graciously when you've made a mistake and take the blame for others. Like Harry Truman believed: The buck stops here. In contests, the issues stop with you.

You must LOVE people and love writing. That's what contests are really all about. Coordinating is a form of giving without expectations of receiving anything in return -- a very high type of love. When you get that Thank you, or Job Well Done, treasure it. That's likely a major reason why you will do the job again.

Finally, be SMART. Watch for a replacement and prepare the person well. That is a major contribution in whatever "legacy" you leave; for it is the continuity of excellence that keeps a contest successful year after year.

~ Mary Jo Sheibl, Coordinator
FAB 5, Wisconsin Romance Writers of America [WisRWA]


I haven't been doing contest coordinating long ... seriously as in only a couple of months. I signed on because, honestly, my local chapter NOLA STARS, seemed desperate for someone to take the job. I mean, they had to be if they were asking me! So far it's been, we'll just say challenging because I don't know what this blog is rated. Parts of it is pretty darn cool. I get to talk with editors and agents and beg them to judge for us. Sometimes groveling works, other times -- not as much, and that's when things can be difficult. I often worry what if I can't find anybody to judge? I'm going to be a huge failure!

Luckily, I have a wonderful staff that helped with the contest last year. They support me with all my ideas and I love having them (because who doesn't like a group of people who like almost all you suggest?). I've been in charge of updating our website information, which has been more time consuming than difficult, but that's okay. If everything was easy, I would be bored senseless -- though not as sleepy.

I'm anxious to start taking in entries to see how big of a success we are, but I know that will be a challenge. The method will be streamlined if entrants be sure to follow ALL instructions to a "T". Another big help will be if all first round judges judge their entries and get them back in a timely manner. The biggest downside of coordinating I've found so far (though ask me in a year, and I might have a different answer)? As coordinator I'll also be judging, so I won't be able to enter our wonderful contest -- the SUZANNAH.

~ Keri Ford, Coordinator
The Suzannah - NOLA Stars

And there you have it. Aren't these generous women amazing? Thanks for dishing with us, ladies! ~ Donnell


Theresa said...

Hi Donnell,
As coordinator of The Sandy, I agree with all these ladies have said. It is VERY time consuming and can be really frustrating dealing with various judges or people who "flake out" on their commitments, and you do need patience, and patience, and a large supply of tact, but there are some REALLY strong benefits that fill my well and keep me coming back year after year.

1) I get to meet and make friends with dozens of authors--both entrants and judges, who I later meet at conferences and writing events, and that's a ton of fun for me.

2) I get to contact editors and agents and develop a relationship with them that I would not have had without meeting them through the contest. Networking is KEY in this business.

3) I love to help fellow unpublished authors move along in either journey towards publication. I see myself as something of a matchmaker and take ridiculous undue pride when my finalists do well.

4) I believe coordinating the contest generates good karma.

5) It's a terrific way to raise funds for conferences, hence I help improve the quality of the conference/ writing organization I'm supporting.

6) In a crazy business where so much is uncontrollable, this control freak can control much of how the contest is run, the quality of the final judges etc. I can't control so much of my unpublished career, but with this contest, I have a LOT of control.

7) It's a satisfying way to "give back" to the organizations and people who have helped me get further ahead on my journey.

8) I'm good at it. When authors receive so much negativity in rejections--and I get a LOT of rejection since I'm a submission slut, it's a balm to my ego that I'm really good at something that has to do with writing.

9) People--both entrants and conference people who get the money-- are SO grateful for my coordinating the contest, that it makes me happy to do it.

Just this coordinator's experience

Donnell said...

T. You and I are like preaching to the choir. When I thought about this blog, I thought I should ask Theresa Rizzo, or do one myself since I've been affiliated with the Daphne. But then I thought, no, I want different perspectives to see if there was anything we missed :) I agree with you 1005 percent, when the finalists are announced we're jumping up and down, when an agent or an editor contacts us and says, I want to see this partial or a full, we're sitting on our hands not to pick up that phone and call the entrant!

It is a lot of work, a lot of frustration, but it also makes me feel like I'm applying 3-in-1 oil to a stubborn door that doesn't want to open.

Thanks for sharing YOUR insights, MS. Sandy Coordinator. ;)

Arkansas Cyndi said...

Hi Donnell - Coordinating ANYTHING is time consuming and challenging. Coordinating a contest for writers is asking for headaches! But as one of those writers who has entered contests (Including Heart of the Rockies), I have found these coordinators to be WONDERFULLY helpful and kind. I thank goodness for all their hard work.

Waving to Keri Ford, a good friend. I know how hard she's worked on the Suzanna. I know it'll be great under her leadership!

Great blog ladies

Angie Fox said...

Chocolate covered thanks to you ladies and to all of the coordinators who give up their own time, effort and sanity to make unpubbed contests what they are.

I sold out of the Windy City contest last year and I don't know where I'd be right now if my manuscript didn't happen to hit the desk of the right editor at the right time. So thank you, thank you, thank you! You really do make a difference.

Edie said...

What Mary Jo Sheibl didn't tell you is that she's also the WisRWA president. I admire all of you so much. I was a coordinator for one genre and it was too much for me. (I'm not a naturally organized person.)

Rena, you amaze me! All those books contracted, plus full and part-time jobs. And then coordinating a contest. You must given up sleeping.

Donnell said...

Cyndi, that's been my experience as well. I was a double finalist in Heart of the Rockies one year and they are an outstanding organization, okay, maybe it's because they're one of my chapters LOL, and they are nice, nice, people, but they're really good too! I'm glad you've had a positive experience. And I've found Keri Ford to be a doll; she has a fantastic attitude and sense of humor. No wonder NOLA asked her to coordinate. They're no lightweights either ;)

Donnell said...

Angie, fantastic news! The Windy City is a well respected contest and I'll wager you made them proud ;))) If you have a moment stop back by and tell us about your entry, pub date etc.

Edie, you know what makes me SICK about Mary Jo Scheibl? She's so darn nice and PRETTY too. But then I don't hold a grudge because she's been a rock to me as a Daphne judge and an advisor on on things to come for the Daphne 2009. My thinking is good things come to good people. Mary Jo should be on a mountain top or approaching the moon any day now!

Keri Ford said...

Wow, I really like this place. Thanks for stopping in to brag on me, Cyndi! And Donnell, you're my new Favorite Person! I'm bookmarking this page for anytime I'm feeling a little bit crappy!

I'm new to the whole contest entering thing and coordinating has really opened my eyes. I'm collecting judges right and seeing the call out for judges on other loops, well, it makes me feel guilty for not volunteering my time because I know what those coordinators are going through! In fact, one lady agree to judge and said she was coordinating Great Expectations in December. I told her to go ahead and write me down as a judge.

If anybody has any questions, ask away!
Keri-Suzannah Coordinator. And now that I've gotten dazed with a big goofy grin over compliments, I can't remember if Donnell put a link into our contest page. So, here it is:

Keri Ford said...

Theresa is absolutely right about Networking. Not only with the editors/agents, but with other writers. There's been several who've asked questions, or filled out the judging form and have told me they've seen my name around on the interent at different blogs/loop. The fact that they remember me, when I'm not even published, is just a huge shot of feel-good.

Donnell said...

Ah,Keri, thanks for the bookmark and no I didn't have your link so link away. Okay, here's were it gets tricky being a coordinator because we are naturally givers??? imo. But you have to be careful when it comes down to judging also for other chapters because your time can be sucked right out of you. What I do because I call in so many favors is agree to do emergency judging if need be and only if I have hair left, but don't sign up right away. You really do have to keep your writing career first and foremost because this is why we do this in the first place :) Something to keep in mind, Keri :)

Keri Ford said...

Thanks, Donnell. great advice and something to keep in mind. This other contest opens AFTER mine closes, so I decided I had the time to spend a day or two on hers and judge (I mean, she was doing it for me in reverse order!), and be finished with those before the GH judging begins.

Mary Jo said...

Hey Donnell,

The best part of being a coordinator is gaining new friends, like you. Even if they are smarter, prettier, and more photogenic. :-)

Donnell said...

Ah, Mary Jo, thanks. But you failed to mention thinner LOL. And you *wouldn't* because another great thing about coordinators are they are unflinchingly honest! I loved what you had to say about Coordinators needing the wisdom of Solomon. Boy, did that resonate with me. It is so wonderful to have someone to bounce these things off of... the yeah, I've been there scenario and what would you do? Theresa is also fantastic in this area, and she's also thinner, darn it! Thanks for your nice words.

Misty Evans said...

Fabulous source of information, Donnell! I love how you worked the logos of each contest into the blog. Great job!

I've been a judge, but I bow down to those of you who are coordinators.

And, Angie, I just bought book Saturday...what a great, funny story! So glad you to know how it came to be published. Congrats!

OPERATION SHEBA - September '08

Donnell said...

Misty, thank you! As you well know I'm no graphic designer ;) Tell us the name of Angie's book. This is fabulous news and I'd love to know the title :)

I'm reading another fabulous book out there called Operation Sheba. I'm running a CIA background check as we speak because this author knows way too much ;)