Monday, August 6, 2012

Writing Contests and the Road to Publication

Our guest today is the fabulous Anne K. Albert who writes stories that chill the spine, warm the heart and soothe the soul…all with a delightful touch of humor. She followed all five of the steps listed below on her road to publication.  Defending Glory, is the first book in her Piedmont Island Trilogy. Visit her website, blog, friend her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Welcome, Anne.

 The road to publication can be a gauntlet of trials, tribulations, roadblocks, potholes and traps. Yet, science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein believed a writer need only do five things to achieve success.

What are those five requirements?

(1) You must write
(2) You must finish what you write
(3) You must refrain from rewriting, (except to editorial order)
(4) You must put the work on the market
(5) You must keep the work on the market until it is sold

Sounds simple, huh? In theory, yes, but Heinlein often joked he had no qualms of sharing his “secret” because most writers lack the self-discipline to complete all five steps of the process.

Years later, Robert Sawyer took the rules one step further with simple math. This is how it breaks down….

If 100 writers decide to follow Heinlein’s rules only 50 will actually do rule #1 and write.

Surprised? How many people do you know who claim that one day they’ll write a book? If they’re serious they need to start today!

Let’s move onto rule #2. Finish what you write.

Again, only half will achieve that goal, leaving 25 of the original 100 writers.

Rule #3 dictates you must refrain from rewriting. How many writers labor on the same manuscript for a decade? I know a few. You probably do as well.

Sawyer claims only 12.5 writers will complete this rule. (I’m unsure who that half writer might be, but hey, math was never my strong suit!)

Rule #4 is putting your work on the market. Fear of rejection can be paralyzing. Fewer than 6 of the original 100 who began this challenge are brave enough to submit their work.

Rule #5 separates the authors from the writers. Only 3 will persevere and keep their work out in the market until they sell and achieve their goal.

Pretty daunting statistics, even with the new world of self-publishing, but learned how to write well, and following the five steps to success can be achieved by entering writing contests. Seriously. They provide a perfect opportunity to follow Heinlein’s rules. And it can be achieved in smaller, more manageable chunks.


(1) Contests force you to write.

You must have a story to enter a writing contest. It’s mandatory! This does not mean a complete manuscript. As few as five typed pages will do. Contests requirements vary from 5 to 50 typed pages. Start small. Five to ten pages is doable. Work your way up to ‘meatier’ contests.

(2) Contests require you to finish what you write.

Even if your submission is only five pages in length, those five pages should shine and leave the reader/judge drooling for more. Give them your best five pages.

That means no typos. No spelling mistakes. Not a single reason to pull the reader/judge out of the story. End your entry with a hook that leaves them wanting more. Never make the rookie mistake I did by submitting the first five pages, and ending in the middle of a sentence! (Duh!)

(3) Entering a contest forces you to refrain from rewriting.

While your entry should be free of typos, spelling and grammar mistakes, there comes a time when you just have to stop and let it go because every contest has a specific deadline. This deadline forces you to quit tweaking, editing, revising, and changing. Failure to do so could result in you not only forfeiting your entry fee, but missing an opportunity to get your manuscript read by a published author, an editor or agent.

(4) Entering a contest is like putting your work on the market.

Like agents and editors, contest judges are first and foremost impartial readers. They do not know you or your work. They will either be enthralled by your story…or not so much! What’s super about writing contests is that unlike agents and editors who generally just provide a yay or nay, contest judges will explain what they think you did well, as well as how to improve your story.

This feedback provides yet another step of the process. If two of three judges make the same comment, take their editorial direction to heart and make the changes that will improve your story.

(5) Entering multiple contests is like keeping your work on the market until it is sold.

Huh? It’s true. On average, most writers achieve publication after completing 4 or 5 manuscripts. That’s how a writer learns to write. Trial and error. Word by word.

In the meantime, enter contests. They’re a great opportunity for an unpubbed writer to build writing credits. Winning a contest can move you out of the slush pile and directly onto an editor or agent’s desk.

Happy writing!


  1. Excellent article! Found you on Twitter...retweeted!

  2. Really good rules--and I know writers who have quit at every stage--or are still working on that first book.

    Another tip, don't tell everyone the whole plot of your story eithre before it's written or after. My daughter went with me to an event--three of us writers spoke about our books, the other two told the entire story. As my daughter said, "No need to buy the book, I know how it turned out.)

    1. I agree with the silence regarding the story, Marilyn. Being a pantser, I've tried to plot numerous times. Imagine my surprise when I discovered I'm a super plotter! So super in fact, that I've never bothered to write those stories. Why would I? I already know how they end. :)

  3. Interesting points. I will surely take those into account. Thanks a lot!
    Best, MK

    1. Starting with number one and working your way to the end, Mary, may take months or years. Every writer has her own process and time frame. Happy writing!

  4. Wow! Refrain from rewriting? I know that some authors can produce "clean" manuscripts on the first try. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them. If I didn't rewrite, well. . . .
    I know what Robert means though. My first completed novel went through numerous rewrites and I was one of those people who worked on it for years. It was a learning process. My second book took a fraction of the time but I still needed to do some rewriting. Oh, if only I could write my third novel without having to do that.

    1. Like you, Patricia, I rewrite, tweak, fix, whatever word one uses to describe the process until my eyes bleed. Well, not really, but you get the idea! The problem is that even after I send the "final" ms to my editor, and the book is in print, I could still rewrite it a gazillion times. I'm not advocating no revisions, and I'm certainly not suggesting the first draft is IT, but a writer needs to reach a point and have the confidence to let it go and move onto the next story. Does that make sense?

  5. I can't remember where I heard about it, but there's something called the Chapter 7 rule: if you get past writing 7 chapters, you'll probably finish writing the book. It seems to be true; I have worked with plenty of clients and students alike who just couldn't seem to break past that chapter 7 barrier.

    Good blog, Anne. Will pass it on.

    1. Thanks, Smoky. I've not heard of the Ch. 7 rule, but it does make sense.

  6. I can't go along with #3. It seems you're saying--to put the first draft out there? If this isn't what you're saying, ignore this! I know there are writers who rewrite forever and never move on, so if that's what you're addressing, I completely agree.

    (I even edited this post, but I usually do. :))

    1. Hi Kaye, and yes, I agree with you and Patricia. The first draft is just that. A first draft. It's the 40th draft that needs to be put to bed!

  7. Wonderful advice, Anne. If everyone read and followed, the market would be more flooded than ever. As always, well written and a pleasure to read. Thanks and to your host, Book Blather for bringing this to the public.

    1. Agreed, Charmaine. Marilee is a generous host, and a writer I'm fortunate to have met online. A great blog, too!

  8. I love this idea. A contest may be just the ticket to give me and other writers that effective little motivator: a deadline. Thanks for some real practical inspiration!

  9. You're so welcome, Carol. Entering contests were a vital stage in my development as a writer. They provided deadlines, as well as the skill of deciding what best to send to impress the judges.

    I learned that sending the first UNALTERED 10 pages wasn't always the best decision. Ending the submission on page 8 or 9 with a hook, thereby making the judge want to read MORE, made so much more sense than simply getting my money's worth and submitting all 10 pages. Your goal is to stand out in the crowd of entries and impress the judges.

    Another thing to consider is the number of judges. Some only have 2 who will read your entry. I found that more often than not they would have contradictory comments and scores. What one loved and thought was sheer brilliance on my part, the other judge despised! That's tough on a writer's ego, but again, it teaches a valuable lesson. Not everyone will love your story. But back to the number of judges...the solution? I focused on entering contests with 3 judges. The scores were still all over the place (it's subjective, after all), but if 2 judges made similar comments either good or bad, I took it to heart.

    Again, this provides yet another set of skills. Judges often provide suggestions on how they think your story could be better. They're editing your work, much as an editor will. The point is, they're human, and their advice may or may NOT make your story shine. That's when you have to sit down and think about it. Will these changes work? Will they make the story better? The bottom line is it's your decision. Your story = your choices.

    In the beginning I tried virtually everything that was suggested because I was a novice. As I gained greater insight I became more selective on what changes to make. It's a process. Like learning how to write.

    Entering contests are time consuming, can be expensive, and depending on the contest, may seem more trouble than they're worth. The reality is I've received mean-spirited comments that hurt. They were few and far between, BUT, even they served a purpose in my development. Their comments thickened my skin.

    Contests also made me think long and hard on how to submit, what to submit, and when to submit. In short, I'm an advocate of writing contests, and hope you'll give it a try.

    Happy writing!

  10. I read a quote recently (can't remember who by or the exact wording) that said if someone tells you something is wrong with what your wrote, they're probably right. If they tell you how to fix it, they're probably wrong.

    1. Great quote, Kaye. I'll have to remember that one!