REVIEW COMMENTS  

Saved by Doctor Dreamy by Dianne Drake: What an enjoyable, fast-paced read Ms. Drake has penned in this story about a heroine wanting to become more independent, a hero running from his past and where the plot kept me entertained from start to finish due to the medical challenges these two face, their back stories and their growing relationship...Overall, Ms. Drake has penned a really good read in this book where the chemistry was wonderful, the main characters illustrate really well that opposites do attract, and the ending was gratifying.”
~ Sara@HarlequinJunkie

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The Nurse and the Single Dad By Dianne Drake: This was my first time reading a “Harlequin Medical Romance”, which I really enjoyed, given my years of working in healthcare and hospitals specifically. I will definitely look for others...” ~ Sara @HarlequinJunkie

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“As always Dianne never fails to deliver and prove without a shadow of doubt there is hope after tragedy, even if you are not looking for it, and love is always the best medicine, thank you for a truly touching story.” ~ Gwessie Tee

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“This was a beautifully written book. This story brought tears to my eyes...” ~ Paula Legate

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“...the Nora Roberts of medicals.”- Author Susan Carlisle

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Two Dianne Drakes under the one cover was an enjoyable treat!
-From Mills & Boon website

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What a sweet romance...I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and look forward to reading more of Ms. Drakes’ work.
- From Coffee Time Romance

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I recently discovered her, and enjoy her tremendously.
- Found on Smart Bitches Trashy Books

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For a medical romance this story has more than enough action and drama to hold anyone’s interest, and the romance is only a small portion of its appeal.
- From Coffee Time Romance

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Reviewed on the Mills & Boon website:

Firefighter With A Frozen Heart - An excellent story written with emotional depth and understanding.

Engrossing and probably Mrs Drake's best yet.
- Ten out of ten

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P.S. You’re a Daddy: This is a story of the love for a sister and family. Funny and loving, laughed, cried and waited for the happy ever after. Good read!

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 A Child to Heal Their Hearts: “To be honest a book set in a holiday camp for recovering sick children didn't sound an appealing subject and I'm also not particularly keen when children form a large part of the plot. However Mrs Drake has written so compellingly about this that I was able to forget my prejudices. Reid is an engaging and dedicated hero while enigmatic at first, Keera's emotions were portrayed realistically and sympathetically. There were unexpected turns in the plot and I ended up thoroughly enjoying this book. Nine out of ten"

Appeared in the Romance Writers Report, 2004...

"Ten Ways to Have A Lousy Chapter Contest Experience"
Warning Signs for the Unpublished Contest, its Coordinator AND Entrants


Dianne Drake
©2004


Chapter contests - big money for the chapters, big opportunities for unpublished entrants. Right now, RWA chapters sponsor 108 contests, and that changes all the time.

So what's the lure of a chapter contest? For an aspiring author, it's feedback from peers, trophies, exposure to editors and agents and ultimately the hope of being published. "We look at judging a contest as another way of reading submissions, except contest entries are often of a higher level of quality," says Michael Psaltis, agent with Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. "It is common for a writer's career to be launched by winning certain contests."

Bottom line - chapter contests are a vehicle to promote a writing career. So the rest should be simple. Right? The entrant picks the best contests to achieve his/her personal writing goals, and the contests are conducted in a manner that supports those goals.

So why all the contest fussing? And in case you haven't been listening, there's a lot of it out there.

The answer is simple. Somewhere in the contest process expectations aren't being met. Naturally, when you drop that entry, plus the check, in the mail, you don't do so with the expectation of losing. Somebody has to lose, though. That's a fact of the contest life. It's also a fact of the publishing life. Even so, all those entries go out with that spark of hope that this could be the winner, that a judge will read it, think it's brilliant, and slide it on into a final round where an editor or agent will take a look. (COORDINATOR HINT: secure your editor/agent judges early - 6 months is not out of the question - and promote them well in advance. Smart entrants plan their contest entries early and search out the contests they'll enter according to the final judges.) Then . . . Ta dah! Accepted, published and your career is happening. Sound far-fetched? Don't kid yourself. Says Cynthia Rutledge, (Love Enough for Two, Love Inspired, 8/04), "I was published as a direct result of a contest win in 1998. I've since sold a total of eleven books." With three books under her belt so far, Patricia Frances Rowell, (A Scandalous Situation, Harlequin Historicals, 8/04), was first published with a contest final, but it wasn't a first-place win. "I sold it as a direct result of sending a proposal with my thank-you letter to the editor when I placed third."

According to Kim Nadelson, Editor, Harlequin Intrigue, "Getting an aspiring author's name out there in the publishing industry is always a plus, and contests provide a good training ground for polishing and honing writing skills. Additionally, there's always the hope that entrants will strike the interest in a contest judge/editor who is on the lookout for bright new voices." That's the best of the best in contest situations. "The upside of contests for many entrants is the possibility of having an editor or agent review your entry. That could lead to either an offer of representation and/or a sale," says agent Paige Wheeler, Creative Media Agency, Inc. "However, contests also have a number of downsides. They can be expensive to enter; the feedback could vary from excellent to horrible; the entrant could be so focused on winning contests that she is not concentrating on submitting the manuscript to editors/agents."

Nobody enters a contest to lose it, and no chapter puts on a contest with the goal of making it bad. But some contests are a bad experience for some entrants. For the entrant, it's a wound-licking, walk-away situation because there are other contests to enter. For the contest, though, word of the good, the bad and especially the ugly has a way of getting out there, and the bad and ugly can certainly put a major crimp in a chapter's financial resources if its contest drives entrants away. More than that, the publishing industry is tight. Editors and agents don't have a lot of time to judge contests, and if they know they're being asked to judge a dog, they're not going to do it. Simple as that. Why judge one with a bad reputation when there's something better out there? And don't think for a moment that editors and agents aren't contest-savvy. Says Paige Wheeler, "I'm more inclined to say "yes" to a well-known and respected contest that has produced successful authors."


THREE ELEMENTS OF A GOOD CONTEST

According to agent Jessica Faust, Bookends, LLC, "Honestly, I think a contest is only as good as the competition. So the best contests are those that are able to get the best entries and of course judges who are professionals - editors and agents." Kim Nadelson believes a good contests consists of several components. First, "A well-organized contest coordinator who is mindful of the constraints on a judge's time and gives plenty of advance notice and deadlines and follows up on receipt of the entries." That's the contest coordinator's responsibility. But the next element lies strictly with the entrant. "Vibrantly-written and polished final entries that are professionally formulated, suit the genre they are targeted for and are clearly in publishable (or near-publishable) condition. And most importantly, high-caliber final round entries - i.e. entries that "raise the bar" in terms of quality."

So we've tagged two elements of a good contest - good organization and good entries.

Allison Brennan, whose second-place unpublished entry is soon to be published as part of a two-book deal (Dead Letters, Ballantine, early 2005), had a specific goal in mind when she sought out the good contests. "I wanted to be published, so when I started entering contests, I did it for feedback and to get my work in front of people I felt might know more than me. Some contests had great feedback, others didn't. As my writing improved and I learned more (moving from beginner to experienced unpubbed), I entered to final -- because of the final judge. The feedback was less important because my work had already gone through a critique group I trusted."

And that's the third element - good judges, first and final round. Now it's time to take a look at how these three things can go wrong.

TOP TEN CONTEST BOO-BOOS (And How to Fix Them)

When I started this article, the first thing I did was send out some general appeals for contest experiences - the good, the bad and the ugly. And boy, did I get them! A big ol' can of worms, but a very insightful one. I discovered that RWA members care about their contests. They take them seriously, invest time and often considerable financial resources in their entries, and as a result they have some pretty strong opinions. So, here are ten of the most consistent contest complaints with a little fix-it advice. Coordinators take heed. Contest entrants really know what they want!

10. Judging things not on the scoresheet
. A lot of judges do it, but if it's not on the scoresheet it shouldn't be judged. That's a hard line contests must take to maintain credibility. When judging goes off that scoresheet, the process becomes a crap shoot for the entrant, who's having things judged he/she didn't know would be. Talk about a way to wreck a contest's reputation. The easy fix is to let the judges know that if it's not on the scoresheet, don't judge it. Include that warning in your judge training and instruction sheets. Highlight it, capitalize it, do whatever it takes to ensure that everybody knows it's an important standard of your contest.

9. Playing the role of expert. In other words, contradicting facts in the manuscript. Big no-no, unless it's a contest designed for fact-checking. Another judge rule to emphasize - Don't mark down for a questionable fact. If your judge thinks it's incorrect, instruct him/her to write, "You may want to check this fact," then move on.

8. Contest categories not clear. What's a single title? A mainstream? How is long contemporary defined? Contest categories for every contest must be crystal clear because if an entry is submitted to the "wrong" category, it'll be disqualified, even if the entrant believes he/she was submitting it to the "right" category. The problem could be a simple misunderstanding or misinterpretation, but in a contest that's a fatal error. Understanding all the categories of romance is always one of the great big questions marks for entrants, especially beginners, so it's up to the contest to make sure all definitions are correct. Simple fix, go to the RWA website and look under The Romance Genre for your category descriptions. Cite some popular examples so entrants can take a look. And entrants, if you're unclear, take a look!

7. Unresponsive coordinators. Two more problems are lumped with this one: delay in notification of finalists and slow return of scoresheets. Sure, some of this can be attributed to eager entrants. But most of the responsibility does rest with the coordinator. There's nothing more frustrating than waiting - for anything. So if you're that coordinator who's a little slow to get back to entrants, the solution's simple. Get help. An assistant coordinator will work wonders. Set deadlines, post them, then stick to them. And entrants, if you don't hear back, don't give up. Send another e-mail, or pick up a phone. Persistence is an absolute must in the publishing industry.

6. Judge doesn't normally read the category he/she is judging. It's easier to judge a category you know and like, so coordinators must work hard to fit their judges into the categories they request. "A good contest is judged (at all levels) by knowledgeable judges with experience in the genre being judged," says Paige Wheeler. One way to find those genre-knowledgeable, first-round judges is using specific advertising - Contest needs historical judges. Sometimes, no matter how hard a coordinator tries, a judge won't receive his/her preferred category. If you're that coordinator, it's your responsibility to let the judge know there's been a switch and find out if that judge is agreeable. Don't just drop those entries in the mail to him/her and assume it's okay. It's not! And if you're that judge who didn't get what you wanted, never write on the entry that you don't read/like/understand it. A good judge is a good judge, and judging preferences can be put aside for the good of the contest when the judging criteria is specific.

Here's a co-complaint - the judge who simply doesn't "get" the story. Most contests require opening pages, and the full story may not reveal itself in a quick format, making it difficult to judge objectively if you don't get a peek at the last page. The simple fix here is to give judges that peek in the form of a brief synopsis, one for reference only. (ENTRANT HINT: Skip the superfluous stuff; stick to the plot points.)

5. Formatting. Even thought it's in the middle of the list, this one drew the :loudest" complaints. Some contests stress formatting, some don't. If yours does, be specific about your requirements. Don't ask for a legible 12 point font if you're going to raise issue over what an entrant considers legible. If you want TNR ask for TNR. Then instruct your judges on how to handle formatting issues. Or, if formatting isn't an issue, make sure your judges know that, too. Set some general formatting guidelines - legible 12 point font, 1" margins, double-spacing, yada yada - then let it go. However you handle formatting issues, don't leave them hanging out there for interpretation. Interpret them for both your entrants and your judges! One more thing. If it's a non-U.S. entry, note that on the manuscript because entries from outside the U.S. come with a variety of differences, from punctuation to spelling to phraseology to paper size and an unaware judge might mark these down.

4. Higher scores without feedback. Yep, high scores deserve feedback, even if it's a simple, "Good job!" This one draws a lot of opposition from some judges because there's a notion that the numerical score says it all. But in writing there are so few pats on the back, so do a little patting. Even a happy face works.

3. Discrepancy judging. A lot of worms in this can! An entry receives two high scores that put it in contention for finaling, and one so low it throws it right out. Contest fact of life - there will always be judge inconsistencies. Certainly, judge training can help alleviate some of the problems, and many contests do offer training. But you can't train out the human factor. So in fairness to the entrant, a means to offset the human factor should be available in the form of a discrepancy judging. (ENTRANT HINT: If you're entering a contest, you may want to see if there's a discrepancy judging in place.) So, how do you do a discrepancy judging? There are a couple ways, says Lois Winston, Daphne du Maurier coordinator & multiple-contest winner. "One is a discrepancy round that gives an additional judging to any entry that has a significant point difference between scores and then drops the lowest score after the discrepancy round." Note here that you should set a cutoff line below which scores that won't final won't be sent to a discrepancy judging. If you don't you'll be faced with absorbing a lot of extra postage cost for low-scorers that can't final. "Another is the way some contests are doing it now," says Winston. "They have four judges per entry and automatically drop the lowest score." (COORDINATOR HINT: No matter what discrepancy rules you set, post them! Discrepancy rules are a big contest draw these days.)

2. Unkind/hostile remarks. I asked for them and I got some doozies. "Someday you'll figure out how to do all this stuff properly." "I hate your hero." "Their names were dumb." "Go back to your job at McDonalds and quit writing." "Pure crap!" Get the picture? This is never acceptable and it's incumbent upon contest coordinators to get rid of judges who do this. Coordinators, if you catch these remarks before you return the entries, disqualify the judge who made them and have every entry he/she scored re-judged. Entrants - be patient with coordinators who haven't seen that nasty remark on your entry. Coordinators juggle hundreds of returned entries, and they can't catch everything. But when you catch it, tell the coordinator. That's the only way to stop a bad judge.

Okay - drum roll, please.

1. Lack of feedback on low scores. By far, the biggest complaint. One of the reasons unpublished writers enter contests is feedback. If an entry deserves a low score, it also deserves an explanation. Entrants pay big bucks to get that feedback, and any contest that allows a judge to slide by without giving it isn't fulfilling a basic reason for its existence. It's also breaking a trust with the entrant who expects it. The reality is, most entrants will not walk away with a win. But every entrant who doesn't win should walk away with a handful of reasons why he/she didn't. A low numerical score without a reason is wasted money, wasted time and yes, even wasted emotional investment. So, even though this is the biggest contest boo-boo, it's also the easiest fix. Require your judges to comment on low scores! Tell them it's required while you're recruiting them so they can't complain later on.


BEYOND THE BOO-BOOS

Wow! That's a long list. But it's an important one because overall, chapter contest entries are declining a bit (economy, more contests from which to choose, disillusionment) and contest hunters are becoming more enlightened in their search for the right ones to enter. Meaning, any contest that wants to succeed must meet the demands of those entering.

Now, let's get out of the boo-boo mode and take a look at what some of the contest gurus like to see in good contests.

-Angi Platt, Great Expectations co-coordinator, ContestLink advisor, former RWA national board member: Feedback, good final round judges, experienced or trained first-round judges, scoresheets made available to entrants, working website for contest information.

-Lois Winston, 31 contest finals since 2000, 11 winners, 2004 GH double-finalist: Category-specific scoresheets, public listing of the final round judges, making a point of asking the final round judge if he/she would like to see more of the finalists' work.

-Nina Bruhns, contest winner, former Jasmine coordinator (Ghost of a Chance, SIM, 9/04): allowing judges to judge what they write because the know the genre intimately.

- Debby Conrad, multi-contest finalist, former Romancing the Novel coordinator: good feedback for good work, responsive coordinators who make sure all feedback, including editor/agent emails, is returned to the entrant.


FINALLY . . .

"Contests are a learning experience," says Jessica Faust. "I have a number of authors (published and unpublished) who credit contests as one of the best ways to help improve their writing." That's true, and the learning goes both ways. Entrants must learn how to be better entrants and coordinators must learn how to hold the best contest possible. Simple? Not really. Worthwhile? Absolutely! Just ask Cynthia Rutledge, Patricia Rowell and Allison Brennan.

Should it Go to the Final Round?

Not all entries deserve to go, even if they're the top scorers. It's a tough decision, but as a coordinator, it's up to you to preserve your contest image and keep from invoking the wrath of your editor/agents judges. Do this by setting a score average under which no entry will move to the final round. Remember what Kim Nadelson wants to see? "High caliber final round entries - i.e. entries that "raise the bar" in terms of quality." If your entries aren't raising that bar, an editor/agent doesn't want to read them, and putting him/her in the position to do so can risk your relationship. Sure, it's a hard call, but as the coordinator, it's your duty to protect your contest. "The quality of submissions is always going to be variable," says Michael Psaltis, "but the contest organizers can aid in any process by having a very organized structure."


Strictly for Entrants

Choose your contest wisely. With so many of them out there, that could be a problem, so here are a few tips to help you make the best decision.

1. Consider what is being judged. Contests focus on many things (hooks, synopsis, love scenes, suspense, endings) but you many not need everything every contest is offering. If you're strong on the hook, why enter a contest that's judging the hook? Go for a contest that can help you grow as a writer.

2. Look at the guidelines/scoresheet before you decide to enter. Find them on the website or send for them, then make sure your manuscript fits the contest. Check the criteria; does it fit your entry? Synopsis required? Is the scoresheet category-specific? (Writing mainstream and being judged by a category romance scoresheet puts you at a major disadvantage.) Is there critiquing on the manuscript? Are comments mandatory for lower scores? It's up to you to discover the specifics you want before entering so you won't be disappointed after.

3. Weigh the cost. Is this a good economic decision for you, or can you buy a better contest for your needs? If you're entering for feedback, will this contest give you something your critique partner/group isn't? Does this contest produce published winners? Are you getting the most for your contest dollars? (COORDINATOR HINT: Check out the competition to see that your contest isn't under or overpricing itself for what it offers.)

4. Check the judges. In the first round are they trained? Pro? Experienced? Published? In the final round, can the judges advance your career? An agent? Editor? More than that, is it an agent/editor who could represent/ buy the work you're entering? (COORDINATOR HINT: Always match your final judges to the categories they will judge. "I usually prefer to review material which closely matches the type of projects I represent," says Paige Wheeler. Likewise from Kim Nadelson, " I almost always judge contests that directly correlate to my specific sub-genre of interest." HINT TO EVERYONE: check out editor and agent specifics on the RWA website.)

Point Box:

  • Math errors have altered contest results. Judges & Coordinators - double check the math!

  • Submission Length? Keep in mind that if an editor/agent likes it, they want to see more, not less. A good contest allows the entrant enough room to show off, and the final judge enough read to make a decision.

  • Everybody wants to enter contests, but don't enter the one you're coordinating. Bad reputations happen even when it's a fair win.

  • Publishing rules vary from contest to contest. If your contest is specifically for unpublished writers, make sure the rule is clear who may enter: someone never published in romance, someone who hasn't been published in romance in 5 years, someone who has not been published by an RWA-recognized publisher. There are a lot of ways to interpret "unpublished" so be very careful.

  • When your contest winners get published, take advantage of it. Put that information on the website, include it in contest literature. It's a big selling point. In fact make a big deal about anything that's agent/editor-requested as a result of your contest.