Monday, August 4, 2008

Get to Know the Author...Susan Page Davis

My Love-Hate Relationship with Contests
By Susan Page Davis

My first two romantic suspense books were published in 2007, and I decided to enter them in a few contests to see how they stacked up. Let’s say it’s been educational.

Last year I’d entered a couple of my historical romance books and one children’s fantasy in contests, and had pretty good results. My Heartsong novel, The Prisoner’s Wife, won the short historical categories in both the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Contest and the ACFW Book of the Year. I entered another historical, Wyoming Hoofbeats, in last year’s More than Magic Contest, which has only one inspirational category, so it competed against a lot of longer books and placed third. I also put my children’s fantasy, Feather, in the BOTY. They didn’t have enough young adult books to “make” a YA category, so it went into the general fiction category—and placed third. Yep, I was psyched up and confident for the new year.

So, for this year I put Frasier Island in the IRCC, BOTY, and the Daphne Du Maurier. I also entered Finding Marie in the BOTY. Neither book placed in any of the contests. I was disappointed, even though my historical, The Lumberjack’s Lady, won its category in the IRCC. Was it worthwhile?

Definitely. When that many judges tell you something, it’s time to listen.
Though I had widespread scores in the contests (judges seemed to either LOVE my military themed suspense books or yawn over them), all agreed on at least one thing. The prologue in Frasier Island was a mistake.

Judges spoke as with one voice: that prologue was too long and totally unnecessary.

Know what? I agree with them. The ironic thing is that I originally submitted that book with NO prologue. The editor loved it, but felt I opened too abruptly, dropping heroine Rachel on an island with an antagonistic superior officer. She felt a prologue was needed to show why George acted toward her the way he did. She also asked me to show Rachel in her pre-Frasier Island life. The result was a very long, two-section prologue the length of a hefty chapter.

It wasn’t horrid. Judges even said it was a smooth read. It just wasn’t needed. They said I should have dropped the information it dispensed into the main story in pieces, and that I should have started—GUESS WHERE?—at chapter 1, with Rachel’s arrival on the island.

So my conclusion is just what you’ve been hearing on every hand lately: If the prologue isn’t absolutely necessary, don’t go there!

For what it’s worth, the judges loved my setting, and for the most part they also liked my characters, dialogue, and voice. There were a few nit-picky things that they didn’t agree on. For instance, one judge didn’t like Pierre, the character everybody loves. One thought the male dialogue was unrealistic. But the only thing they ALL hated was that prologue.

Finding Marie, on the other hand, scored very respectably and may have been a close contender in the BOTY. That was encouraging. And my newer young adult book, Sarah’s Long Ride, finaled in the contest. We’ll see what happens there in September.

So, in my love-hate relationship with contests, will I enter again next year? You bet. And I’ll go over all those judges’ score sheets many times, gleaning from them the perspective of knowledgeable and critical readers. Sometimes the judges are required to make comments if they give you a low score. These comments are invaluable. My future suspense books will be better because I didn’t place this year.

Would I recommend entering contests to other writers? Absolutely. Just be ready to lose and to rejoice with those who win—and to learn from the comments that tell you WHY you didn’t make it to the finals.


Darlene Franklin said...

Congrats on Sarah's Long Ride!

Looking forward to a friendly competition next year (novella, mystery).

Vickie said...

I loved Frasier Island and can't believe it didn't place. What were those judges thinking?

Susan Page Davis said...

Thanks, Ladies! The truth is, there are a lot of fantastic suspense books out there by Christian authors. The competition is brutal. I'm thankful the Lord has given me the opportunity to be among them.