Sunday, June 14, 2015

Riding the Contest Rodeo

The call came while we were stopped at a rest area off a highway in a rather deserted section of Northwestern Ohio. I was driving from Indiana to our home in North Carolina with my daughter and her three small children, who would all be visiting us for a couple of weeks.

At the rest stop, I was feeding snacks to the two older boys, aged three and a half and two, while my daughter changed the baby’s (three months) diaper. When the phone rang, I almost didn’t answer, but I don’t give out my cell phone number to many people, and it was a weekday, so it might be an important business call.

It was, but not in the way I expected. I heard a voice saying “Congratulations. The Detective’s Dilemma is a finalist in the Category/Series category of the Published Daphne Awards.” I think there was a bit of a silence and then maybe some stuttering excitement on my part. I couldn’t tell this wonderful woman that I’d completely forgotten I’d entered the contest! (To be fair to myself, I was helping to herd around three children under the age of four.  I had a few other things on my mind.)

It took a while to sink in that she meant it and it wasn’t a mistake.  I don’t think I really believed it until I saw the official list of finalists and found my name there.

I’ve been a finalist in contests before, and I’ve even won a few, but I had a long drought between books before this one so it’s been a long time before I’ve even entered one.

I don’t enter a lot of contests, usually no more than two or three per book, mostly due to the cost (entries fees plus cost of shipping books). My track record is so-so.  Looking back, I think I’ve probably made it to the finals in about one third of the contests I’ve entered. That’s probably actually a pretty good percentage, considering the number of entries most contests get.

For The Detective’s Dilemma, I only entered three – the Rita, which was more pro forma than anything since I knew I had zero chance of even being a finalist, and two other chapter contests. I didn’t final in the other one.  I didn’t expect to final in any of them.

To me, that’s the key to making the whole contest thing work. I look on it as a gamble that sometimes pays off, but more often than not doesn’t. Readers’ tastes differ and they’re not all going to like my books. In most contests it takes only one judge not liking your book to sink its chances. It may not be fair, but it’s reality and you always have to take that into consideration when entering. So I choose my contests carefully, and I build up no expectations of anything good happening, other than getting my book into the hands of a few new readers.

I enter the contest, send off the books, and then put it totally out of my mind. I move onto the next project, usually the book I have in progress and concentrate on that. Occasionally I’ll get one of those great phone calls or an email letting me know I made it to the finals. More often, I hear nothing or get an email saying “I’m sorry to have to tell you…”  There was a time when that could send me into a tailspin of depression. Not anymore.

Now, I’m more than happy to celebrate when good things do happen, and I’m always excited to congratulate my friends’ good news as well. But I shrug off the routine. But if it doesn’t happen, I shrug and move on. I’ll try to make the next book the very best work I can. But not to win contests. I want to win readers.

And because I don't want to lose my Good Grandma credentials, here are pictures of the daughter and three grandchildren who were visiting us:
Cassian (age two) is the redhead; Liam is three and a half.

Sarah with Liam and the baby, Henry (three months).
The Detective's Dilemma was published by Kensington/Lyrical Press in November, 2014, and is still available in trade paperback and ebook formats.


  1. I've read The Detective Dilemma, Karen, and know it's a winner - contest or no contest. Good luck.

  2. First of all, beautiful family. You've already won!!

    Second - best of luck with the book. I'm going to get it right now

  3. A belated thanks to both of you, Sandy and Kathye, for your gracious comments!