Monday, September 19, 2011

Which Road are You on Today?

It's traveling time again for several, who are on their way to St Louis and the ACFW Christian Writers' Conference. Don't know if I'll see you there. But since we are all on the road to somewhere, I think, if you've ever had an inkling to write, or if you already do, and are now thinking of joining some writing contest, I'm sure you'll get a lot out of this great writing tip from our contributing author, Anne K. Albert.

Writing Contests and the Road to Publication

by Anne K. Albert

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

(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

Heinlein often joked he had no qualms of sharing his “secret” with the so-called competition 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. 
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? They need to write it now!

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

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

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.

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, but entering writing contests can help. Seriously. They provide a perfect opportunity to follow Heinlein’s five rules. But you can do it 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 your 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!

(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 yea or nay, contest judges will say what they think you did well, as well as how to improve your story.

This provides yet another step of the process, it’s time to 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 after 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!
copyright 2011 - Anne K Albert

 Anne K. Albert writes stories that chill the spine, warm the heart and soothe the soul…all with a delightful touch of humor. Visit her website << >>, blog << >> or on Facebook. << >>

By the way. Which road are YOU on today?


  1. This is such great advice. I have a habit of not finishing one project before I start another. This is a good reminder to stick with my current WIP until it's DONE! I like contests, but I wish more offered feedback. It can also add up if they require an entry fee.
    Great post...thank you.

  2. I hear you, Jan! It's so easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new project or idea.

    As for contest feedback, look for that one comment that's consistent throughout all judge comments. (IE: 2 out of 3 have mentioned it.) That suggests a need to improve a particular area whether it be dialogue, plot, characterization, etc.

    Happy writing!

  3. Great post, Anne. I especially love the advice to keep a piece on the market until it is sold. I live by that. If I write it, I have to see it sold. (Though I do have two practice novels I later pulled ideas from to make new publishable novels.)

  4. This was a great post, Anne. I agree that most people who say they're going to write a book will never finish (or even start in the first place) and most will be too frightened to submit for fear of rejection. So far, I'm doing pretty good with this list.

  5. Thanks for the reminders - love RAH, although my work does need a rewrite or 7. Not an eternal rewrite, futzing with the same work for the next 30 years, but some serious rewriting, then let it go.

    And I've done contests, too, I agree they can be a great kick in the butt to get work finished.

  6. Hi Kelly, I would like to believe every author has at least one or two practice novels. It's how we learn to write.

    For those incredible super human writers who get published right out of the gate, well, they fall into that category that just amazes and sometimes frustrates me!

  7. Fantastic, Dawn! I'm doing the happy dance for you! :)

    Like you, I know a gazillion people who say they're going to write a novel someday, but that day never seems to be today.

    Let me know when your book is released on Amazon!

  8. Hi Beverly. I tend to re-write, revise and edit more than I'd like to, but it just seems to be my process.

    The key element is that eventually we need to let it go. Perfection, (as much as I adhere to it,) is really a myth!