Friday, December 21, 2007

Anna Campbell is in da house!

One of the most awesome things about being a writer is making lots of friends in fellow writers. While your family and non-writing friends might be supportive of you and your career, your writer friends are the ones who really "get" you and what you do. I'm fortunate in that I have lots of fantastic writer friends around the world, one of whom is the super chick from the Land Down Under, the fabulous Anna Campbell. Anna is our first guest blogger here at Title Magic, so please put your hands together...uh, your fingers to the keyboard and make her feel welcome.

Hi there, Title Magicians!

Huge congratulations on finaling in this most grueling of contests. I’m in awe of all of you! Huge good luck to the girls still battling it out in the competition. Can’t wait to see who wins!

Thanks so much for asking me to be your first guest blogger. I’m enormously touched and flattered that you picked me. Mind you, I’m a newbie myself so perhaps my experiences will resonate with what at least one of you (and hopefully more) will go through VERY soon. Whoo-hooo!

When Trish Milburn, my Bandita Buddy, and I were talking about topics, she suggested contests. This seems like a great idea except I’m sure you girls know much more about contests than I do!

So I thought I’d give you a personal history of my experiences with contests.

As many of you know, I took forever to sell and people often ask what kept me going through all that rejection and disappointment. Well, partly it was love of writing itself – I gave up once because I decided it was a childish dream to want to be a writer, but I couldn’t bear it after about 18 months and I went back to my stories. But something else that really kept me soldiering on was writing contests.

And this was before I discovered the amazing and glorious world of ROMANCE writing contests run through the American chapters.

If I saw a short story contest through a magazine, I’d enter it. Thankfully, I achieved just enough success to encourage me that I wasn’t completely hopeless at this. My favorite contest was a romance one run by Woman’s Day, a very popular magazine over here, and Harlequin Mills & Boon. I came in third one year and won my first computer. Not only that, we had a gala reception in Sydney which meant a flight, a limousine ride, a night in a very swish inner city hotel then a party where the three prize winners were made to feel like princesses for a day. I still have a photo of me in my very embarrassing ’80s navy and white-spotted drop-waisted dress (ouch!), clutching a huge bunch of flowers. The dress may not be so pretty, but the flowers and the big smile on my face tell it all!

Then a competition changed my life.

After I came back to writing, I joined Romance Writers of Australia. I was fiddling with a couple of manuscripts that were fun but completely unpublishable. One was set in 18th century Austria and Hungary. Yes, I know, a hugely commercial setting! But it had this great first kiss with a major plot turning point. So with complete trepidation, I entered it in the 2001 RWAustralia First Kiss competition. To my utter shock, I ended up placing and the comments indicated I was writing publishable material even if the subject matter wasn’t!

This was enormous validation to someone who had worked on her own for so long. And from people who wrote romance for a living which was even more important. So I sat down and had a long hard talk to myself (no wonder the neighbors think I’m slightly cracked!). Perhaps I should try and write something more overtly commercial and have a genuine go at getting published.

I’d always loved books set in the Regency, and I knew quite a lot about the period for various reasons. Perhaps I should write a Regency. My next manuscript was The Magnificent Marriage which finaled in the 2006 Golden Heart, the first and only year I entered. The book I wrote after that was No Ordinary Duchess, also a 2006 GH finalist. That book went to auction and eventually was released by Avon as CLAIMING THE COURTESAN.

So I’ll always be enormously grateful to writing competitions!

And speaking of competitions, my favorite comment today wins a signed copy of UNTOUCHED, my latest Avon historical romance, and the Anna Campbell desk calendar. Tell me your history with writing contests or ANY contests, really! Good luck!


Nancy said...

Anna, I've never had a contest placement that gave me a limo ride. In fact, I've never had a limo ride, except to the airport (which frequently involves a van, rather than a fancy car, but that's a whole different subject). No wonder you were encouraged!

Thanks for sharing this story.

jo robertson said...

Wow, Anna, you have scored some sweet prizes on contests! No wonder you kept at it LOL.

I love hearing your stories because they're so genuine and quite amazing, too. I'm sure I'd have given up long before.

My first completed manuscript was my Golden Heart winning title. I'd entered on a lark, so was completely floored that I won. Then my second manuscript won the Daphne. Again great shock.

I think contests can be great learning tools for beginning writers, especially. And if you're a polished writer and continually final, you get lots of name recognition.

Anna Campbell said...

Nancy, lovely as ever to see you. The limo was HUGE fun. In fact, the whole experience was huge fun, as you can imagine.

Jo, congratulations on your success! I think that's a real sign that you are a blazing talent, my friend! Congratulations. Excellent advice - my only proviso for beginner writers is that if they don't feel ready to submit your work to outside and perhaps ruthless evaluation, don't push yourself until you know you can handle constructive criticism. I know some beginner writers who faced harsh criticism at early stages in their careers and didn't take their writing any further. Another plus of lots of finals and placings is that they look great on a query letter to an editor or agent.

Evonne Wareham said...

Anna - Great to hear your take on contests. American Title is my first (my only!) biggie and I'm still wondering what I'm doing here! On the subject of unexpected luxury prizes - the only other thing I have won - in a M&B short story contest - was a weekend in Paris, which was out of this world. I'm inspired by your persistence too. I've been trying for a long time and have had several instances of 'Am I wasting my time? Is this a silly dream?' but as you say, the writing always draws you back. I guess I just have to keep at it!

Sharon said...

Hi Anna!

Wow! on your limo ride and winning a computer in that writing contest! Congratulations!

I'm with you on the contests - they are marvellous! Feedback from different sources and hopefully some encouragement. And if I'm lucky enough to final, there's the opportunity to get onto an editor's desk. While an entry is "out there" in a contest, anything is possible... until I know otherwise. :))

I think it's great practise for submitting to a publisher, too. An opportunity to treat my writing professionally with careful formatting etc and to get used to the terror of actually dropping it in the post box! A sort of gentle desensitization! LOL

Congratulations on Untouched and Claiming the Courtesan, Anna! Brilliant reading!

Gorgeous blog site, Trish! Thanks for having Anna to visit.

Merry Xmas!

Joan said...

Hey Anna! Waving madly from the Bandit lair!

Wow, a limo and a computer? And Evonne? A WEEKEND IN PARIS! Wow!

Contests are a good tool to use and I wholeheartedly agree with your advice to be sure you're ready for them. Critiques come in all forms...constructive and not. So you have to get your thick skin on and have plenty of chocolate handy.

I've been very fortunate. My first mss has won several contests and was my 2006 GH finaling entry. My second has placed well in several contests and is currently a finalist in Finally a Bride and The Suzannah. My third has just started making the foray into the contest world. He's an ex-gladiator who will NOT let those Roman guys get ahead of him! LOL.

And everyone, I cannot recommend Anna's Untouched enough. The woman is masterful (as is her hero :-)

Good luck in the AT!

Mel Hiers said...

Hi, Anna! Welcome to Title Magic. It's great to have you here! :-)

ATIV's is my first contest, and I'm feeling a bit like Evonne in that I'm wondering what I'm doing here. (Although I know why Evonne is. She's awesome!)

This has been such a learning experience! ATIV's like a master class in self promotion. Besides that, I've had submission practice, am learning how to deal with criticism gracefully, and I've made some wonderful friends. I'd encourage any writer to try for American Title.

Hope you have a great holiday!

Trish Milburn said...

Thanks for stopping by, everyone. And add me to the group wowed by the prizes of a limo ride and a weekend in Paris. Wow. The only thing I've won involving a trip was an essay contest in high school. I got to go with two busloads of fellow students from around Kentucky to Washington, D.C.

Nancy said...

Anna, I did actually win free tickets for two to Star Trek IV (the whale one). That was a call-the-station-first trivia contest, though, not writing-related.

Your point about people quitting after harsh contest feedback is a good one. As Joan said, you need to have a thick skin, or else grow one, to enter the contest circuit. As Sharon noted, the whole business is good practice for submitting.

Anna Campbell said...

Evonne, congratulations on ATIV! Those M&B short story contests sure give good prizes, don't they? A weekend in Paris sounds pretty good to me! Of course, a weekend in Paris from Australia would involve nothing but jet lag!

Hi Sharon! Thanks so much for commenting (especially the bit where you were so nice about my books!). I agree with you about contests being a way to get into the habit of submitting professional work. Just one other thing to watch for, though, is that the contests don't become the end point in your mind. The end point is getting a publishable manuscript, submitting it to a publisher and getting out on the shelves. Sometimes that can get lost in all the hoopla of being a contest diva. Of course, the ATIV gals have that publishing contract as the final prize, so I doubt they're going to take their eyes off their goal ;-)

Anna Campbell said...

Joan, huge congratulations on the recent Suzannah final! Wonderful advice about developing a thick skin - but that's one of the good effects of entering contests if you're ready for them. You'll learn that all readers are subjective and what one loves, another hates. It will in the long run give you the confidence to follow your particular star. Love those gladiators!!

Mel, congratulations on the ATIV final! Thank you for having me as your guest. This contest isn't for sissies, is it? As you say, though, it's an amazing opportunity to hone a whole stack of skills that will help you with your writing career, aside from the actual writing. I think the promotional experience the girls gain in this (actually there has been the occasional guy!) is absolutely invaluable.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Trish, that essay prize isn't to be sneezed at. I bet you were excited at the time! What I remember about the short story contest was that my friends suddenly started treating me seriously. None of them were romance readers and they used to get this puzzled look on their face when they contemplated my (as yet unpaying) career choice. The trip to Sydney and the computer, etc., was something they could really hang an idea onto, somehow. Thanks so mucy for inviting me to play here today!

Nancy, laughed at you winning tickets to Captain Spock and the Whale! ;-) Hope you enjoyed it. That's such a good point about growing a thick skin and I think sometimes when we start writing, we need to establish our own space in our head a little first. Does that make sense? I think anyone else invading there at those delicate early stages can do enormous damage - even when the invasion is well meaning, as often it is.

Helen said...

Hi everyone
I love hearing about your contest wins because your wins mean wins for us readers I loved CTC and I have about 80 pages left to read of Untouched and Anna it is truly wonderful.
As for contests I did a course at work about 5 years ago Frontline Managment Diploma thru Tafe and I won student of the year which was so exciting to win at the age of 45 for that we had a big presentation dinner with all the other catagory winners and I got $500 which I bought myself a diamond ring with to celebrate my achievment.
Your prize was fantastic Anna I have never driven in a limo maybe one day.
Have a wonderful Chrissy everyone

Anna Campbell said...

Helen, I hope you have a limo in your future! The best part is everybody rubbernecks to see what famous people are inside ;-)

Congratulations on your prize. And good on you for spending the money on something substantial to mark the occasion. Too often, I think we let these special moments slide by without really marking them. The dinner sounds great!

Hey, fantastic that you love Untouched. Thank you for those lovely compliments. I know you loved CTC, so I had my fingers crossed that you might like the next one!

Happy Christmas!!!

Authorness said...

Hi, Title Magicians. Congrats on finalling.

Cool story about Woman's Day contest, Anna!

Contests are a great way of letting you know whether or not you're on the right track. I'm forever grateful to contest judges. I've finalled/placed in quite a few Romance Writers of Australia competitions now. As a YA writer, it's a huge compliment to get so far in these comps up against adult romances.

Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Anna, your contest experiences and life experiences toward becoming published, are truly inspiring. Contests as I look back are like the first line of my wip -- curses or in this case, contests were strange beasts of irony, at least, as I've experienced them. I spent one year, 1999, doing nothing but enterting every romantic chapter contest I could. The result, other than the absolutely fascinating and useful critiques, was a first place, a second place and a third place, all different stories. One thing I definitely gained was a new level of discipline, and a much better understanding of what was commercial and what was not in the world of romance writing. One judge so luved my entry she wrote me several personal gushing pages. I cried and cried. That same entry got one 'ten' in the Golden Heart that year, the highest at the time. Although, I absolutely love this novel, it may never see the published light of day because it is written in a style most readers won't enjoy. So it goes. But it kept me writing. Another great keep-me-on-track through Hades and back was a judge who wrote my opening prose of a dream the hero was having 'was pure genius and not to touch it'. So I never have changed it, another novella I luv, but may not get published. All this rambling, the point being, as you've expressed, there is tremendous value in the contest experience. Certainly, that is true for the American Title IV, which has opened several doors even though I was out the first round. I will say my experience of contests in 1999 and the ones I entered a couple of years ago, is different in that the critiques were much harsher and very limited in their writer vision. Why? I don't know. But I figured, I might as well get rejected by real publishers, rather than worry about chapter contests anymore. Which has proven to be a valuable strategy for me.
Anna, thanks so much, you have given us the gift of your presence, the gift of your experience and the most important gift, your writing. Luv your website! Holiday Hugs!

Anna Campbell said...

Vanessa, I think your amazing contest success is definitely a sign that you're on the right track! Sheesh! What do you want? A GPS??!!! ;-)

Savanna, what a lovely welcome and congratulions for reaching the finals of ATIV. Being a finalist is nothing to be sneezed at and will be a calling card for you as long as you want it to be! It sounds like you've already learned an amazing amount through contests. And as you say, some of the critiques were powerful enough to keep you writing. Holiday hugs right back!

Trish Milburn said...

Thanks so much for being with us today, Anna. I'll see you in the Lair.

And thanks to everyone for commenting.

Anna Campbell said...

Thanks, everyone, for coming to play today. Happy Holidays! And don't forget to check back to see who won the book.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Dear Anna,
Thanks so much for being our first guest blogger! I'm no longer battling it out, but feel like I learned a great deal from the Title IV. And am still learning as I try to figure out how this blog thing works!!
Thanks again and Merry Christmas to all!