Guest Blogger: Diana Quincy

19 Sep

Winning! Coming Out on Top in the Contest Game

Diana Quincy

About three years ago, after completing my first manuscript, and knowing absolutely nothing about publishing, I reached out to friends in New York. Did anyone there know someone in the publishing industry?

My friend, Maggie responded. Her former neighbor’s niece worked for Harlequin and her advice was that I enter the Romance Writers of America’s contest for unpublished writers. It was the first I’d ever heard of RWA and the Golden Heart. It also marked my initiation into the world of contests for unpublished writers.

I didn’t final in the Golden Heart, but I did final a few months later in the 2009 TARA contest, the first validation that maybe I was doing something right.   After that, I started entering contests on a regular basis, not only in hopes of reaching the finals – and the eyes of top editors, agents and authors – but also for the invaluable feedback. Cut down on the adverbs. Use stronger verbs. Don’t use your hero’s name too often when you’re in his point of view, it takes the reader out of the story.

 It was like a crash course in writing historical romance. When the same criticisms showed up repeatedly, I knew I had to take a closer look at what the judges were saying. Sure, there were plenty of suggestions I dismissed but, on the whole, judges offered real gems of advice which I took to heart. My writing is considerably stronger for it.

As I entered more contests, I started to see a pattern. My second manuscript, Seducing Charlotte, had a particularly racy opening which some people loved, but others hated. Some RWA chapters seemed to have a more conservative aesthetic; others were more open.

In many of the competitions, two judges would love the manuscript, while the third hated it. I began to strategize which contests offered the best chance of reaching the finals. Since judging is so subjective, I entered more contests that dropped the lowest score.  All the while, I edited and revised, according to feedback from contest judges.

It worked. I reached the finals in several contests and even won a few. Then came the biggest contest of all. Kensington editors Alicia Condon and Megan Records selected Seducing Charlotte as a top ten finalist in Kensington Brava’s Writing with the Stars contest. Online votes would determine the winner, whose manuscript would be published. I ended up tying for second place.

So I’ve won some and I’ve lost plenty.

However, what I’ve learned from playing the contest game is that there is more than one way to come out on top. For example, I didn’t win Writing with the Stars, but I did land an agent because of it.

And while I did win the 2010 New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book contest, the biggest prize of all was meeting judge Madeline Hunter. Yes, the Madeline Hunter. She offered advice on how to improve both of my finaling entries, even suggesting alternative openings.  Madeline Hunter discussing mywork. Talk about a big win.

Diana Quincy with author Madeline Hunter, who judged Diana’s winning entry at the 2010 New Jersey Romance Writers conference.

I didn’t even final in the 2011 Washington Romance Writers Marlene contest, but I view that as a win as well. One of the judges, New York Times bestselling author Grace Burrowes, was complimentary about my writing. She responded warmly to my thank you note and we ended up exchanging a series of emails about my writing and hers. It is a friendly, professional relationship that I value. Another win in my book.

Constant feedback on improving your craft; getting your work and name in front of big-name editors and agents; meeting and interacting with bestselling authors and your fellow writers, while creating a buzz about your work  – are all benefits of playing the contest game.

So yes, a win is a win. But so is a non-win.

How about you? What unexpected benefits have you gotten out of contests?


Diana Quincy is an unpublished romance author who is pursuing publication. Her three completed manuscripts have finalled 15 times in RWA-related contests. Her latest manuscript, Tempting Bella, is a current finalist in the 2011 Maggie, 2011 Put Your Heart in a Book and 2011 Golden Gateway contests. Diana blogs regularly about the publishing industry at



Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Idaho


25 responses to “Guest Blogger: Diana Quincy

  1. Clarissa Southwick

    September 19, 2011 at 1:22 AM

    Hi Diana,

    Thank you for guest blogging for us today.

    I think the best thing I’ve got from entering contests is a boost in self-confidence. I always suspect my friends are just saying nice things about my writing because they feel they have to. So it’s encouraging when an unbiased stranger has something kind to say.

  2. Diana Quincy

    September 19, 2011 at 4:16 AM


    Thanks for inviting me to guest blog. It’s great to be here! And yes, entering contests certainly boosts confidence. And, often, the next hurdle seems like the biggest one. One thing about contests is that when you do well, they give you that shot in the arm that keeps you going.

  3. Liz Fredericks

    September 19, 2011 at 5:49 AM

    Diana – Thanks for blogging on Gem State. Your contest record is very impressive – Congratulations!! I look forward to reading your books.

    • Diana Quincy

      September 19, 2011 at 5:57 AM

      Liz – Thanks for the warm welcome. I’m happy to be here!

  4. Judith Keim

    September 19, 2011 at 6:00 AM

    As head of the Launching A Star contest (for the Florida Spacecoast authors) I’m very pleased to read your comments. Like you, I feel the value of contests is in the feedback you get as well as any connections made. As I like to say, anyone who enters a contest is a winner!! However, as one who enters contests herself, I’m well aware of the differences in judges. But that can be a good thing too. Good luck with your writing!!

    • Diana Quincy

      September 19, 2011 at 6:34 AM

      Judith – You are so right. It helps that most contest judges are gentle in their critiques, which makes the process much less intimidating.

      BTW, I’ve entered your contest for the first time this year. Aside from all of the usual contest benefits – including excellent final-round judges – who can resist the possibility of having a star named after them?

      Thanks for your comments 🙂

  5. Janis McCurry

    September 19, 2011 at 7:07 AM

    Entering contests also helps me to know how to judge and how not to judge. As you say, a contest entry gives you more than just a score or a win. Thanks for guesting on Gem State Writers today.

    • Diana Quincy

      September 19, 2011 at 7:12 AM

      Janis – I haven’t been a judge yet, but I’m sure I will eventually, in order to pay back some of what I’ve received from contests. However, as you say, when I do judge, I hope I can be kind, encouraging and helpful – as so many contest judges have been for me.

  6. Meredith Conner

    September 19, 2011 at 7:39 AM

    I love contests, especially for the feedback, but I think that for very new writers – the best thing is simply the courage to put your work out there. Heck, even for those of us that have been writing longer, it still takes courage to put your work in the hands of strangers. Thanks for blogging with us.

    • Diana Quincy

      September 19, 2011 at 7:43 AM

      Meredith – Thanks for your warm welcome. I think contests are also a great way to test a new WIP, to see if you are off to a good start. On the flip side though, if an editor or agent requests a full, you won’t have one to give – and that’s not a good thing!

  7. Megann

    September 19, 2011 at 9:52 AM

    Thanks for this post, Diana. I regularly follow the publishing industry updates you write about on your blog. I think it’s a must-read for any who loves books, reading and/or writing.

    I do have a question about contests: What are the downsides of contests, in your opinion?

    • Diana Quincy

      September 19, 2011 at 9:59 AM

      Megann – Thanks for your kind comments!

      The only downside to contests, for me, is the very rare occasion when you get a nasty judge whose comments are downright mean spirited. It’s only happened once to me, but it was somewhat upsetting. Needless to say, I never entered that contest again! That being said, we just have to develop a thicker skin and keep moving ahead because the advantages of contests far outweigh any negatives.

  8. Peggy Staggs

    September 19, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    Thanks for blogging today. Contest are great tools and if you enter the ones that will do you the most good they can really help not only your writing, but you career.

    • Diana Quincy

      September 19, 2011 at 10:32 AM

      Hi Peggy – I hope that’s the case!

  9. Cara

    September 19, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    Hi Diana,

    I’m debating about which contest and when to enter for my first foray. Does it make more sense to start with smaller contests and work your way up to The Golden Heart? Thanks

    • Diana Quincy

      September 19, 2011 at 1:03 PM

      Hi Cara – I recognize you from my regular blog! Thanks for joining me over here on the Gem State Writers blog.

      To answer your question, I would start with the smaller contests because they offer the feedback that the Golden Heart doesn’t. Enter a few regional contests first and assess the feedback you get from judges. Revise, revise, revise! That way you’ll enter the Golden Heart with your best possible manuscript.

      Good luck!

  10. Jan

    September 19, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    Hi Diana,
    I’m completely new to the world of contests and don’t really want to em barres myself by having the judges rip apart work that maybe wasn’t ready for a contest. How did you know the time was right to enter your first manuscript?

  11. Diana Quincy

    September 19, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    Jan –

    Most contest judges give gentle constructive criticism and are very encouraging.

    Also, I have a priceless alpha reader who has looked my manuscripts over countless times. Her advice is always spot on. If possible, have another pair of eyes look at your work. Then enter a contest. I was doing so many things wrong in the early going – my point of view was all over the place – but the contest feedback helped correct that. You really can’t go wrong by entering a contest. Good luck with your writing!

  12. Debra Key Newhouse

    September 19, 2011 at 1:54 PM

    Thank you for a great blog Diana! I haven’t entered any contests as yet (although plan to this year), but I have judged plenty. Your blog helped give me the gentle push needed. I’m going to go look up the contests and start entering asap. Great blog!!

    • Diana Quincy

      September 19, 2011 at 3:11 PM

      Debra – Thanks for stopping by. Good luck with any contests you enter. Now that you’ve judged them, you’ll know what judges are looking for. 🙂

  13. Gail Barrett

    September 20, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    Congratulations on your contest success, Diana. I’m a bit of a contest queen myself and a huge believer in them. Just as you did, I received invaluable feedback from contest judges over the years, and also made friends with some amazing writers. I even sold my first book through a contest, so I’m definitely in favor of them:))) And I still enter my published books in contests for the wonderful exposure they bring.

    But as you pointed out, not all judges are created equal. And writing can be subjective. So while I learned some invaluable tips from judges, I also learned to trust my own judgment and ignore advice that didn’t work for me. That’s very tough to do because while I didn’t want to disregard a comment that had validity, I also had to develop my own voice and follow my instincts.

    In any case, good luck in your future contests!!!

    Gail Barrett

    • Diana Quincy

      September 20, 2011 at 4:36 PM

      Hi Gail – Thanks for you insightful comments! I think you are the ultimate contest queen because you actually sold your book as a result of a contest. Congratulations on all of your success.

      I know what you mean taking the judges’ advice and developing your own voice. It is definitely a challenge to find the right balance between the two.

  14. Marsha R. West

    September 20, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    Great post, Diana. Yeah, the contest game can be scary, but necessary road to travel. I’ve finalled with two different ms in two different contests. Most judges are kind, always trying to say something positive. One time the judges were so rough, I very nearly gave up. Fortunately, I crossed paths with those folks who reminded me the only way to really lose in this game is to quit. We keep making improvements, taking classes, learning more, and writing better. And I’m still here.

    Frankly, I wouldn’t have made as much progress as I have except for the guidance of contest judges who pointed me toward Brown and King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Not to mention the classes judges suggested. I know I sent that first manuscript in way before it was ready. However, had I not done that, I’d have missed learning some invaluable lessons. So I’d have to agree, while getting that special call or email gives you a real shot of adrenalin, the feedback is invaluable–even the feedback you decide to ignore, because it’s not right for what you’re writing. That kind forces you to rethink an element of your story, and sometimes confirms your idea.

    Good luck with your writing, Diana.

  15. Diana Quincy

    September 20, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    Hi Marsha – I agree it is important to keep working to improve our writing. In addition to Brown and King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, I also ordered Margie Lawson’s lecture packets and found them to be tremendously helpful.

  16. Marsha R. West

    September 21, 2011 at 8:38 AM

    Ditto that on Margie Lawson. We had her for our chapter conference a couple of years ago. She’s pretty amazing. At conferences she alwyas make you draw things from baskets. I picked a star with this quote by James Michener: “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” Hard to believe he ever said this. It’s very comforting for someone like me who struggles with many rewrtes and edits to get the ms the best it can be. But then does it ever really get there? Can’t we always find one more thing to tweak? But that a topic for another day. 🙂 Marsha


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