Thursday, November 5, 2009

Interview with a contest director, part II

Today, I have the second part of the interview with Dawn Smit Miller, contest director of the Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Contest. Check out the judges for the finalists.

You have scored some high profile VIP judges: how do you do that year after year?

Just like the writers we serve, we too have to network. Fortunately, the contest and the conference have been around since 1993, so we've met a lot of people in the industry. The conference has a reputation for being friendly to both attendees and faculty--and what a view of Pikes Peak! This positive impression allows us to humbly approach and ask for this favor that will mean so much our entrants.

This year we have not one but two agents from the Donald Maass Literary Agency, including The Man himself! How cool is that? Not to mention editors from Tor and Scholastic and Harlequin. I'm so excited, I have to mention the whole list.

Jennifer Rees

Historical Fiction
Rachelle Gardner
WordServe Literary Group

Donald Maass
Donald Maass Literary Agency

Kathleen Gilligan
Thomas Dunne (St. Martins) Books

Brenda Chin

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror
Jennifer Jackson
Donald Maass Literary Agency

Short Story
Denise Little

Young Adult
Stefanie Von Borstel
Full Circle Literary Agency

Similarly, how do you persuade your preliminary judges, most of whom are authors who carve time away from their own writing to read the entries?

Many of our judges see this as a way to give back to the writing community, especially if they've won in the past. It also helps that our judges can earn a credit toward the conference each year. It's not a lot, but the judges appreciate it. Several judges don't even use the credit for themselves and instead give it to a needy writer friend or to the scholarship fund. As I said, we have a great bunch of judges. On the admin side of the contest, we try to make the process as smooth for the judges as possible so they don't have a bad experience.

Welcome to Chris: did Dawn tell you that you're merely assisting and doing a bit of paperwork and that there is nothing to it?

Actually, she was really up front with me 1) with how much work I'd be doing and 2) that I'd be taking over the contest next year. (Dawn's addition: And he still accepted!)

I read a comment in a blog sometime ago by an editor who said she looked up the Paul Gilette Contest and found that it was a contest you could win only if you attended the conference. How do you plan to squash these prejudices?

Through word of mouth, our PPW website, and blogs like yours.

Favorite anecdotes?

Hmm, how much room do you have on that blog of yours? No, I'll be good.
Having eight volunteers crammed around a long table my first year as coordinator, and only then realizing that we needed a bigger space to organize everything....
Inviting volunteers to my home, and watching five bankers boxes of entries turn into 40 ready-to-mail judges packets....
Corresponding with one entrant nine times over the course of two weeks as the entrant made absolutely sure that his entry was perfect, and then having to email him again when he forgot to include the check....
Watching my winners walk around the conference with their specially colored name badges, and seeing the moment they realize that their badge is different....
Calling up one writer who won or placed in four different categories in one year.

Plea, I mean advice, to entrants?

Submit soon, before November 15. We are more helpful to entrants who submit, say, more than a week before the deadline. If we see an issue with your entry, we're more likely to email you for a fix rather than making a note to the judge about how many points to deduct for not following the rules.

Other than that? Check that your entry is saved as a .rtf (Rich Text Format) file. Make sure the length of your entry fits within the word count for your category. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you don't get a response within a day or two, feel free to nag politely. And if you have any unpleasant experience, let us know so that Chris can fix it for next year if possible.

The writing contest director and coordinator toil behind the scenes organizing, reading, diffusing tension, persuading, being calm, and generally playing the role of an unsung hero. That needs to be remedied; you will be sung to. At the next Pikes Peaks Conference, everyone you meet, or at least everyone who's entered the Pikes Peaks Writers Fiction Contest will sing of your virtues and hard work.

How sweet. Thank you.

So, you heard Dawn: enter! And don't think that she put that bit about her testing for her TKD black belt just for kicks. (I'll join you in groaning.) She is serious, she wants you to enter, and you'd better!


tanita davis said...

I heard really good things about Pikes Peak even before I met you!

Kelly H-Y said...

Thank you, thank you for this interview!!!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I had such a great time at PPWC last year. Sadly, I didn't even know about the contests.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I wish I had another completed novel to enter.


Working on it! I'd love to return to PPWC, but I'm not sure if I can swing it this time :(

Nandini said...

Thanks for this great information, Yat-Yee. Still a few days to clean up that synopsis. I think I might enter ...

Yat-Yee said...

Tanita: I hope I haven't tarnished its image since. :)

Kelly: does that mean you'll enter?

Karen: you were there last year? If you go again, please let me know in case I get to attend.

Sherrie: You have to come back, or I'll have to make Mr. Riordan write another book that includes the Garden of the Gods!

Nandini: I hope you do!

MG Higgins said...

I went "underground" just as you posted these interviews. Really nice interviews. Afraid I've missed the deadline, but interesting reading nonetheless. Hope you're doing well!