Articles from Previous Orange Rose Blog Posts
Isley Robson—2015 Orange Rose Winner on Enjoying the Contest Ride
In the couple of years since I joined the RWA, I’ve come to think of contests as a barometer, a lifeline, and an education all rolled into one—and the Orange Rose has been by far my best contest experience so far. For helpful feedback, high-caliber first round judges, and a stellar final judging panel, it can’t be beat. There’s no other contest I’ve encountered that resulted in requests from *three editors*! Or that led an agent unaffiliated with the contest to get in touch simply because of the contest’s reputation.
I first dipped my toe in the RWA chapter contest pool in late 2013, when my Orange Rose–winning manuscript was in a very different state than it is today. Before I even found a critique group or my local RWA chapter, I started sending my opening pages off to contests. As a newbie, there were some basic questions I needed answered. Is my premise engaging? Does my voice work? Will anyone care about my characters?
My manuscript was very personal to me because I had given my hero the same challenges I wrestled with when my own toddler son was diagnosed with autism. But would it resonate with anyone else? And would the optimism of the romance be enough to leaven the angst?
Through the wisdom and generosity of first-round judges from RWA chapters around the country, I found the answers to things I didn’t even know to ask. I discovered my first draft was guilty of “head hopping.” Who knew? I learned about the power of deep POV. I didn’t agree with every piece of feedback that came my way, but the responses were consistent enough that—when I started making it into finals—I knew I was headed in the right direction.
Contests taught me to deal with rejection. They gave me craft lessons on issues large and small. Perhaps most importantly, they gave me the buzz of knowing that, even if I wasn’t all the way there yet, someone out in the world was reading my words and responding to them. A few pieces of random advice:
- Have a goal for each contest. “Winning” is an obvious one, but “learning” is even better. Never was I hungrier for the hard truth of judges’ comments than when I missed getting into a final. I wanted to know what wasn’t working for them and how I could improve. My goals shifted as I neared “The End” and started to see more contest success. At that point, my focus was on whether a contest might get my work in front of a particular editor or agent.
- Be ready. I’ve heard others point out the importance of not only focusing on polishing your first couple of chapters to a high shine, and it’s true. The rest of the manuscript also has to sparkle. I fell into the trap of obsessing over my opening scenes at the expense of moving forward, and it cost me. Way before I was ready, a top agent requested my manuscript from a contest and it took me so long to blunder through the rest of the learning process—and the manuscript—that I got back to her too late and squandered the opportunity. Ouch.
- Don’t lose heart. Even when your manuscript is in good shape, not everyone is going to love it. That goes for agents and editors as much as for contest judges, so it’s good to get used to it early—and sometimes their reasons come out of left field. So stay true to your own internal compass and remember to bask a little when someone gets on your story’s wavelength.
Did a contest help land me a publishing deal? I wish I could say yes, but the jury’s still out. Now I have great representation, and I continue to tread the long path toward publication. But contests—and the Orange Rose, in particular—have been a huge part of my learning curve. And there’s nothing like the excitement of sending your work out into the world in the knowledge that it could lead to an opportunity that changes everything!
Isley Robson is a transplanted Australian who now shivers in New England with her husband (also a writer with a day job), two children, and ancient hairless dog. Isley writes smart, lyrical contemporary romances about quirky people who find their perfect match. Her first manuscript, The First Word, is about an Aspie engineering magnate called Rhys whose life changes forever when “Andie”—the name of the earnest occupational therapist working with his autistic toddler son—becomes his son’s first word. Isley is represented by Victoria Lowes and Jenny Bent at The Bent Agency.
Susan Squires : Orange Rose Contest Success Story!
Posted on March 1, 2015
I love the Orange Rose Contest even more than contests in general—and that’s saying something. The Orange Rose was the dividing line for me between being a published writer and a writer aspiring to publication. I sold my first book to the editor who judged it in the Orange Rose. I got the call even before the winners were announced. Those were the days when all books were ranked in a single order, no matter the genre. I think Danegeld was third.
That editor, Chris Keesler and I are still friends to this day. He bought five of my books, including one that was under the bed in a box. My first New York press, Dorchester, was a springboard to a bigger publisher, St. Martin’s Press. I got publishing experience, learned a lot, had a good time, tore out my hair sometimes, and met wonderful authors with whom I am friends to this day. In short, that contest pretty much changed my life.
So of course I love the Orange Rose. But I think all contests are valuable. I entered a lot when I first joined RWA. Danegeld had gotten me an agent but she couldn’t sell it. And I admit it was different—a tough sell. But I believed in it. So I entered contests to get it read by someone who could publish it. Seventeen contests of them. Those contests gave me much more than just that final sale from the Orange Rose.
So here’s how I think contests can benefit you:
- You get valuable feedback if the judges are experienced published authors or editors.
- You get used to taking criticism. You’re going to get a lot of it if you have a good editor.
- Contests motivate you to write the best book you can.
- They give you a deadline—always good for actually producing a finished product.
- An added plus: it’s fun if you final or even win. You get praise that makes you feel like a real writer and motivates you to continue your career path.
Here are some tricks to profiting from contests in my experience:
- You must have a strong “center line” about your project. You will get comments that don’t fit the type of book you want to write and your goals. You determine which criticisms are valuable and which aren’t. Don’t just do whatever the comments say. You’ll end up with “Generic Book.”
- If you enter multiple contests and keep getting the same comments, address the issues raised. Revise.
- Since contests focus on the first part of your book, polish that until it gleams.
- Take what you learned from working on those first chapters and apply it to the rest of your book. That way you’re ready when editors ask for more. I have always believed that you should have your book complete before you enter, but that’s just me.
- If at first you don’t succeed, work on your book and keep entering. Every time you enter, you are motivated to make your book better, and you learn more about what “better” is.
So: enter the Orange Rose. It’s a prestigious contest that gives you experienced judges who can help you on your way. It’s motivational. It’s fun. And it might just change your life.
NYT Bestselling author Susan Squires published seventeen novels and novellas wit Dorchester Publishing and St. Martin’s Press, as well as self-publishing six books in her new Magic Series. She’s won the Golden Heart and the Holt Medallion as well as many regional contests, been a finalist in the Rita contest, and garnered several Reviewer’s Choice awards from Romantic Times BookReviews. Publisher’s Weekly named Body Electric and One with the Shadows a Best Book of Year. She lives at the beach in Southern California with her husband, who is also a writer, and two Belgian Sheepdogs who help her by laying their chins on the keyboardddddddd.
“You’ll Believe the Magic”
Posted on January 4, 2015
I first entered the Orange Rose back in 2008. I’d finished my first book, and though I knew it wasn’t ‘agent-ready’, I entered for the wonderful judge’s feedback I’d heard about. Well, my scores were less than I’d hoped (though looking back now, what I deserved!) But when I stood in my kitchen, reading the judge’s comments, I got to the bottom of one and screamed! My husband came running, thinking I’d cut off a finger. I told him that DEBBIE MACOMBER had judged my entry, and said that, though my writing was somewhat immature, to keep at it, because I had a good voice and an interesting premise.
That fueled my editing all year long. So of course, the next year, I entered my rewritten book, and missed finalling by only a few points.
Fast forward to 2011. I’d written two books in the intervening time, and this last one I felt was strong. I’d hoped The Sweet Spot would final. I entered that manuscript in other contests, and it even won a couple…but I wouldn’t feel like it was really agent-worthy until it did well in the Orange Rose.
I was thrilled when it not only finalled, but was awarded second place, overall!
This gave me the confidence boost I needed to submit.
Eventually The Sweet Spot was published, and this year was awarded the RITA® Award for Best First Book!
I can’t speak highly enough about the Orange Rose. They not only encourage judge’s input (sometimes in the text itself, like a critique) but ALL the judges are published authors. I’ve had such helpful feedback from their giving, careful judging.
“Emotional stories at the heart of the West”
Laura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women’s Fiction and Romance.
She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central. The Sweet Spot (May 2013), Nothing Sweeter (Jan 2014) and Sweet on You (August 2014). The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award in the Best First Book category.
Her ‘biker-chick’ novel, Her Road Home, sold to Harlequin’s Superomance line (August, 2013) and has expanded to three more stories set in the same small town. The Reasons to Stay released August, 2014.
In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She’s a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.
2015 Final Round Judges – Editor Q & A #3
It’s time to hear from a few more of our excellent final round editor judges. You’ll find their bios under the Judging tab:
- Alycia Tornetta, Editorial Director, Entangled
- Flo Nicoll, Editor, Harlequin UK/Mills & Boon
- Tera Cuskaden, Editor, Samhain
- Nicole Fischer, Editorial Assistant, Avon
- Karen Reid, Associate Editor, Harlequin Superromance
Q: What do you look for in a contest submission that would make it stand out from the rest?
Alycia: I look for an engaging voice and an opening that hooks me right away. The submission that has those two things and leaves me wishing I could read more is the one that always stands out.
Flo: A fast-paced opening that instantly intrigues, entertains and sets up two intriguing characters. Snappy, believable dialogue is always the icing on the cake!
Tera: I look for chemistry between the characters, writing with all five senses, and clean writing—as few grammar and punctuation issues as possible.
Nicole: I look for a unique, high concept with a compelling plot but also something that works in the current market. Good writing is standard in contest submissions, but what makes a winner to me is something I can actually see selling.
Karen: Voice is always very important to me. When I start reading a manuscript and I recognize the voice of the author as unique and fresh, that really grabs my interest. And, of course, good, real conflict is always a must.
Q: What are your top tips for aspiring authors?
Alycia: Take advantage of all the author groups out there. Connect with other writers, bloggers, and readers. Pick a social media platform (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, etc) and genuinely interact with people on it. Join a crit group or get a beta reader (and beta read for someone else). Read widely in your genre. Experiment with writing for different genres and audiences. Revise, revise, revise.
Flo: 1. Read as much as you can of your dream publisher’s current titles, so you can target your submission as strongly as possible. 2. Think about your USP [Unique Selling Point] – how can your writing provide that publisher with something different and unique? 3. Don’t give up! Surround yourself with supportive friends from the romance writing community, take every opportunity to learn that you can, and have the courage to pursue your dreams.
Tera: Research a publisher before you submit to them. Talk to other authors. Authors are usually so willing to advise. Take advantage of it. And get yourself a really good critique partner or beta reader. They will help make your story even better.
Nicole: Attend as many conferences and writers workshops as you can! Networking with other authors and learning the ropes with the help of experienced writers is a great way to hone your craft. Also, research publishing houses and editors! It is important to know who is acquiring what at which company so you do not waste your time submitting your manuscript to someone who does not acquire that genre.
Karen: Read, read, read, and write, write, write. And keep submitting, of course. Also, I hope that aspiring authors take every communication they get from editors in the spirit in which it’s given, specifically when it comes to revision letters. When we write you an email/letter and tell you what we liked about your book and what we would change, we’re doing it in the hopes that you’ll take some of our notes and resubmit a revised manuscript. Don’t focus on the rejection part but on the revision!
Q: What’s your favorite type of hero or heroine?
Alycia: I love strong, quirky heroines who have a sense of humor. My favorite heroine is usually one with a “wild side” or who is from the wrong side of the tracks. In YA especially, I like heroines who break the “boring nice girl” mold. My favorite type of hero is a bad boy. I also have a serious weakness for smart guys. I like a hero who’s confident and has a great sense of humor.
Flo: Ones that make me laugh! Very earnest characters who take themselves very seriously (especially heroes) just don’t do it for me, sorry!
Tera: I love beta heroes if they are written well. They can be a tricky one.
Nicole: I love sassy, strong heroines…no wallflowers please! Bad boy heroes are my favorite across all genres.
Karen: I love flawed characters in both my hero/heroine. This allows opportunity for growth, which is always rewarding. I also like my heroines to be strong and of their own mind even when it’s in a somewhat confused state. And my heroes, even though flawed, always have a good heart, though sometimes it may be hidden beneath a rough exterior.
2015 Final Round Judges – Editor and Agent Q & A #2
The contributing editors/agent for this week’s Q&A are:
- Bess Cozby, Editorial Assistant at Tor/Forge Books
- Nalini Akolekar, Literary Agent, Spencerhill Associates
- Cat Clyne, Editor, Sourcebooks
- Katherine Pelz, Assistant Editor, The Berkley Publishing Group, Div. of Penguin Random House
You’ll find their bios under the Judging tab. Check back frequently for future blog and Q & A postings.
Q: What genres are you currently acquiring?
Bess: Historical fiction, thrillers, mysteries and light fantasy and scifi
Nalini: I love romantic suspense. I would be interested in seeing some paranormal if it is really unique. I also haven’t seen a good Civil War romance in ages. I am not looking for more women’s fiction at this time.
Cat: Single title romance: Romantic Suspense, Contemporary Romance, Erotic Romance, Paranormal Romance and Historical Romance, especially Highlanders, and romantic New Adult.
Katherine: I’m currently acquiring romance, women’s fiction and mystery.
Q: How would an author submit to you?
Bess: I only accept submissions through agents and contests.
Nalini: Our submissions guidelines are on our website www.spencerhillassociates.com.
- In an email, cover letter with series hook and pitches for books 1-3, where you see your books sitting on the shelf (what subgenre and comparable/competing authors), author’s career arc/bio and any sales info if relevant.
- Synopsis of first book, covering the primary storyline (2-3 pages).
- Full, polished manuscript. (80,000-92,000 words).
Katherine: I typically receive submissions from agents, contests and conferences. When receiving submissions that finaled in a contest or were pitched to me at a conference, I like to see a brief (page length) synopsis and the first 100 pages.
2015 Final Round Editor and Agent Q & A #1
We’ve asked our final round editor and agent judges to answer a few contest and acquisition-related questions. Answering for us this week are:
- Brenda Chin, Editorial Director, ImaJinn (an imprint of BelleBooks)
- Jill Limber, Editor, Boroughs Publishing Group
- Priyanka Krishnan, Associate Editor, Ballantine Bantam Dell of Random House
- Courtney Miller-Callihan, Agent, Greenburger Associates
Check back frequently for future blog and Q&A postings.
Q: What do you look for in a contest submission that would make it stand out from the rest?
Brenda: I look for voice first and foremost. After that, I look for characters I like and can identify with. If a book has those two things, I know I’ve found an author I can work with – if not on the book in question, than another.
Jill: Read the contest rules. Made sure the book is properly formatted and spell checked. It is extremely important to open the book in the right place, with the inciting incident that starts the story. No back-story up front. Never explain anything to the reader–the characters should reveal story with their actions, dialog and emotions.
Priyanka: I am drawn to characters that go beyond the traditional romance archetypes and offer something unexpected. I also love when it is clear the author has put a lot of thought into a character’s motivation and emotional back-story (nothing is worse than a hero who broods for no reason).
Courtney: Strong writing and a great concept or hook. Because the submissions are usually short, the best ones have me “hooked” by the end of the sample!
Q: What genres are you currently acquiring?
Brenda: Right now, I’m looking for romance – all romance! Contemporary, short and sexy, romantic suspense, historical and time travel. We also publish paranormal romance and Regency romance, but I already have a number of those books in my line-up. Right now, I’d like to expand our offerings.
Jill: We publish every romance subgenre except Inspirational Romance, and every length story from short story length to full length novels.
Priyanka: As far as romance goes, I am interested in contemporary, historical, romantic suspense and new adult (though I don’t like the term new adult).
Courtney: I’m actively looking for all genres of romance except for inspirational romance. Paranormal remains a tough sell but I’m always on the lookout for a really brilliant one! I also work on mainstream women’s fiction, historical fiction, and YA novels.