Sunday, February 12, 2006

February BLOGCLASS-Interview with Contest Diva Tina M. Novinski

Today I have Guest Blogger, Tina Novinski with me. Tina is well known on the contest circuit for an outstanding number of finals and wins. You'll find a link at the end of the interview for Tina's website. Do check it's probably my favorite writer website.

S: Why did you begin entering contests?

T: I had three reasons.
1. I am rather shy but I knew I needed a marketing plan to get my name out there. Contests were that venue for me.

2. I stopped working with a critique group. Now I do readings with my sister who is an author and a reader, for continuity and plot issues. I knew that I needed a third input, a cold read. Contests provide that on new works.

3. Lastly, the opportunity for my work to be on an editor/agent's desk.

S: How long have you been on the contest circuit?
T: This is my fourth year of hitting the circuit hard, although the middle two years were the real big years. Now I am easing off as I am finding them less useful a tool.

S: How did you hear about the contests you entered?
T: Primarily I rely on the RWR and the Contest Alert Group on Yahoo. The Contest Alert is a very supportive group.

S: What kind and amount of feedback is important to you?
T: A good objective critique. Don't tell me I am great, my mom can do that. Don't cut me until I am bleeding and fail to explain why. The greatest offense is a score with no comments.

S: How can we improve the judging of contests?

T: It's a contest, it is subjective. That is the reality. RWA has deregulated chapters so there will be no continuity of judges training. The best thing a chapter can do is ask good judges back and eliminate the poor judges. This is can only be done if a coordinator takes the time to read the judge comments.

S: How can we draw more people to want to enter contests?
T: Stop having the same final judges every year. There has to be a common sense rationale for choosing a judge. They should be acquiring for the line they are judging or an agent who is actually open to new author projects.

S: How have you fared?
T: 85 percent of the time I get a good critique. I'm pleased with that. Last year was a good year and I had several agent and several editor requests from contests.

S. Did you come back to enter a particular contest during a succeeding year? Why or why not?

T: Contests get reputations. The best ones are timely, organized, contact you by email and if there is a problem, they post there is a delay.

S: Contests cost money. We have to be picky about which ones you enter. How do you decide?
T: I decide based on the final judge first. Then if I am interested I decide which project will "stage" best with the page requirements of the particular contest. This is no different from a beauty pageant. You have to look at all the factors and decide if your baby will be seen to its best advantage.

S: How do you feel about E-entry verses hard copy submission?
T: I wish there were more. Postage cost is huge and it takes time from my work day to mail to contests.

S: Do you feel contests have benefited you in your writing journey? If so, how?
T: I have gained confidence to do cold agent and editor queries. The other side of the coin is judging. I judge more contests now too, in the spirit of giving back, and I have a feel for what the competition is. That is a tremendous help. Writing is a solitary journey. We spend a significant amount of time thinking our work is sub par. Judging and entering contests lets you know where you really stand in comparison to your peers.

S: What was your worst contest experience?
T: As with anyone with a professional background, it is always a hoot when someone corrects your knowledge base with misinformation.

S: What was your best contest experience?

T: You know I continue to have them. A really good, strong critique is the best experience. I don't care if the pages are all full of corrections, it is all in the delivery. I love being nailed. I love it when someone sees my story from another angle and gives me a wake up call on a plot problem. I find that perversely exciting.

S: Do you know of anyone who sold as a direct result of a contest placement or win?
T: Most recently Sharie Kohler and I tied for best of the best in the Winter Rose and got an agent review. That agent got her a multi book contract. You can see her news at THAT IS SO EXCITING.

S: Advice to someone entering contests for the first time?
T: Find a mentor, someone to help you evaluate your results.

S: Any general contest thoughts you'd like to add?
T: I have heard comments about contesting such as: you would be better off spending your money on a professional critique or it costs too much money to enter. Writing is a business. I keep detailed records and file a Schedule C with the IRS. I consider contests an investment in my business. My business plan is my business plan. As long as I have one, and am constantly reevaluating it then I am satisfied. What works for me doesn't necessarily work for someone else. Nor should it.

S: Do you like judges to point out strong points along with areas that need work?
T: I learned the sandwich technique from The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers years ago. You sandwich your potentially negative comments with your encouraging ones. After all we as writers need to know what works as well as what does not.

S: Do you think as you progress in your craft you tend to depend on that less?
T: What happens to a writer is growth. You get to know your voice, your style and what works for you and what doesn't. There is a certain confidence in that.

Speaking of voice. I will mention something that was an epiphany for me that happened years ago at a "live in person critique group." I began to read my work and suddenly stopped. I recognized that my work now sounded like the person at the table who was verbally the most opinionated. I was devastated. This can happen with contests too. When you get that manuscript back review it. Then set it aside. Come back to it later. The old rule applies. Change nothing unless there is consensus and even then, be cautious.

Have you ever read a story that was technically perfect but had no spark? That's what happens when we critique the life out of a story. Contests are a great venue if you have a business plan, a strategy. But don't let them change your voice or your style.

FYI: Tina has THE coolest writer website! Check it out at



Camy Tang said...

Yeah! Thanks Tina and Cheryl!

Jill Monroe said...

I look forward to reading a Tina book verry soon!

Mary C said...

Great interview, both of you ladies

Mary C said...

I loved the interview

Mary C said...

I loved the interview

Domino said...

Just curious: If you are a finalist in a contest, how soon do you expect to get the feedback from the editor/agent/final judge?

If it takes a long time to get your contest entry back, I assume that's a good sign. Right?

Myra said...

Thanks, Tina, we know you always tell it like it is. You and Cheryl are two very classy ladies. I wish you both tons of success in this crazy business!

Mirtika said...

Wow, Tina gives a GREAT interview. Her name is very familiar to me from seeing her as a finalist or winner in contests. :) Clearly, she really put effort into the contest circuit, and her good advice shows she learned a lot.

Thanks, Squirly and Tina.

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