Thursday, May 16, 2013

From a Finalist of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards 2012 - C.H. Griffin

As a finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, I’m a huge supporter of entering writing contests.  

I first heard about the ABNA contest from a critique partner in 2011 and entered my first novel.  When I made it as far as the quarterfinals, it was pretty encouraging, so it was a no-brainer to enter in 2012 with my YA novel DREAMCATCHERS.  To be honest, it wasn’t ready and I knew it.  It was really only a first draft.  But I thought, “Why not?”  I hate missing an opportunity.  Because you just never know.  Right?  

I remember the day I received THE phone call.  Actually, I stopped stressing over the contest after I’d made it past the quarterfinals, telling myself that I was happy with that. But it never even crossed my mind that I’d make it to the finals.  After I received the great news, I went into shock.  And I must have sounded that way because the rep on the phone suggested I sit down.     

Sure, I made it to the finals in Seattle and lost, but somehow I came away feeling like a winner.  I had a great experience, met some wonderful people, and got the attention needed to land my fantastic agent.  But there are pros and cons to entering each contest.   

So why is it BENEFICIAL to enter a contest?  You know, besides the obvious - winning prizes. 

·      Get noticed.  By readers, by writers, by agents, and editors.  Your name is out there now.  It’s attached to an actual piece of writing.  Even if you don’t win, you can meet others who have entered, start conversations, and build long-term connections and relationships with them.  That’s the beautiful thing about the writing community.  Writers love helping writers (that’s why I’m here talking to you today).  We support each other.  Yeah, everyone wants to win that contest, but others want to see you achieve your goals too. 

·      Gain publishing credits.  Even if it’s just getting published online or in a small periodical or collection of works, hey, congrats!  You’re still published.  You’ve now got bragging rights.  Even if you don’t win, the semi-finals is enough to gain some attention.

·      Pump up your resume.  Agents and publishers want to see that you’ve been active in the writing community.  That you’re not a complete and total newbie.  That you didn’t just jump on the “I think I’ll write a novel” bandwagon.  You’re a serious writer now.  You’ve got credentials - something other than “It’s a really great book.  I promise!” to put in your query letter.

·      Grow some ba… err, confidence.  It’s scary to put yourself out there.  It’s like your writing is going on a dating show.  Will people like it?  Or will it get voted off the island?  Hmm, I clearly don’t watch enough TV.  But seriously, it’s good practice for once you start querying agents, shopping for publishers, and attracting readers.  The publishing world is not for the faint of heart.  It is overflowing with rejection and ridicule.  At least with contests, you’ve never met the judges and probably never will.  You are just another faceless contestant.  So if you don’t make it, it doesn’t hurt quite as bad.  It helps prepare you for future rejections, which will inevitably become more brutal as you attract more attention to yourself and your writing.

·      Open doors.  Even if you don’t win, it can still create opportunities you didn’t expect.  By entering the Amazon contest, I came away with 5 new writing friends, some generous consolation prizes, and the attention of agents.  If that was considered losing, then I’m a happy loser.

BUT BE WARY.  Not all contests are made equal.  They can be a great opportunity, but don’t rush into it.  Do your research first, and familiarize yourself with the rules to protect yourself and your hard work.  

·      Is it legit?  Check out the company’s history and past contests held by the website.  Also look into past winners.  Maybe even contact them.  If they had a good experience, they will be more than willing to share.  It’s also a good sign if agents or other writers are involved in judging and are willing to put their names on the line.  If you’re having difficulty contacting any human beings associated with the contest, that’s a huge red flag.

·      Does it cost anything?  Most contests have an entry fee.  That’s usually where the winnings come from when it’s a low-profile contest.  It’s not unreasonable.  Holding and judging a contest can be a time-consuming, gruelling event.  But if the cost is outrageous, or the math doesn’t seem to work out (ie. not all the prize money goes to the winners), I’d be doing a little more research before handing over my Visa.  Also, make sure that once you win, you’re not obligated to spend more money, like an agency offering representation to the winner… for a small fee.  

·      What’s the fine print?  Make sure you read the rules thoroughly.  This is your baby we’re talking about here.  If you win, what rights do you keep or lose?  How long before they revert back to you?  Can you search for other publishers in the meantime?  Or is your search on hold?  This is not unusual, but again, make sure it’s reasonable.

After the ABNA finals in Seattle, I began to query agents.  As an unpublished author, it’s tough to get attention in today’s overloaded market.  You need something that makes you stand out.  And now I had it.  As a writer, you pray to the publishing gods for just one interested agent, but to have several requests for partials and fulls was better than I had anticipated.

Do you think I would have had the same response without those contest credentials?  Probably not.  It’s easy to get lost in the slush pile.  As one of the top three novels chosen out of thousands worldwide in a contest run by major players like Amazon and Penguin, I was able to turn a few heads.  It was like having a reference letter from someone in the industry.  In the end, I signed with wonderful Pooja Menon of Kimberley Cameron and Associates and have been moving forward ever since.  

The publishing industry is tough to break in to.  So why not give yourself the best chance possible?There are so many opportunities out there for writers.  You just need to put yourself out there.  Happy writing and good luck!

Your Turn: Have you entered any writing competitions? What were your experiences? Do you have any advice for other writers thinking about the same competition themselves? 

CH Griffin is a true geek at heart, enjoying anything from Star Trek expos to comic conventions on her days off from driving 400 ton dump trucks in Northern Alberta.  As a jack of all trades with a resume boasting registered nurse, English teacher, and photographer, writing is the one thing that is here to stay.  She was a finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest for her novel Dreamcatchers.  She writes YA fiction and is represented by Pooja Menon from Kimberley Cameron and Associates.
You can find Cassandra at: or tweet her @chgriffinauthor




  1. I like doing the contests because I get great feedback on where I need to make things tighter.

    Great post!

    Hugs and chocolate,

    1. You're right. It's a great way to meet potential critique partners because you're all in the same boat together.

  2. Awesome story. I entered a contest in October and I'm now in the top 20%. I know exactly how you felt :)

    1. That's fantastic! Good luck. What a great confidence booster

  3. Congrats on getting so far with your book! I came away with a second place in a prestigious Christian writing contest, and even though I didn't get the coveted package grand prize, I definitely agree it's given me some exposure and a lot more confidence. Good luck to you on your continued writing journey!

    1. Thank you so much! And congrats to you too. As long as you do your research about the contest, only good can come from it. It's silly not to take the chance, and it seems it paid off for both of us. Dreamcatchers will be going on submission soon, and the exposure helped me get to this point. Good luck to you :)

    2. Thanks so much (and glad to connect on Twitter)! I think another benefit of the contest for me was giving me a great incentive to get my MS as publication-ready as possible. Sounds like you didn't have the luxury of time for that... but wow! it sure worked out for you in the end!