Natalie Caña

Entering the Fabulous Five Contest

From the prominent New York Times Best Selling author to the newbie who’s just begun their writing career, one of the scariest things you can tell a writer is that someone is going to judge their work. Sometimes just telling a writer that their work is going to be read sends them into conniption fits.

However, writing contests should be considered in a completely different light. Writing contests are an excellent way to receive constructive feedback on your WIP and (in many instances) get your work in front of industry professionals without having to write a query!

When I finally could dedicate time to writing again, I noticed that I felt more insecure about my writing than I ever had before. I was scared to write the stories I wanted to write. I was scared to put any words on the paper, for fear that they would suck. I almost considered giving writing up as a whole. And then I read a blog post about the pros of entering writing contests. I began researching all the writing contests I could potentially enter.  Ultimately, I ended up submitting two entries into the Fab Five Contest and it was one of the best decisions I made. I took the entire process as an opportunity to grow as a writer. I wanted to know what people thought of my work when they didn’t know it was mine. It was terrifying, but absolutely necessary.

Let me tell you why:

Each final judge reads all five finalist entries. They issue their own feedback form which includes a section for material requests. Essentially, you can get a partial or full request from an agent or an editor without having to write a query and wait months checking and rechecking your inbox. Now, am I saying that entering a contest should completely replace good old-fashioned querying? No. Not at all. Querying is an important process for a writer who wants to publish traditionally, but that’s a blog post for another time. I’m talking about entering contests, specifically the Fab Five contest opening on January 1st of 2019.

For all the benefits discussed, one may suspect that entry fees would break your budget. That is not the case. At $25 for WisRWA members and $30 for non-members, the Fab Five prices continue to be some of the most economical among similar contests. So, for a relatively small fee, you can get expert feedback from published authors and the chance to get your work seen (and maybe requested by) industry professionals. I can say from firsthand experience, entering the Fab Five Contest is worth the price and worth facing the fear of judgement. It just may change your life.

As an unpublished author with no critique partners, joining the Fabulous Five contest proved vital to my journey as a writer. In 2015 I took some time off of writing to completely change careers, go back to school, and get my master’s degree. During those years, I felt well…backed up. I wanted to write my own stories, but time and guilt restrained me. I had papers to write, tests to take, and a thesis to research. How could I take an hour or two to outline a romance novel, when I was barely even sleeping? I couldn’t. There was no time. As such, my mood plummeted, my anxiety spiked, and I was miserable.

My number one reason for entering the Fab Five contest was for the feedback, especially because I don’t really have critique partners. Most authors continue the same patterns from beginning to the end of the book and from WIP to WIP. Chances are the mistakes you’re making in chapter one, are the same ones you’re making in chapter twenty. The opportunity to get detailed and constructive feedback on the beginning of your WIP is invaluable. The Fab Five contest has some seriously qualified first round judges looking at all of the things a potential editor or agent would look for: a catchy opening, believable characters, a conflict driven plot, natural dialogue and active narrative, a sense rich setting, and a unique style. Say you are like me and don’t even realize that you have no dialogue in your WIP until about page five… Don’t worry, the judges will figure it out relatively quickly and tell you in their feedback. Perhaps you are a bit lacking in setting.  The judges will let you know. Maybe your work is absolutely fantastic, but only requires some grammatical tweaks. The judges will let you know that too. The Fab Five first round judges try their very best to give detailed and useful feedback on every entry they read, but even then they don’t always agree. Every judge is different and so are their opinions, which is why the lowest score is always dropped when calculating placement in the category (unless there’s a tie) That info is available in the official rules here: 2019 Fab Five Rules Once scores are complied, five finalists are selected in each category and sent to an agent and an editor for final judging.

This leads me to the second reason for entering: the opportunity to get one’s work in front of industry professionals without having to query first. If you’re anything like me, just the thought of writing a query letter, that may or may not lead to a request, sends you into cold sweats. It’s extremely intimidating to think that a few paragraphs can determine whether or not someone decides how interesting and worthy the project (you spent years trying to perfect) is. Entering the Fab Five contest and being a finalist means that both an agent and an editor are going to read the first 2,500 words of your manuscript! There are no queries or even a synopsis needed to enter, so the judging comes directly from that small snippet of your work. I know that last sentence will freak some people out, but consider this: if an entry finals, it has gone through three other judges who considered it worthy of potentially winning. That means those first few pages are filled with some seriously good writing. That alone is a huge confidence boosting compliment.

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by: Natalie Caña

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My Journey to Writing Own Voices Stories

Image promoting #OwnVoicesGrowing up the only time I saw people like me on television was when I was at my grandmother’s house watching telenovelas or when there was a housekeeper/nanny/criminal on some other program. Literary pickings were even slimmer. There were no characters who looked, sounded, and acted like me or my loved ones. At least not ones written well and without stereotypes.

When I decided to become a writer I struggled to decide what kind of characters I would create. I wanted to tell stories about Latinx people, like me, but I also saw that all the characters in the stories I read were not people like me. I started writing stories about characters like the ones I saw in other books and secretly withered away inside.

For many years my family would tell me, “When are you going to write a story about us?” and I would reply, “Maybe one day.” Then I would go back to reading Twitter posts and blogs about the need for diversity in publishing, nod my head in agreement, but continue to write the same types of stories. Taking up the mantle seemed like such a daunting task and something better suited for more established and experienced authors.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was wrong.

At a Barbara Vey’s Reader Appreciation Luncheon I had the incredible luck of scoring a seat at my writing idol’s table and we discussed writing. She asked me what I was working on. I told her I was currently taking a break from writing, because I just didn’t feel motivated. She asked me if I had any ideas that I felt excited about and I hesitated to answer. Eventually I told her that I’d always wanted to write a series based off a large and animated Puerto Rican family like mine. Her response was, “That’s awesome. Why haven’t you written it yet?” I tried to explain that I didn’t think it would work and how I thought it was something better left for other (already represented) authors. She grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “Listen to me. Nobody is better equipped to write those stories than you. Your stories need to be heard, so write them.”

I sat there in a sort of dumbfounded shock and thought to myself, “Is she right? Should I be writing these stories? Can I handle the pressure?” I thought about my life. About how I was forced to use my Barbies to act out stories as a kid, because I couldn’t find any about people like me anywhere else. I thought about how I have always been a proud Latina, even when others tried to discourage me from being one. I realized that I wasn’t doing myself or potential readers justice. There are people out there hungry for diverse stories and I can provide some.

I immediately went back to my hotel room and started plotting. I haven’t gotten as far as I’ve wanted. As you fellow writers know, life often gets in the way of our best laid plans. However, I can finally say that for the first time in a long time, I am excited to write. I look forward to finally giving my family and others like us a story with real representation to enjoy.

Headshot of Natalie CanaWhen she was in the first grade Natalie Caña was given an assignment: write a few sentences about the old lady who lived in the shoe. Four pages later (front and back) in which she wrote a whole new version of the story, it became clear to her mother that she was a writer.  However the type of writer she was remained unclear, so she tried a little bit of everything. She wrote plays, screenplays, poems, song lyrics, news stories, and even produced some television. It wasn’t until she picked up her first romance novel, that everything was revealed (clouds parted and angels sang). She was a romance writer. Now she writes contemporary romances that allow her incorporate her witty sense of humor (it’s impossible to quiet) and her love for her culture (Puertominican whoop whoop!) for heroines and heroes like her.

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