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The Shape of Books to Come


"Could someone get these books off me please."

"That's an awful lot of kryptonite to take down one small redhead," my husband said, eyeing the stacks of Tuvek™ envelopes that formed a solid, two and one-half foot-high wall between the two halves of our living room.

"I never claimed to be Superwoman. Wonder Woman, maybe. But never Superwoman."

My husband snickered. "You can't play bullets and bracelets with them either."

He had me there.

The envelopes contained the entries in the 2003 Marlene Awards, a romance writing contest sponsored each year by the Washington Romance Writers (WRW). Three months of wrestling with four copies each of 149 manuscripts; shipping the copies back and forth to 66 first- and second-round judges, coping with a full-time job, editing Crescent Blues and remembering to breathe left me down for the count on the room's few remaining inches of carpet space. I confess, I count the minutes until the WRW Spring Retreat when the chapter officers announce the award winners and I can turn over contest operations to the next victim -- er, coordinator. Contest coordinator.

Actually, I hope to turn the responsibility over to more than one. Even a reasonably small -- but choice -- writing competition like the Marlene Awards demands a dedicated staff to ensure every manuscript gets a fair review and a chance, however slim, to be read by the editor of a major romance publishing house and critiqued by a top author.

To do this contest thing right, you need to create detailed logs of both entries and judges, and prepare critique sheets covering everything from opening hooks to character development to the sustainability of the plot. And forget about trying to organize the preliminary judges' packages without an assembly line. It cannot be done solo. At times, the 2003 competition seemed like more trouble than it could possibly be worth.

But aspiring writers -- and those who celebrate the writing life -- know better. A well-run writing contest affords an unknown writer a unique chance to get his or her manuscript into the hands of a top editor. A contest like the Marlenes, which rewards its winners with critiques by established authors, goes one step further, giving writers the necessary savvy and insight to transform their contest-winning manuscript into a published success story.

That's worth a lot of grief in most readers' books, mine especially. I nourish the not-so-secret hope that one of the paranormal manuscripts I read for this year's contest will be bought by a major line such as Harlequin's new Luna imprint, the subject of this month's featured interview with editor Mary Theresa Hussey. Call it pie in the sky if you will, but remember, none of us would be Wonder Women if we didn't dream.

Jean Marie Ward

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