Reality Skimming

The Marlene Awards – Deadline for Submissions January 15,2013

Jean Marie WardJean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as the 2011 WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” (from the anthology Dragon’s Lure) and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. She edited the web magazine Crescent Blues for eight years and now writes for other online venues, including Buzzy Mag. Her web site is

Interviewed by Michelle Carraway

Could you explain what the Marlene Award is awarded for?

The Marlene Awards are an annual contest for unpublished romance novel manuscripts sponsored by Washington Romance Writers, the Washington, DC, chapter of Romance Writers of America.

What is the criteria for entering?

The complete rules for entering can be found at But the short form is we're looking for the opening pages of a book-length unpublished manuscript in one of six romance categories: Contemporary Series, Single Title, Historical, Paranormal, Romantic Elements and Young Adult.

Writers in other genres shouldn't be scared by the romance label, however. The genre is very broad. Series, Single Title and Historical submissions need to be relationship driven, with the focus squarely on the relationship and ultimate Happily Ever After of its hero and heroine (or hero and hero, or heroine and heroine--our contest doesn't put limits on that, though some judges may be more sympathetic than others). You have more latitude with Paranormal, Romantic Elements and Young Adult, but the romance between the principals needs to play a major role in the plot, driving at least 40 percent of the action.

The other important thing is the manuscript must be unpublished. It used to be RWA chapters restricted their contests to "unpublished writers", but with the explosion of indie publishing, it became impossible to define a "published writer" according to the old criteria--published with a sizeable advance by a traditional New York publisher. For example, can you say that Amanda Hocking wasn't published before St. Martin's offered her a contract? Alternatively, how long does it take before a traditionally published writer loses their "published status"? Five years? Ten years? Twenty? What about if they're making money selling directly to their fans? How much money does it take before they regain that status?

It got too crazy. The only thing you can be sure of in today's publishing environment is whether a manuscript is published--i.e., released for sale or wide distribution--or not. So WRW's officers opted to take the contest in that direction. After all, whatever your authorial status, unless you're a bestseller, a writer is always looking for two things: a paying market and good critique.

What is the prize for winning?

Winners in each category receive a critique by a published author, a silver and mother of pearl pendant, and a certificate of achievement. Some receive offers for their winning manuscripts by the final round judges. That happened to two of last year's category winners. A third received an offer for her manuscript from a different editor within six months of winning.

Most entrants, however, focus on having their entry submitted to the final round judges. The final round judges are editors actively acquiring for their respective publishing houses. Finalists know the editor will read their work and come to a quick decision. They won't be left in submission limbo for months or years.

But every entrant's manuscript is reviewed by three first round judges, many of whom are published writers. The score sheets cover ten specific area and provide several sections for lengthy commentary. In addition, judges are encouraged to comment directly on the manuscripts. This means that every entrant is a winner in the critique department.

What is your personal connection to the Marlene awards?

I've been a WRW member for more than ten years, and like most writers I wanted to pay forward all the help and mentorship I've received from chapter members. I coordinated the contest in 2002, way back in the Stone Age when we still required hard copy submissions. For several years, real life kept me too busy for a repeat performance. But a few years ago, I volunteered to coordinate the Paranormal Category. When our last contest coordinator, Candy Lyons, became chapter secretary in 2011, I offered to help out with the 2012 competition. Thanks to the truly fabulous team of category coordinators Candy put together, I'm still at it.

Why was the Marlene Award begun?

The Marlene Awards were first offered in 1996 in fond remembrance of writer and chapter member Marlene Montano. The purpose has always been to give aspiring writers a leg up on the submission process. In that sense, the critique provided by the first round judges is as important as the selections made by the editors in the final round. Over the years, several winners, now multi-published writers, honed their craft by repeatedly entering the contest until they had a publishable manuscript.

What advice to you have for people thinking of entering the awards?

Read the submission criteria carefully If you've got any questions, please, ask the category coordinators (they really are amazing!)--or me Most importantly, submit your very best work.

What is the most common mistake people make when submitting a manuscript to the Marlene Awards?

That's a complicated question. Formatting to submission guidelines has become a lot easier since we went to an automated submission process. Almost no one gets disqualified for improper formatting anymore. Beyond that, success depends on a combination of good writing and the enthusiasm of the first round judges. It's hard to pin that to specifics.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Don't give up.

Consider all critique and criticism of your work. You don't have to agree with it, much less accept it. But it's like what your mother told you about vegetables--try it before you dismiss it.

Don't give up.

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