We’re just about to announce the finalists of our fifth year of the American Title contest, sponsored in conjunction with Romantic Times. Actually, it’s our seventh year in working on a contest like this if you count the New Historical Voice and the New Voice in Romance contests that came previously.  So we’ve pretty much gotten it down, and yet every year brings some surprises.

Last year, we had all kinds of drama.  One of the finalists we’d chosen found out that the print rights were held by her epublisher.  Another one turned out not to have a manuscript of the required length.  One more hadn’t actually finished the manuscript at all.  Getting ten publishable manuscripts was practically like pulling teeth.

This year, after one entrant withdrew because her book was bought by another publisher, we have eight finalists.  Here’s a quick look at how it all comes about:

1. We start talking with RT about the contest and set up due dates working back from the conference schedule. 

2. As entries come in, they’re all logged in a special file.

3. A few days after the entry deadline, our assistant editor divvies up the submissions into four equal piles–one for her, and one for each of the editors acquiring romance.

4. We usually have about two months to go through the proposals – the first three chapters and synopses.  I think all of us tend to separate the entries into No, Yes, and Maybe piles.  Requests for full manuscripts go out to the Yes pile, notification goes out to the No pile, and the Maybes are usually saved for further evaluation.  Everyone seems to do their submissions a little differently.  Some read the entire first three chapters and then only skim the fulls when the come in.  Some can tell in just the first few  pages or so of the proposal that they want to request the full and hold off on reading the rest until it comes in.  Personally, I tend to fall in the latter camp.  I feel like everything’s fresher if I haven’t already read the first 50 pages. 

5. At some point, we all get together to discuss how  many fulls we’ve requested.  If it looks like we need more, we each go back to our Maybe entries to find the best.  

6. We winnow the fulls down to the best and give all the author contact information to RT.  From here, the RT editors pretty much take over and we stay out of it until the winner is chosen.  Usually the winner works with the editor who first read the entry. 

7. As soon as we know the winning book, we start work on the cover so that we’ll be able to unveil a poster of it at the RT convention.  

And a few months later we’ll be starting all over again.  Next year, it’s quite possible we’re going to change up the format a little bit.  Any suggestions for something you’d like to see?

For more behind-the-scenes action, check out the Title Wave blog written by AT II finalists.

Updated: check out the finalists here.