Feb. 3, 2016
I’ve entered several writing contests over the course of my writing journey. Sometimes the experience was rewarding (not always in an award sort of way), and sometimes it was frustrating and downright unfair.
So do I recommend contests? Mostly.
Will I keep entering them? Probably.
Will I have as high of expectations as I did when I first started entering contests? Absolutely not.
My first experience at a writing contest (fiction) was the ACFW Genesis contest way back when I wrote my very first novel, which is now resting in peace in the dark confines of my file cabinet. Yes, it was horrible, but I got great feedback and learned a lot from the experience.
This is the best reason to enter a contest – to get free or low-cost feedback from published authors and/or industry professionals.
Chances are, if you have 3 judges, you will get 3 very different scores. It seems that I usually get one low score, one high score, and one in the middle.
I have had a few “placings” in contests, most recently, I made the finals in the 2015 My Book Therapy contest, a big honor. I did receive good feedback, and can add that to my short list of accolades. You have to remember, there are usually a large number of entries, and competition can be stiff. There are so many great writers out there – even those yet to be published. Enter with the priority of learning. But finaling in a noteworthy contest can be a boost when writing your book proposal and talking to agents and editors.
I have also had one especially frustrating experience at a well-known Christian writer’s conference contest I will not name. I did not place, which is okay, I can handle that. But the feedback I got from a couple of the judges was very confusing. More than confusing, some of it was rude and sarcastic. I later discovered that one of the judges for my Historical fiction category was a children’s book author. Not exactly my genre, and not exactly what a judge is supposed to do. I also found out at the awards ceremony at the conference, that the judges were also contestants. And some of them won!! AGH!
Anyway, I say all that to lead up to some important points:
- Read the guidelines, rules, judge’s names, category list, etc. If there is no specific information on all that, you might consider emailing the organization for it, or skip that competition.
- I recommend not paying a lot for contests. The ones that charge more than $40 or $50 could be out to make money, and not designed to benefit the writer. Just beware.
- Contests that are not associated with a known conference, writer’s group, or Christian organization (if you are writing for the Christian genre) should be investigated carefully. There are lots of scams out there that may want you, as a “winner”, to invest in a compilation book of winning entries. Don’t do it. As I said, beware.
Don’t let a low or non-placement discourage you. Even though I appreciate how hard they work, judges are not always the most qualified, or they may just not like your genre (a judge actually told me that in her feedback)…or, you might just have needed the constructive criticism you received. It’s a learning process – use it to your advantage.
I will add that at the disappointing contest I mentioned above, one of the judges clearly was not qualified, nor appropriate for my genre. The story I entered, which is my novel to be released next month, is about a family living in a Japanese American internment camp during WWII. I had researched extensively about life in the camps. One of the several inappropriate comments from this judge stemmed from a line in the story about a character doing her laundry in the latrine, which is indeed where they had to do their laundry. The judge’s comment was “Oops! A latrine is a bathroom! Use your thesaurus!” There were other comments by this judge that made it clear to me I would have to dismiss her score. You may have to do that with some judges – just be willing to receive what is good and set aside what does not help you be a better writer. Even negative feedback can be profitable if it’s from someone who knows what they are talking about.
So go forth and enter. Keep your perspective, have an open mind, guard your pocketbook, do your research, and have fun with it.