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.
Gail Helgeson says
Hi Jan! Thanks for this helpful blog post. Makes me happy to know I am not alone! I am excited for what God is going to teach me about writing in this new year.
My word for the year is IMAGINE. I imagine winning contests a lot! But, I’m thinking that is in the distant future. I am good with that! I am learning so much and everything else is just in God’s timing.
i have heard the phrase, “God’s Timing”, more than once in the past week. That works for me.
In the meantime, I will obey and write till my heart’s content!
Blessings my friend.
Your book release is going to be awesome.
Martha Artyomenko says
I had a good laugh over some comments by a judge on a contest I entered for similar reasons. She/he was clearly ignorant on several things they commented on, for which they gave it a low score. I am glad to see that I am not the only one that has experienced that.
Jan Cline says
Hi Martha, I suppose any writer who has entered more than one contest would have a similar story. I guess we grow from it don’t we? thanks for stopping by. Blessings on your writing!
Jan Cline says
Gail, you are so right. God’s timing is the most important thing. Why is that such a hard lesson to learn for our writing? I can tell you are on the right track! thanks for sharing.
Norma Nill says
Your experience resonated with me, Jan. A contest judge who wrote all sorts of sarcastic comments on my work gave me a 3/10 while the two other judges gave me 8/10 and 9/10. Took me a few years to realize I shouldn’t take to heart that judge’s feedback. I wish you all the best with your book!
Jan Cline says
Norma, it seems to be a common theme among contest experiences. I’m glad you figured out to release that low score, especially since it was inconsistent with the others. Thanks so much for sharing. Blessings!
Terri Picone says
Jan, I hope you let the leaders of the organization know of your experience with their contest so they can correct the problems and protect the integrity of the contest and organization as well.
Jan Cline says
I did write to the one and explain my issues, but they still conduct their contest the same way. It could be that no one else has issues with that particular contest. I just think it’s important for contests to be run with care. It’s a tough job to organize them and I know it takes volunteers. But it is important to be ethical as contest planners, and it’s important for writers to make sure they know what they are getting into. I’m sure the contests I mentioned still blessed and benefitted many entrants. It’s all part of the learning curve! Blessings!
Terri Picone says
I’m glad to know you did let them know but sad to hear they didn’t make any changes because to me, it’s about integrity. There’s usually a cost to entering contests so it’s only right they be done with the writers’ interests foremost in mind.
You are right that many, undoubtedly, still benefitted, but it’s helpful for those of us who enter contests to improve our craft understand that a particular judge is not infallible simply because they are a judge.