I don’t usually enter contests, but I decided to go all out this year. During the past two months I’ve redefined my understanding of the experience from both the judging and entrant viewpoints. I hope this post will help you consider whether entering contests is in your best interest at this point in your career. Next month I'll share perspectives of a judge.
Two years ago I submitted two entries in each of two contests. One was a first draft of a new book, and I just wanted to see how the concept was received. My goal was to final with the older entry. Well, both entries finaled in one contest, and the more polished entry finaled in the other. The feedback I got was mixed–a little helpful and a little confusing.
Last year I didn’t bother to enter anything, not because of the expense, or the time, or the waiting to see if two people really liked my writing. I simply didn’t feel a need for validation.
This year I decided I would enter, not for validation, but for feedback and to get my work in front of people who might be interested in acquiring it. I researched contest possibilities, studied score sheets and judging criteria, evaluated categories for entries, and Googled the judges. As you know, there are a lot of contests out there.
By the time I had my list, in order of entry deadlines, it was time to format, polish and send out my words. I sent off seven entries, then relaxed for two months because the deadline for the last two entries was much later.
Two weeks before the deadline for my final two contest entries, I opened an e-mail that said one of my entries had made the finals. Giddy would be a good word to describe how I felt for twenty-four hours. Then I got the score sheets for the other entry in the same contest. The first one was 135 of 140 points. Smiles.
The second one was 66. Really? I skimmed the comments. “Writing is hard. You need to learn how to do it,” “There is no logic to this book,” “You don’t know how to world build,” were a few. I felt like I’d been hacked with my own Claymore. And I remembered why I don't usually enter contests.
Thank goodness this contest has a third judge score the entry if the first two judges differ by more than 35 points. A 128 brought me back from the edge.
It's hard to process an anonymous critique.
Did my judge have to read this entry in a genre she dislikes or doesn't read? Are they a first-time judge? Did she think about the impact of her words on someone who put a lot of time, effort and money into the entry?
What I was looking for were suggestions to improve the partials I'm planning on sending out.
What I got felt like an ice pick in the eye.
For the next two days I debated if I really want to sell a book and be subjected to reviews and comments from people who don’t like my stories. It’s one thing to get a private rejection letter or score sheet, it’s another to have someone rail against you and your writing skill. I struggled with what I wanted at this point in my life. Do I need to subject myself to the pain, the anguish of public criticism and shame? For those two days, I seriously entertained the notion of just writing for fun, without a publishing goal. And that's fine–I was there for years. But I knew I couldn't be content with that any more.
Today, two weeks later, on the deadline for the contest I most wanted to enter, I’m not sure whether to bother. The thrill of making the finals and having an editor or an agent read my submission isn’t quite so alluring.
I’ve had time to recover from that low score and reconsidered why I decided to enter contests this year.
- My writing is ready for publication. Not just in my opinion, but by everyone who’s read it.
- I want to sell a book, and making the finals is a great way to get my writing in front of agents and editors.
- I do want constructive criticism on ways to improve my work so it can sell. The opportunity for feedback from acquiring publishing professionals is worth much more than the price of admission to a contest.
So I just sent off the final two entries. Because I have a goal. And for me, right now, a contest seems like a good stepping stone to that goal.
Do you have a contest story to tell? Have you sold because of a contest? What would you want to tell your judge about the kind of feedback that would be useful to you?
Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules then watch what happens.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than horrors of algebra lessons gone wrong. She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
Fae Rowen began writing after reading her favorite author’s entire backlist in three weeks and couldn’t bear the thought of waiting nine months for the next book. A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now enjoys sharing her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keep her fingers on the keyboard.
Laura here, with a quick update - we have PRIZE WINNERS!!!!
Kym Lucas has won Jami Gold's 10 page critique
Pamela Stratton won a Lawson Writer's Academy course
Becky Lower has won Kathryn Craft's Art of Falling
Yvonne Montgomery has won the ARC of Sweet on You, from me!
Tune in Friday morning for more PRIZES!