Want to know how your writing compares to others who are eager to land that long-awaited first contract.
Entering contests can be a great way to do so.
My guest and valued critique partner, Melanie Dickerson, is an award-winning writer whose entries have placed in numerous contests run by various local and online chapters of Romance Writers of America®.
In her article, Melanie shares several reasons for entering contests and how they can help you improve your writing and increase your chances of getting The Call.
Kudos for Contests
by Melanie Dickerson
Why enter contests? Don’t they just stifle your creativity by telling you all the things that are wrong with your story? Can’t you have a bad experience with a contest in which the judges make scathing comments and don’t even know what they’re talking about? Is it really worth having to deal with the criticism?
If you’re shying away from entering contests, there are things you should know.
Contests are a low-cost alternative to paying for an expensive professional critique. They’re also a great way to avoid sending out a proposal to an editor or agent before your work is ready, causing you to get head-spinningly fast rejections that might have resulted in a request for the full if you had only gotten that valuable feedback from a contest judge. And once you have polished and perfected your manuscript, contests are a great way to get your first couple of chapters in front of an editor or agent you might be targeting.
In other words, contests can serve you in many ways.
You know what Ernest Hemingway said. “All first drafts are [crap].” (Insert cruder word for crap, and you’ll get the idea.) And if that’s really true, then you need someone who knows the craft of writing to review your work. A great first line of defense is a critique group. But if you don’t have a critique group, or if you still want another, more experienced person’s opinion, then a contest will be your next step.
Check with the contest guidelines to make sure, but most contests encourage judges to give lots of helpful feedback, both in the body of your entry as well as on the scoresheet. If you get a particularly helpful and knowledgeable judge, it can be like winning the literary lottery.
I once had a published author give me detailed instruction, in the body of my entry, on how to write Deep POV. I felt as if I’d just been given a personal writing lesson from someone who REALLY knew what she was talking about. And that’s exactly what I got. I’d heard of Deep POV, even read articles about it, but I still didn’t really understand it. But once this author pointed out exactly how I was missing opportunities to draw the reader into the thoughts of my POV character, the light bulb suddenly came on, and I was so excited! I got all this, plus three other judges’ comments and impressions of my work, all for the low price of $30. Ladies and gentlemen, that is a steal.
If you have a new WIP and want to see how to improve it, then a contest is a great way to accomplish this goal.
In one of the first contests I entered, I got lots of feedback. Some of it seemed a bit harsh. I was tempted to write the judges’ comments off, telling myself they just didn’t get my book. They didn’t get my heroine. They were way off! But when I examined what they had to say, I realized they were mostly right. And what’s better, I realized the flaws they were pointing out were easily fixed! They were right that my heroine didn’t have a Goal, Motivation, or Conflict spelled out in the first 25 pages, but that was easily fixed. A sentence here and there and, voila! Problem solved. When they told me my dialogue was stilted, I went back and examined all the dialogue, trying to figure out how to make it sound more natural.
People, that is what I call helpful feedback. No, it isn’t easy to hear. You want the judges to say, Oh, I love your heroine! I loved this story! I wish I could have read more! Your dialogue sparkles! Your hero melted my contacts! Well, that makes you feel good, but it isn’t very helpful, is it? But once you start to revise and edit all your mistakes, you actually WILL get complimentary comments like that.
What’s more, you’ll start FINALING in contests, instead of feeling like you bombed. And finaling is a wonderful feeling. Winning is even better. And you can use those contest finals and wins in your query letters to agents. I guarantee you, telling them you finaled in The Golden Heart or The Orange Rose or The Maggie will get you more requests than, “I was the editor of my high school newspaper.”
Yes, it is possible to get a bad judge here and there, someone who is scathing in her criticism and not helpful at all. Or someone who obviously only read the first couple of pages of your book and decided she didn’t like your book based on some bias of hers. Maybe she just happens to despise mail-order bride stories and yours is a mail-order bride story. Yes, I’ve had bad experiences with judges like that. But the bad experiences are few and the good far outweighs them.
So, what are you waiting for?
Submit those contest entries! But beware. Entering contests can get addictive. Choose the contests you enter carefully, and be careful you don’t bust your budget entering too many.
I’m embarrassed to tell you how many I entered in 2008, or how much I spent on them, but you can take a stab at it. Keli’s giving a prize to the person who guesses correctly, so read on. 🙂
Leave a Comment for Your Chance to Win!
On the evening of January 8, Melanie will choose one winner from all those who guess the correct number of contests she entered in 2008.
Congratulations to Pat Jeanne Davis, who guessed seventeen, which is the exact number of contests Melanie entered last year.
Pick Your Prize:
1) A $5 gift card from either Borders or Taco Bell (Keli’s Hangout 🙂 ),
2) A Hallmark motivational bookmark made of metal,
3) A set of 8 personalized note cards handmade by your blog host, Keli Gwyn.
You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!
If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by your blog hostess, Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and January 31, making sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) You may enter once per post.
On February 1, Keli will choose one person who will have her choice of four covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your “firstborn” in your hands.
(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling. Watch for pictures added on future posts.)