Kudos for Contests

Melanie Dickerson

Melanie Dickerson

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.

Golden Heart Finalist Pins

Golden Heart Finalist Pins

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 🙂 ),

Borders and Taco Bell Gift Cards


2) A Hallmark motivational bookmark made of metal,

Hallmark Metal Bookmark

Reads: "imagine . . . dream . . . reach . . . believe . . . achieve"


3) A set of 8 personalized note cards handmade by your blog host, Keli Gwyn.

Handmade Personalized Note Cards

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.)


About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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25 Responses to Kudos for Contests

  1. Thanks, Keli, for having me on your blog! I thought of one more benefit of contests. Sometimes you win money. I actually won a total of $300 last year on the contests I placed in.

    Don’t forget to take a guess at how many contests I entered I last year!

  2. Melanie!!! Wonderful article — thanks to Keli for posting it and you for writing it. I feel exactly the same way about contests — go for them!

    I was going to guess you entered 12 contests last year, but if you won $300 (I never one a dime in the 50-plus contests I entered), then I’m sure that guess is way low. But I’ll stay with it.


  3. Hey, Julie! You won a lot of contests, I know that! Thanks for coming by. 🙂


    I got a brooch once.

    And, Melanie, do you by anychance have a family member, young woman, working at the Elephant Bar in Oklahoma City?

    We were waited on by a very nice young lady who reminded me SO MUCH of you I almost asked her if she knew you. Looked the same SOUNDED the same.

    Anyway, you’ve got a doppleganger out there, darlin’.

  5. Susan Mires says:

    Melanie – You’re a contest queen! Thanks for the tips. I’m motivated to try again.
    I’m guessing you entered eight contests in 2008.

  6. Hey, Mary. Yes, some contests give away money. One is the Touched by Love contest. Also, the South West Writers hold a contest every year and give away some pretty big prizes. There are mucho categories and they give away $150 for first prize in each and every category.

    That’s funny about my twin. I didn’t know!

  7. Hey, Susie! Glad I motivated you! Be careful, though. Contests are addictive.

  8. Some good insights, Melanie — thanks for that and for pointing me toward this blog. Just for fun I’ll guess that you entered 20 contests last year. Happy writing!

  9. Becky C, says:

    I enjoyed reading the article.

    I’m going to guess that you entered, 35 contests this year.

    Becky C.


  10. Thanks, Leigh and Becky, for commenting, and for your guesses! 🙂

  11. Keli Gwyn says:

    Hi, Melanie. I’m in California, so I’m a bit late getting here. Great to see so many wonderful ladies have already dropped by.

    I’ve read your writing and know how good it is, so I figure you placed in most of the contests you entered. But, still, $300 is a lot of prize money. I’ve entered 14 contests so far and have only won $25, so you must have entered more. I’ll double what I’ve done and guess you’ve entered 28 contests.

  12. Caroline says:

    My guess…33 contests!

    What fun, and great post! Thanks. I also believe in the power of contests. I love everything about them. They kept me writing.

  13. Anne Barton says:

    Great article, Melanie. Wow, 300 bucks is some serious cash. 🙂

    Let’s see . . . (I feel like I’m on The Price is Right) . . . I’m going to guess higher than Keli and say *30* contest entries!

  14. Hi, Caroline and Anne. Thanks for stopping by.
    Actually, no one has guessed correctly yet. One person came within 3 of the actual number.
    Just thought I’d keep you guessing!

  15. I forgot to guess.

    But I don’t know how many.

    Everyone’s going high, I’m going low…wait, go examine other answers. Or no is this closet without gong over like The Price is Right?
    No wait, you said you pick a winner from amonsst all the correct answers, right?


    And I’m still stunned by $300.

  16. Great post, Melanie. I plan to enter an RWA contest this year. My first for them. I’ll guess you entered 17 contests in 2008. All the best.

  17. Well, I am stunned, but the last person to guess got it exactly right. Pat Jeanne Davis guessed 17 and that’s right. I entered 17 times last year. I actually entered 11 contests, but I entered some of them with two entries. I think I finaled a total of 9 times. One judge’s perfect score was another judge’s failing grade, so don’t be discouraged if you get some low scores. Keep working at it!

  18. Keli Gwyn says:

    Congratulations, Pat, on guessing the exact number of contests Melanie entered and on winning the drawing. I’ll be in touch to see which prize you choose.

    Thanks to everyone who dropped by and especially to you, Melanie, for your great article.

  19. I know I missed the contest, but great, great article Melanie! I knew it was a lot ’cause I kept seeing your name come up everywhere. LOL
    Congrats on your contest wins! I hope you entered the GH!
    Your comment about contacts melting, btw, was hilarious!

  20. Myra Johnson says:

    Just caught this great post, Melanie & Keli! Melanie is right on with her contest insights, and of course it helps tremendously when you’re blessed with a caring, thorough, and experienced judge.

    Oh, and I actually won money in a contest last year! I think it was the Winter Rose, sponsored by the Yellow Rose chapter of RWA. And I got a really cool silver rose necklace.

  21. WOW! I actually won something. Thanks Melanie and Keli. Tomorrow I attend a workshop on contests query at my RWA chapter. Again, many thanks. Pat

  22. Debra says:

    Great Article!!! I enter alot of contests.I love them.Won a few but not many.They can be fun.Never won money 😦 I love the bookcover.I hope to read the book soon!!!

  23. Very interesting blog. Major congrats for entering and winning the American Title.

  24. Cara Putman says:

    Contests are a marvelous way to get great feedback on what does and doesn’t work in our books and manuscripts. Great article, Melanie.

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