For me, contests have paid off in a big way, and I’ve become an advocate of cruising the Contest Circuit. Here’s why . . .
The first contest I entered was the 2006 Golden Heart®. I’d been writing less than a year and had produced two manuscripts. I knew better than to enter my first. I should have known better than to enter my second, but I was a naïve newbie who didn’t realize the Golden Heart was the most competitive contest of them all. I placed in the bottom half—for good reason. I was so green I glowed, and the entry advertised that fact.
Because all I received in the GH was a set of five scores, I knew I had missed the mark, but I didn’t know why.
What did I do?
I bought several writing craft books, studied them, and wrote three more stories in rapid succession. Eager to know if I’d improved, I began submitting up to four of the manuscripts in a number of contests. In 2007, I submitted 34 entries in eleven contests and finaled eight times, including twice in the 2008 GH.
What did I learn?
On the Downside ~
- Contests cost money. A Romance Writers of America® chapter-level entry costs around $25 – $30 and a GH entry $50. The fees can quickly add up.
- Prepping a contest entry can be time consuming. Each contest wants things done differently, and an entrant has to meet all the guidelines or risk disqualification.
- Receiving criticism can hurt. While most judges are fair and offer constructive criticism, some feedback may not be couched in the kindest of terms.
- There is no guarantee of a final or placement. The competition can be fierce, and only a handful of the entrants garner the top spots.
On the Upside ~
- An entrant learns to meet deadlines.
- An entrant learns to properly format an entry.
- An entrant learns to accept constructive criticism.
- An entrant learns about the writing craft.
- An entrant may experience the joy of a contest final, a placement, and/or a win.
My contest judges were generous with their time and feedback. I’ve jokingly said they taught me to write, but there is a great deal of truth in that statement. It was from them I received my first lessons in Point of View, Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, and the importance of sensory detail. I cringe when I think of what I subjected them to and feel deep gratitude for the way they encouraged me in spite of my glaring weaknesses.
I also learned that I’d made some mistakes when I chose the contests I entered. The primary one was entering the wrong category. My stories are inspirational historicals. If a contest didn’t offer an inspirational category, I’d enter the historical. This didn’t work well for me.
After my GH finals, I spent the next year working on craft. Two of my stories had finaled in the GH, but I knew they weren’t at a publishable level. (I still marvel that they finaled.) I spent several months rewriting one of my stories, incorporating everything I’d learned.
In mid-2009, I prepared to enter contests again. This time, I went about things more carefully. I chose ten contests, looking for those with an inspirational category (or, in one case, an inspirational sub-category). I also checked to see who the final round judges were, which I hadn’t done in 2007. I had learned an additional benefit of entering contests since my earlier experience: a final can open doors, and I wanted to know who would be behind them.
Benefits of a Contest Final ~
- Your manuscript goes to the final round where the judges are agents and editors.
- You may receive feedback from a final round judge.
- You may receive a request for a partial or full manuscript from a final round judge.
- You may receive an offer of representation from a requesting agent judge.
- You may receive interest in your story from a requesting editor judge.
- Oh, and there can be some nice prizes. I’ve received several, and they are fun!
Now you understand why I’m an advocate of contests. I ended up achieving more than I’d dared dream.
My experience isn’t unique. I’ve had guests here at Romance Writers on the Journey who sold because of a contest final.
I’d be interested in hearing your contest experiences.
Where are you in the process? Have you entered contests?
Have you received helpful (or hurtful) feedback? Have you finaled?
Have you received requests from final round judges?
Have you received an offer of representation, or have you sold because of a contest judge request?