Writing Contests—I’ve entered them, I’ve finaled in them, I’ve received requests as a result of finaling. I’ve also judged a few.
When I first began entering contests it was basically because I wanted the feedback.
Then it was because I wanted to final/win—that’s always a great feeling, and when it seems as if you’re not making progress toward your goal of publication, that final/win is a nice validation that your work is in fact good. Plus, it looks kind of nice on your query letters :)
Once I began to final, I entered contests based strictly on whether or not the final round judge was someone I wanted to get my work in front of.
If you click HERE you’ll find a list of RWA contests. There are contests for first chapter (the most common), first kiss, best scene, best hook/opening, and more. They all require an entry fee, but it’s usually minimal.
Here are a few of my tips for entering contests:
* Obviously, you should read the rules carefully, because if you fail to follow them, it can result in you being disqualified with no refund of the entry fee.
* Another obvious tip is to send in your best work. Polish, polish, polish. And then polish it again.
* Look for contests that allow electronic entries, because it can save you quite a bit of money (postage, printing costs/copy fees, etc).
* Personally, I preferred contests that guaranteed at least one published judge (more if possible), because I found that most often they gave me higher scores than unpublished judges. My theory--which certainly could be wrong--is that it was because they focused more on the story itself and less on 'rules'.
* Look for contests that either drop the lowest score or that have discrepancy judging if one scores varies greatly from the rest. Too often I got great scores from all but one judge and that one low score would knock me out of finaling.
When you get your scores back, if they aren’t as good as you’d like or you think they should be—shake it off. Don’t argue about it (with the judge or the contest coordinator), because it will serve no purpose.
Okay, you can argue if it’s a situation such as: your manuscript is the story of Dave and Amy who are professional jewel thieves and are running from the law, but the comments on the score sheet refer to Bob and Sue who are ranchers in Montana. In that case, you can argue, because you obviously got the wrong scores. But other than that, let it go. Remember that a judge’s opinion is strictly that—their opinion, and while every opinion holds some value, they are not the person you’re ultimately hoping to impress.
If you can afford them, I think contests are wonderful tools, but don’t go overboard. You don’t need to enter every contest. Keep your ultimate goal in mind and be selective.
One final thought—if I could go back to that time when I was entering contests, the one thing I would do differently is ask if I could enter under my pen name as opposed to my real name. The reason is this—I can’t list my contest wins on my website (or least I haven’t) strictly because they're under my real name. That kind of sucks :(