Monday, September 21, 2009

Writing Contests; Or, Anyone Part of the Pageant Set?

Lurking about as I tend to do, I noticed something about writing contests. There are tons of them, yes, and some writers submit their work to every single one, while others have no clue they exist. Sometimes the whole scene reminds of pageant moms collecting crowns for their darlings, but maybe those titles will give their ms the exposure that could kick start a career.

There are contests for every stage in the writing process, from getting those first ten pages polished to submitting an entire manuscript, even synopsis contests and query contests. So where does that leave you and I?

From what I can see, contests can be a great way to get that highly coveted impartial feedback, for reals, if you think you can stomach it. If your ms is ready, they can even place your work in front of a finalist judge (usually an agent or editor). So what's not to love? This is my dilemma as I scroll through page after page of contest listings and what they provide. At the forums I lurk at, though helpful, I get the sense that unless I do a few contest rounds myself, I won't know for sure whether to pitch my flag at Camp "Contests Are My New Addiction" or Camp "Contests Aren't Really Worth It". (There's also a "Judges Are Meanies and I'll Hate Them Forever" Camp, but I really don't want to go there!).

Before I go on, a couple of links: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has an outstanding page on contest information, pros and cons, and how to spot scams (check it out HERE). Romance Writers of America hosts several contests a month through their regional chapters, and many of them have categories for YA (find a nice comprehensive list of mostly RWA contests HERE). There are also a few contests held by publishing houses themselves, but you can't submit to agents while they have your entry, and you get no feedback. If your ms is ready for the bigtime, you can find an example of a publishing house contest HERE . 

Some things to think about, (or mainly one thing), Cost:
  • Most contests run somewhere between $25 and $35 dollars a pop, and that kind of money buys quite a lot of books with a Barnes & Nobles membership card and a keen eye for internet coupons. 
  • Some contests require membership in RWA, $110 for the first year and $85 each additional. Cha-ching!
  • Many contests are now online, but for those that are still snail mail the cost can add up... usually they ask for three to four copies of the first few chapters. Add up printing all this and postage fees.
  • Time: Every contest has its own guidelines, and you must format your ms and package everything accordingly.
But the benefits look pretty rewarding:
  • Feedback, glorious feedback! (Some contests, like the coveted Golden Heart, don't offer this, so check first!!). Just remember, you asked for it!
  • If you make it to final round judging, most RWA contests have an editor or agent as a finalist judge.
  • If you final or win, it would be something to add in the "credentials" paragraph of your query.
  • If you don't final or win, you might still find the process helpful, especially if it takes your writing in a better direction.
I don't know if contests are for me. It's hard to step onto that stage, but if I do I will blog about the experience (most likely falling across the stage as I attempt to cross in six-inch heels). Have you thought about contests or even entered? What was it like?


  1. Personally, I don't think I'll enter contests, and it's because of the cost. I don't want to part with my hard-earned cash for something like that.
    However, this is when I don't even have a story to revise, let alone try sending to people. Maybe if it doesn't work out quickly with querying, I'll try some contests to get the feedback.

  2. No kidding Alisa. Even entering two or three a year could end up costing more than a hundred bucks. Yipe!

  3. Thanks for the links and the thoughtful comments on this subject. I do enter contests every so often. The way I decide whether to enter is by reading former winners. If they seem in the same ballpark as my work, I might go there, but if no former winners are available online, I pass. Also, $10-$15 is pretty much max for what I'll pay. (Obviously, I don't do the big RWA things. I'd rather do a first page or partial contest than enter a whole book--it ties up the ms. for a long time.) Usually the prize isn't huge with a low entry fee, but I think I've probably broken even over the years. And I can call myself "award winning".

  4. Hi Anne, thanks! I hadn't thought of reading former winners. I'm still completely on the fence about it, but I really like the idea of getting honest and true feedback. As subjective as everyone's opinions always are at least it would be from someone who doesn't know me and wouldn't feel bad about hurting my feelings. And it *would* hurt to see my ms torn apart but after the initial shock of it, I have to believe it would help.

    Anyway, since the feedback is my big draw obviously the big RWA one wouldn't be for me. Maybe a regional...I dunno!!