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?