Why Writing Contests Matter

Why Writing Contests Matter

© 2012 by Kat Bastion

For those of you following me here on my blog or on Twitter, you likely heard the news on Saturday as I vibrated in excitement.  I’d become a finalist in the Lone Star Writing Contest. {vibrates}

Or perhaps, you’d heard the additional exciting news yesterday.  I’d become a finalist in The Catherine Writing Contest. {vibrates more}

So what’s all the hoopla about contests anyway?

Well, I can tell you one thing for certain.  I would not be here writing this blog were it not for the contests that I entered when I finally had a piece I thought was worthy.

It turns out I did… and didn’t.

My entry didn’t final in that contest.  Nor in the several that came after that.  What I did get was invaluable.  It was the first qualified feedback I’d ever received on my writing.  One of those very first judges took such great time and care in pointing out every flaw in great detail.  She also commended me on my strengths.  I am forever thankful for both.

What did I do?

I rolled up my sleeves and got busy.  Made changes.  Listened.  Learned.  Improved.

The First and Best Reason To Enter Writing Contests:  Feedback

Since that first contest back in the fall of 2010, I’ve been working on a new manuscript that has my creativity flowing.  With my new gem, I entered about eight more contests in the fall of 2011, and I’ve entered seven so far this fall… and counting. 

Last year, those first few contests helped me see what was completely unnecessary in the story (several judges told me to ditch the first page altogether), what the story didn’t have that it very much needed, and where I shined naturally as a writer.

I analyzed every single comment.  Of course, I disregarded the ones I felt had been generated by a lack of caffeine, but I took to heart the feedback that had very good points I either hadn’t considered or lacked the skills and experience to know.

   Some Rules on Contest Feedback:

  • There are no rules for you on feedback. 
  • Everything is subjective.
  • Judges volunteer their time.  Take the time to listen.
  • Comments are suggestions to use if you want.  It’s your story.
  • If multiple judges make the same comment, they may have a point.
  • Judge qualifications vary from trained and unpublished to authors.
  • Read the contest score areas.  Is your entry well-suited for them?
  • Scores are a quantitive way to rank something difficult to judge.

Don’t let negative comments get you down.  Use them to your advantage.  Almost every comment I’ve received has been constructive.  To me, that feedback is worth every penny I paid to enter.

Keep in mind that why you did not score well, may have absolutely nothing to do with your writing talent.  Your judge may not like your writing style, may not connect to your voice, or may have given a valiant effort to judge your piece, but really aren’t familiar with your subgenre.

My area, paranormal romance, is particularly challenging with judges.  In paranormal romance there are vampires, shape-shifters, witches, magick, ghosts, mediums, time-travel, and fantasy.  That is a very broad spectrum.  Mine is a time-travel that has Highlanders and magick.  I may get a judge used to reading vampires.  Even with my recent finalist feedback, one judge commented she doesn’t normally read time-travel.  Another indicated she stumbled a bit on the Scottish brogue.

Bottom line?  Comments and feedback are so valuable to us as fledgling writers.  Use them in the best way possible; to learn and grow as a writer.

Contests As Mini-Reviews

It occurred to me this week, that contests are excellent training for the reviews we will receive as published authors.

Not everyone will relay comments in a constructive fashion.  Many may not relate to our work.  Some will think what you wrote has been done before.  {whispers} Even if you are certain it has not…

What do I focus on?

The rave reviews.  The praise.  The gushing.  Words like, stunning, spectacular, fabulous, and powerful.

Do I ignore all of the not so stellar comments?  No way.  I simply look at them, decide if they have merit or not, and apply them or discard them and move on.

It’s the positive that keeps me energized.  I use every single bit of praise to fuel the motivational fire that keeps me writing. 

Those supportive comments?  They will come from my supportive fans someday.

The Big Payoff

If you’ve honed your craft well enough, if your entry is well suited to the contest you’ve entered, and if the planets have actually aligned for you, a phone call (or occassionally an email) will come with the phrase, “Congratulations!  You’re a finalist.”

Now we’re at the endgame.  We have hit the main reason contests are so beneficial for us as a writer.

Your entry will now be read by acquiring agents or editors.  If you’re lucky…both.

The interesting thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to win a contest to get a request for a submission.  Some final judges have such quality entries to judge, they may grant a win to one entry, but request a submission from both.  Last year I won two contests and was a finalist in a third.  Of the three, I received one request for my full manuscript from an editor at one of the big six publishing houses. 

What do I tell myself?  It takes only one.

Many contests post the results in the RWR (Romance Writers Report), list the results on their websites, and announce the contest news on their email loops.

Fame, baby!

What To Look For When Entering Contests

One of the first things I look for when entering contests is the final judges.  Are they an agent or editor that I would be interested in submitting to if they request my final manuscript?

I also look at the rules of the contest.  My entry is seen in its best light if it’s the first three chapters, but not all contests are designed the same. 

Some contests judge the first 7,000 words, which takes me through half of my third chapter.  Some ask for the first 25 pages or 30 pages.  Some are 50 pages.

Most contests ask for the first part of the story, beginning at page one.  One I’ve seen asks for only page one. 

Other interesting contests, like Reveal Your Inner Vixen, ask for up to twenty pages of the part of your manuscript that best outlines sexual tension.  {smirks} … Now we’re talking…

   Absolute Musts Before Entering A Contest

  • Read the contest’s entry rules.
  • Read the contest’s formatting rules.
  • Follow above said rules exactly if you don’t want to waste your time by being disqualified.
  • Print off all the rules and check them off as you go to make sure you don’t miss one.
  • Mark your calendar to be sure you make the entry deadline.

My suggestion?  Enter the contest early if you can.  I usually enter them a week or more before their entry deadline.  Why?  Sometimes I’ve had questions, and it takes a day or two to get an answer.  Most entrants enter at the last minute, myself included, and technical difficulties can, and do, occur.

What Happens After You Hear The Results?

If you hear that coveted “Congratulations! You’re a finalist!” you often have a week to revise your entry based on the feedback you’ve received.  Then, you re-submit.  You wait.  You hope your entry is the one that judge has been waiting their entire career to find.

If you hear back you didn’t final, print off those score sheets and comments.  See what areas you need to work on.  Make that entry shine for the next time.

Either way.  One very important thing to do as soon as you can? 

Write Thank You Notes!

Write thank you notes to both the judges and the contest coordinator.  Again, they’ve volunteered their time in their very busy lives and writing careers to help you with yours.  Show them your appreciation for doing so, even if they didn’t rave about your entry.  They may be buying your book off the shelf later and smiling in remembrance.

If you final, be sure to triple-check what you do next.  As I mentioned, some allow you to revise the entry.  Others require you to add a synopsis to the entry that may have been optional in the first round. 

Ask when you’re allowed to share the news on social media.  Last Friday, I was asked to wait until the following day.  On Monday, I was asked to wait two days, until Wednesday.

When you can share the news?  Shout it from the rooftops!  You’ve worked hard to make it this far.  To be a  finalist in a writing contest means you’ve risen to the top of a very competitive area and it’s an accomplishment to be proud of and share.  Those who have been supporting you and cheering for you along the way will want to share in your success.

Am I still entering contests?

Absolutely.  I am always learning and growing.  The feedback is unmatchable.  When you final or win, the accomplishment feels amazing.  {vibrates just thinking about it}

I truly hope you enter your writing in contests that suit your work.  Let me know how it goes! 

Meanwhile, I have to go.  I’ve an entry to revise for re-submission and thank you notes to write… ;)

I wish you all the best in your writing endeavors and good luck in your contest submissions!

Your Favorite Shoe,

Kat

© 2012 by Kat Bastion

3 thoughts on “Why Writing Contests Matter

  1. ChocoMG2112 says:

    Are you entering the same manuscript in these contests? Work it and submit to another?

  2. Hello, Racer! Yes, it is the same manuscript. I’m improving it based on the judges’ suggestions. As I enter the contests, not only has my entry become better, but all those same suggestions are flowing through to my writing. What a great way to become a more skilled writer.

  3. […] be about the benefits of writing contests. I have a post from last year dedicated to the topic in Why Writing Contests Matter, which talks about the benefits, drawbacks, and process. But suffice it to say, writing contests […]

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