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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Should Writers Enter Contests?

Do contests help you as a writer? Are they frustrating? Is it necessary to enter contests to succeed?

I've entered my share of contests in the past, and have found most to be slightly helpful. Some were wonderful and gave some insight into my writing, both good and bad. But most have left me shaking my head and wondering why I wasted my time and money to enter.

Comments from contests should be well-written and logical. By what I receive, I shouldn't have to wonder whether or not the judge has been writing 2 days or 20 years. Guidance for judging should be given and understood. I expect some type of professionalism...and so should you.

I sent in a paranormal romance entry. One judge wrote she couldn't suspend disbelief. Huh? Why would you judge a paranormal if you can't "open" your mind to the unexplained? How could I find anything she said helpful...and there wasn't much she a low score was given.

A friend, a retired police officer, sent an entry...and the heroine was a female police officer. One judge gave her a low score and suggested she check police procedures and "fix" her pages. Huh? How could my friend accept any comment made by this judge?

I once had points taken off because I didn't put the number "1" on the first page. Huh? After years of being brainwashed about NOT numbering the first page, how could I accept comments made? And, this judge made some spelling errors.

Have I made changes after receiving credible comments? Absolutely. Would I enter contests again, knowing what I know now? Hard to say. I'd probably choose contests to enter very carefully and with a more critical "eye" as I tried to decide IF I could expect decent judge comments.

Does winning a contest mean you'll get published? I never won, so I can't say. But, I know people who have won and are still waiting to publish. We have to remember that whoever is judging is giving their OWN opinion, and not necessarily that of a seasoned editor or agent...unless you get to that final round where editors and agents do a "final" judgment of entries.

As a judge, I cringe when I get something that has spelling/grammar errors, lots of POV changes, too much/little character/scene description. I once read an entry and by the time I'd read 30 pages, I still hadn't met the hero. Very little had been said about the heroine and there was a travelogue given describing Alaska.

I remember reading another entry where there were 8-10 people in a scene...and few dialogue tags. I had no idea who was talking with every comment made.

Suggestion: Choose wisely. Don't enter every contest. Polish your entry carefully. Have someone critique it for you. Other "eyes" looking at your pages will help.

Do YOU enter contests? What do you think about them?
Photo:Flickr: yourdoku photostream


Sandy said...

I started out my writing career by entering a lot of contests. After so many mixed reviews I decided it was useless.

I have judged contests, and when I do I find something good to say about their writing, and if there are obvious problems I tell them about them. Also, if I think they're beginners I'll give them samples to show them what I'm talking about. A judge should never assume the writer understands what you're telling so giving them examples will clarify or help them understand.

Paris said...

I haven't entered that many contests but most of the feedback that I received before I was published was helpful. I've placed in published and unpublished RWA contests and there was the thrill of seeing my name in print, a sort of validation for all of my hard work but it didn't help sell my work.

What it did do was help me with the process, gain a little more confidence and not revise my work for years before sending it out. I learned to trust my voice and not revise it out of my work, trying to please a market that was constantly changing.

A prestigious contest win or placement button on your website might encourage someone to buy your book but I've never seen data to support this.

vicki batman said...

Hi, Marianne! Oh contests can be my sore spot because I haven't gotten over the pain of one. The judge asked me why I was writing. I was so new and terribly upset. But I determined she couldn't make my destiny and got back to work. Temporarily Employed will be available soon.

AND another judge told me I needed to write cops better like Nora. I went huh? I just had had the book critiqued by a former deputy.

I recommend for new writers a fabulous book, Write Tight.

Tina Donahue said...

I entered contests until I discovered there wasn't a great ROI.

Most readers don't care about a contest. They care about whether they like the story or not.

I'm concentrating on that.

Nicole Morgan said...

I have only entered one and it didn't go well, not in that I didn't win, but there was a lot of chaos involved in it. Long story. But, I loved your post and shared all over! :)

Melissa Keir said...

This has been a challenging question for me. I have entered some and not won or even received feedback! Yikes... why wasn't I chosen. I would love to have more recognition and winning a contest does allow me to put award winning author but as you pointed out, it isn't the be all end all for authors.

jean hart stewart said...

I enter and judge in one big contest. The experience has always been interesting for me. Too much time involved to do more.

Cara Marsi said...

Good article, Marianne. When I first started writing, I was desperate to final in contests. I had friends, a writing team, who finaled or won every contest they entered. And those contest finals got them a multi-book contract with Kensington. I once met a writer who'd only been writing six months yet had finaled in several prestigious contests. She's now a big name. So, I felt defeated and sure that I'd never publish because I wasn't finaling and winning contests.

I did badly in most of the ones I entered. One judge, a multi-pubbed author, gave me two pages of feedback on a book I'd entered. She said the book was publishable and she wanted to help me. She was so good and I appreciated what she did. I took most of her advice and that became my first published book. In this case, the contest was worth it.

I agree that judging is so subjective. I've had judge remarks that made me cry.

I never finaled in a contest until after I published. I finaled with two unpublished manuscripts. One went onto a sale. The only thing the contest final did for me was that I got rejections in two weeks rather than 12 because editors tend to read the contest finals first.

I've had better luck with published contests where I enter my already-published books. Finaling or winning a contest with a published book is good promo.

Rose Anderson said...

A very interesting take, Marianne. I've never entered contests that have a book deal as the prize. I have entered competitions for my existing novels though. The site Predators & Editors suggests avoiding any contest that charges you a fee to enter. From what I've seen that would be avoiding nearly all. It's all so confusing at times.

Cynthia Arsuaga said...

I've entered a couple a few years back, but I've spent my time writing and getting better at it. I have recently entered a couple screenplay contests and with them I've received feedback which is worth the small fee for entering. The screenplay has made it through several rounds with each entry, and with each experience I now feel the screenplay is as polished as it's going to get. Will I enter my books, probably not.

darlene deluca said...

I've come close on a couple of contests, but I've also been frustrated by them. When one judge loves something in your manuscript and another hates that very same thing, not only is it a waste of money, it's simply not helpful. I feel like an author can spend an awful lot of time and money chasing contests. These days I only enter if there is a nominal fee. I'd rather spend my money getting in front of actual readers.

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