Pub Rants

Contests & Margaritas (Cont.)

 3 Comments |  Share This:    

Status: Manic Monday. They always are—despite the fact that the weather was all around nasty in Denver and I managed to read all day Saturday and Sunday. I can see the end of the full manuscript tunnel. It’s in sight!

What song is playing on the ipod right now? I’LL BE AROUND by The Spinners (and yippee, the Joan Osborne version is popping on right behind it.)

One of the restrictions I put on my blog is that I will only spend 15-30 minutes doing it. Any more time than that would cut into my productivity. Can’t have that. I’m already too far behind on some stuff so I have to adhere to that time limit. That’s why I don’t always proofread as I should either.

Given that, I don’t always include everything I want to rant about. Thank goodness I can just continue on the next day.

So, back to contests and magaritas.

Even though I take a contest win with a grain of salt, I don’t want to imply that contests (and contest placements) have no value. Writers just also need to be aware of the limitations is all.

What is valuable about contests?

1. I didn’t mention this on Friday but obviously the more respected the contest, the more weight it will carry. For example, in the romance field, winning or placing in the Golden Heart is a big deal. It’s THE top contest for the unpublished writer in this genre. It’s going to carry more weight than the smaller contests—but still, good stuff can be anywhere so I’m going to keep an open mind regardless.

By the way, when I said that a lot of contest entries weren’t in publishable shape doesn’t necessarily translate into the judgment that the entry is so horrible, there’s no hope for the writer. It just means the work isn’t ready to be shopped. Now some entries do have writing issues. Statistically, that makes sense that some entries won’t have the same quality as others.

And what’s problematic is that a writer might have false expectations by winning or placing in a contest. With gung-ho, the writer might submit the manuscript and then suffer bewilderment when rejected. It won such-n-such contest, why aren’t agents and editors responding well to the material? The answer is simple. The work isn’t publishing-ready yet.

Which brings me to the second point about why entering a contest could be a good thing.

2. A lot of contests offer feedback from reviewers, already published writers, and even from an agent or editor. I’ve judged some contests that simply had me rank the top choices. It’s great time-wise for me but I wonder if that short-changes the writers. I much prefer the contests where I can fill out the sheet or provide some feedback. I have received many a lovely thank you note from contest winners who really appreciated the supportive honesty of the critique I returned with the contest entry. At least, then I can say what might have stopped me from asking for a full or point out a plot device that might be a little over-used at present. I can also highlight all the things I liked.

Now, I think honest critique groups are a much better place to get feedback than contests but…

3. Contests, if you final, places your work in front of agents and editors. We are the final judges after all. If I like what I see, I’ll certainly ask for the full.

You don’t have to go the contest route to get this though. A great query letter followed up by some strong sample pages will get you a full manuscript request as well.

4. Contests create tangible deadlines that can highly motivate a writer. If you have to have the first three chapters and a synopsis in by such-n-such a date, it’s a great way to accomplish it.

Just keep that motivation going and finish and polish the rest of the novel.

And the best reason to enter a contest?

5. It might give you something to say in the bio section of your query letter.

Big smile here! That paragraph can be a little sparse for some writers.

3 Responses

  1. Candice Gilmer said:

    I haven’t been one to enter contests, and normally don’t write to, but after reading this, I can see the benefit.. especially the whole “add more to the bio” section… Any unpublished author would appreciate that!

  2. December Quinn said:

    I think contests that offer feedback are much more worth the money. Another reason why I decided not to enter the GH again this year (although there are moments when I regret that, but $50 is just too much to pay).

  3. Anonymous said:

    Very true that contest wins aren’t always in publishable condition. Sometimes they’re a bloomin’ jinx.

    I won a regional guild award (prestigious in this region at least) for the first story I ever submitted anywhere(a juvenile fairy tale). Naturally I assumed it would dazzle the publishers equally. But it accumulated rejections like my couch does dust-bunnies.

    About 3 years later, I finally had a nibble; the publisher folded before the formal offer. About 3 years after that, another nibble; that publisher went into receivership. About 3 years after that, it was accepted to a magazine along with another of my stories. Guess what?

    The other story appeared, I was paid, and then the magazine folded up its covers and stole away into history, just before the issue the ‘winner’ was scheduled for.


    I’ve won and place in a few things since then, although I don’t go too far out of my way to look for contests. They do spruce up my bio paragraph, but one can’t keep dining out (or even ordering in) on the strength of a few aging blue ribbons.

    And yes, the contests that give feedback are valuable, assuming the jury knows its business.