Writing Contests

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Word Clip ArtWhether your published or pre-published, one of the ways to get the word out about your work is to enter contests.

For those who are pre-published, contests offer a number of possible benefits. First, look for contests where you get feedback about your writing. That will help you hone your skills as a writer. Next, try to enter contests where the final round judges are editors or agents. That will get your work before people who can either acquire it or represent you so that others may acquire it. One cautionary note, avoid contests where you will be published in an anthology or other publication being printed by the party who is running the contest. You will be a “winner” and then get asked to pay for a copy of the book in which your work will appear.

You may wonder whether contests for pre-published authors ever really lead to publication. Well, one of my friends, Lois Winston, has amassed an amazing number of contest wins, both before she got published and after. The contests helped her get the word out about her work and yes, one of the contests — the American Title contest run by Romantic Times Magazine — led to her getting a publishing contract.

Now that she is published, Lois enters contests to get the word out about her published books as do many authors. The key is to look for contests where the judges are readers, booksellers or book buyers. Why? They are the ones who can influence whether or not your book makes it into a store. Also, look for contests that have established reputations in your genre or the industry in general.

Do these contests work to spread the word about your book? When I attended a convention recently, a bookseller came up to me and said that she had read one of my books as a judge in a contest. She advised that after reading the book she put me on her “To Buy” list. A very nice comment to receive, but it also shows that entering the right contests can help make a difference in your sales.

Of course, along with success in contests comes the possibility of failure and also, of conflicting opinions on your work.

Another friend and fellow author, Carolyn Martin, has recently made the finals in a couple of contests (Way to go, Carolyn!). Here’s what she had to say (FYI – m/s is shorthand for manuscript):

    Here’s what I learned from entering contests, based on the
    judges’ comments–sometimes in the same contest!

    My dialogue is sparkling and witty.
    My dialogue is flat and predictable.

    My heroine is well drawn, spunky and intelligent.
    My heroine is a stereotype and an “idiot.” (And that’s a direct
    quote, thank you very much!)

    My hero is a cardboard cutout.
    My hero is a fully realized, three-dimensional human being.

    My POV is too deep–it bogs down the story.
    My POV is deep–it provides excellent insight into the character’s

    My m/s has simmering sexual tension.
    There is no spark between my hero and my heroine.

    My m/s is well researched and has great period detail.
    My m/s has anachronisms that are “jarring.”

    There is no sense of place.
    Love the setting! So realistic!

    My m/s needs work.
    My m/s is ready to be published–today!

LOL, Carolyn! You’ve summed up what could happen in any contest. The important thing to remember is that much like the lottery, you can’t win it if you’re not in it. When it comes to publishing, being in the right contest can make a difference in your career.

5 thoughts on “Writing Contests”

  1. Note of caution: It costs money to enter most contests. If you’re just looking for feedback, perhaps a critique group would be better for you!
    Then, when the critique group thinks your work is ready, THEN enter contests with an editor or agent as final judge, one you think might be interested in the kind of things you write.
    No use wasting money here and there if it isn’t anywhere near ready to submit!

  2. Carolyn’s experience is funny to read, but not funny to live through. But it is so true of entering contests. Different readers like different things, just like agents.

  3. I want to do a big SHOUT OUT to Judi Fennell on her new deal! I know how hard you worked for it and I’m truly happy that it happened for you. Big cyber hug to you!

  4. Oh, I’m a HUGE proponent of writing contests, as the exposure really helped with my 3 book deal. The feedback, in most cases, has been great, but you do get those “interesting” ones – but then, you’re not going to please all readers either.

    Way to go, Carolyn! 🙂

  5. I am not a writer so I haven’t a clue where to even look for these contests. My daughter writes but isn’t published although she would like to be. I have read her books and they are good. I try not to read as a Mother but it is hard not to. She posts her work on Writing.com and gets good reviews. Hopefully she will be published some day. I have the highest admiration for writers. They work so hard and critics can be so harsh. I hope your friends in Texas are all safe. My friend Jane who lives in Houston is safe, thank you God. Everyone in that area is in my prayers. Have a great day and hugs to all.

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