Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Are Contests Worth the Price?

As writers, we’ve all either entered contests or been tempted to. Most contests have an entry fee, and it’s sometimes difficult to justify the expenditure. In addition to the fee, there are shipping expenses, and sometimes, if you final, you have additional expense. More and more contests are going to digital, which makes entering a little easier.
As an author, I’ve been on both sides of the table, judging several contests, and entering them too, throughout my writing career. From the judge’s side, I’ll tell you I’d much rather sit down with a cup of tea and read through entries, than stare at the same monitor I’ve worked at all day. I print out digital entries, because so far I’ve not bought a reader, although I’m looking at tablets.
With earlier manuscripts, my entries didn’t reach the mark. But after many workshops and classes on the craft of writing, I saw a sea-change in the scores.
Now on to the wisdom of entering contests. A writer, unless you’ve won the lottery, should be selective about contests.
First, do a little research to see if this is a legitimate contest or simply a scam. It’s pretty easy to find out. If the contest is sponsored by a legitimate writers’ group, like an RWA chapter or Historical Novel Society, or by a state association like Florida Writers, you know it’s legit.
Next, read the details to see who is judging. Don’t look at the prize money or the award. Except for the most prestigious awards, the prizes aren’t big. The real win, the biggest reward, is that you can use a nice win to catch the eye of an agent or editor. Most admit that contest wins get their attention.
Thirdly, look to see if the contest returns comments, or only scores. If a contest offers feedback, it’s like getting a mini-critique.
An aside, and one worth noting for published and unpublished writers: strangely, there are contests which do not take Advanced Reading Copies. Your professionally-edited book can/must be entered in unpublished, if the release date falls after a certain date. This seems to me a bit unfair to an unpublished author who has to compete with my edited book. I don’t really understand the reasoning for not accepting an ARC.
Google literary awards for your state. I took a chance and entered Florida Book Awards, sponsored by the state Humanities Council and Florida State University. There was a fee, and we had to mail a book to each of the judges, a time-consuming job, but it was worth every minute when I received that Bronze Medallion at the Awards dinner for The Tapestry Shop. Recently, I entered a small local contest. To my surprise, all three finalists’ entries were sent to places like HarperCollins, Medallion, etc. for final judging. Not only that, the contest offered a breakdown of genres, so that my historical wouldn’t be lost in the Mainstream category, or bunched in with SciFi.
To my delight, both my two entries finaled. One went to Medallion, the YA went to HarperCollins for final judging. After reading comments from both editors (one of whom gave me First Place for my historical. I went to work and revised according to their suggestions. No, I didn’t get a contract, but now, in a query letter, I can say “an editor at Medallion gave this story First Place in the final round of judging”. How cool is that? Feedback from an editor, and bragging rights, all for forty-five dollars. This contest, sponsored by a local writers’ group, was opened to non-members, too. So look at local and regional contests. I know, it’s like buying a lottery ticket, but you can’t win without trying.


derekd said...

Thanks for the article. Some good things to think about. I have been tempted to enter a few contests for the feedback, particularly this fall, as many seem to be having a small number of entries.

My writing is not quite to where I want it to be yet, so I am holding off for a while while I develop. Btw, beautiful cover for your book.

Beth Trissel said...

Excellent post. Well run contests can be highly beneficial to aspiring authors. They were to me. My ultimate success was a final in the Golden Heart. As a published author I am very selective about what I enter because it's so costly to pay for the books, shipping, and entry fees, and as more of my stories are released only in digital format, that limits me too. I mostly only enter the contests that accept ebook format. And even then I'm choosy.

Calisa Rhose said...

Valuable post. I've only entered one contest with my local rwa chapter and I'm not big on them but I still consider entering occasionally.

Sandy L. Rowland said...

Great post! Sometimes it's about winning, and sometimes it's about trying, putting yourself out there.
It's a test of how much we believe in our work. No matter how it turns out,it's good to brave comment..

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Derek: Hi, and thanks for stopping by, and for the compliment on book cover. Not what I expected, but I have gotten many favorable comments so guess the publishers knew what they were doing. Yes, I think entries have dropped off (heck, everything's dropped off) so now may be a good time to enter.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Beth: You are so right. Be choosy, and know the reason you're entering: Feedback? Fame? I see more contests now are taking digital. Ah, the industry is changing so much, and it's hard to keep up.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Calisa: Be picky about who's judging, and ask yourself if they're familiar with your genre/period/category. Good luck, and don't be discouraged by those first few. It gets better!

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Sandy: Yes, you're right on all points. I think contests, even ones early in a writer's career, are valuable tools. Thanks for stopping by.