I don’t keep it much of a secret that I am a big fan of writing contests. As Garrett Morris used to say on Saturday Night Live, “Contests been veddy veddy good to me.” Or something like that, anyway.
So the question isn’t whether I’m a contest proponent, but why. Let me explain the whys, and, if I convince you of their merit, stick around for a few whens, wheres, and hows.
1. Many contests provide a critique sheet. Before you publish that book, you need unbiased critical feedback. How good is your critique group? Can they really be unbiased? The contest critiquer can, and the critical analysis of your manuscript and its relative position against other contest entries is worth the price of admission, even if you don’t win. Of course, you should ask whether a critique of your submission is included before you enter, as not all of them provide critique sheets.
2. Many contests suffer from too few entries. Few have the opposite problem. So your chances to win, place, or show may be greater than you think.
3. Contests help a writer get over fear of submission/publication. Yegads, you mean I have to let someone else read my work and espouse their opinion????? Jump in, the water’s fine.
4. Judges may be agents or editors. Yes, this could be your big break. It probably won’t be, but you’ve got a better chance than all the other schmucks who don’t submit.
5. You could win. Contest wins give your book credibility. They give you fodder for a press release. They help you sell books.
Don’t enter a book that isn’t finished. Don’t enter a book that isn’t ready for submission.
Are you still with me? Good. Let’s talk about how to find a contest, and which ones you should enter.
Local, regional, genre, and national writing groups and conferences often hold annual competitions. Start in your region and genre by perusing websites and/or newsletters.
Looking for someone to do the heavy lifting for you? Here are a few good sources for contest lists, but none are comprehensive:
Just google “writing contests” and the genre and year. You’ll get lots of choices. Pick contests that fit your work, of course, and don’t be afraid to email the organizer and ask about number of entries anticipated. If your writing is not yet contest-tested, start small and work your way up to bigger competitions.
Most contests list confusing explicit instructions. Expect that your entry may include any of the following:
1. Entry fee: The higher the award, the higher the fee. Expect around $50. Often you get a discount on multiple entries.
2. Excerpt: Most contests want only your first X pages or X words, not your whole manuscript, but some want it all. Many require it to be snail mailed, many don’t. Just follow the instructions to the T. They may differ from how your work is currently formatted.
3. Synopsis: A synopsis is generally required and graded. It needs to be compellingly written and match the book in voice/tone. The length will vary, but, again, follow the instructions.
You ain’t gonna win if you lose points for not following instructions, even instructions that don’t seem logical. FOLLOW THE DANG INSTRUCTIONS, Y’ALL. Been there, lost points (and a contest) on that.
Just for grins, I uploaded a critique sheets from one of my contest wins to give you a flavor for the elements analyzed and the type of feedback given. This will vary by contest, of course.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so venture forth my friends, and contest, contest, contest.
Pamela Fagan Hutchins