Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A Word About Contests

For many of my writer friends, it's that time of year again. The time when American Christian Fiction Writers hold the annual Genesis Competition. This is a competition for unpublished writers, and they have as many categories as Baskin Robbins has flavors. It occurred to me yesterday, as I saw a notice come up about the contest, that this will be the first year I can't enter.
Because I'm no longer unpublished.
Yeah, I did a little happy dance!

I've entered The Genesis a few times, but truthfully, I hate contests. I believe this harkens back to my schooldays, when I always thought of myself as that loser kid. Always struggling in most subjects (except English), always last to be picked for the teams on those horrible days we had gym. I never wanted to enter a contest because I had enough experience with failure, why set myself up for more?
I got over it. However, part of me still remembers that little girl, and I feel so badly for the folks who don't do well.
Writing contests, in my opinion, are no different than any other contest. There are winners and there are losers. And if you lose, you can't help but come away with the feeling of just not being good enough. Because you weren't.
However, once the dust settles and you run out of Kleenex, here are some positive elements to entering a writing contest:

Experience: Any time you sit down to write, you're adding to your wealth of experience. When you enter a competition, you're saying, "I'm serious about this. I'm ready to handle whatever happens." At least I hope you are. If you're doing it for a laugh or on a dare, please don't. The people who volunteer to judge these things are unpaid, and sacrificing their valuable time. Don't waste it. But if you are serious, wonderful. Getting ready to enter a contest will be a great way to hone your craft. You will spend a massive amount of time polishing your chapters, because of course you want to put your best possible work forward - that's all time and effort that will work for you in the long run.

Exposure: Many contests have some pretty important folks who give up time to be final round judges. Editors and agents. If you are selected to go into the final round, you'll get your work in front of those people. That's pretty awesome!

Feedback: Okay, this is the big one. And the one you have to go into these things totally prepared for. Even if you think you are, you're not. Getting back your scoresheets is sometimes one of the most painful things a writer must go through. Listen, this business is SUBJECTIVE! There is nothing personal about what the judge said - they don't even know who you are! I've been appalled at reading comments on forums after contests - it is amazing to me how a little criticism can turn into a full-blown tactile assault against a person's very soul. But it happens.
if you can handle the feedback, I think you'll find that most of it is very valuable. Some may not be, and as with every critique you receive, you take the good, leave the bad and that's all there is to it.

Reality: You want to know what a writer's life is like? Enter a contest. Find out what the final tally of entrants for that contest was, triple it and remember that number when you think about querying agents or editors. I'm not trying to be mean here, just realistic. There are THOUSANDS of individuals out there just like you and me, who would love nothing better than to call themselves a published author. If you want an even bigger wake-up call, go to a writers conference. That's your competition. And whether we like it or not, it is a competition. And only a few will finally reach the goal and be able to finally claim the prize they've been working so hard for.

I say, if you can handle all of the above, and you truly believe its the right thing to do, enter all the contests you want. I found it wasn't the right thing for me. But it may be for you.
I think everyone who calls themselves a writer should enter at least one writing contest. It really is worth the money, time and effort, in my opinion. You don't have to become a contest junkie and enter every single event that pops up in your inbox. Be smart about it. If you don't want to write for The Cartoon Network then don't enter their contest (not that I even know if they have one), just to say you did.
But if you're like me, and you decide this whole competition thing just isn't for you, hey, that's cool too.
However I do hear there's a book of the year contest that I'm going to be eligible for...will I enter it? Hmm...guess you'll have to wait and see!

What's YOUR take on contests?


Keli Gwyn said...

Cathy, I'm a firm believer in the value of contests. I sent out 37 entries in my florescent green newbie days and received helpful feedback from generous contest judges. I learned I had work to do, and I did it.

I returned to the Contest Circuit after a year of study and another year spent revising my story, sent out ten entries, and met with success: eight firsts, one Golden Heart® final, five requests for fulls, and an offer of representation from my Dream Agent, one of my final round judges, who has since sold my book (after a major rewrite done under her direction.)

Contests aren't for everyone, but they sure worked for me.

Heather Sunseri said...

Hi, Cathy! I'm catching up on some missed blog posts. I loved this one. I have such mixed feelins about contests, and I've truly felt the way you feel. I know there are some good things about contests that could help me, but I also have my reservations.

Hope you're doing well!