I went through a contest phase when I first joined RWA (we won't say how long ago that was) and had some early success with the first book I ever wrote. I kind of wish I hadn't had success, to be honest, but that's another story. Basically, if I'd realized I needed to keep writing and improving and that first books don't typically sell, I'd have been better off.
Anyway, starting to look at the contests again for a variety of reasons. Though having bad things potentially said about my writing or my entry won't make me happy, it won't stop me either. I have reached the point where negative comments make me pause, but don't ultimately affect me. I know the secret to staying in the game now. The secret is to KEEP WRITING NEW BOOKS. There, I said it, so now you know. 🙂
As I look at the contests, I consider a few things. Cost, yes, but it's not the biggest factor. I love being able to enter electronically, and those contests get a harder look from me. Final judges are the biggie though. Prestige of the contest is a consideration, but lack of prestige won't stop me if the final judges are acquiring agents or editors.
Which brings me to research. Do you research the final judges? I do. I've noticed a couple of judges in contests lately who either aren't acquiring or who don't have sales to their name. I realize that a fabulous story can make a non-acquiring person take on one more. But what about the final judge who has no sales listed in Publisher's Marketplace? If it's a new agent, sure, that's okay. But one who's been around for a while?
If all I want is feedback, that's different. (But I have a great CP who does that for me, so I don't necessarily need contest feedback.)
On the flip side of the coin, I think judging contests is a good thing to do. I'm judging two right now, and it really opens my eyes to what works and what doesn't to see so many entries arrayed before me. Some shine. Others are painful. Most are well written. Very few are poorly written. But even when the language is good, you can tell when a story doesn't pop. When it isn't fresh and new, when it probably won't sell as written because there's nothing there to make it stand out.
I am a conscientious judge. Maybe I'm too easy, but I never give anyone the lowest score possible. I don't want to batter someone, though I give copious comments if it's allowed. And I never sign my comments, not because I don't stand behind them, but because you just never know how someone will receive what you have to say. If someone sends me a thank you note (which they rarely do, btw, even though we are told we should thank our judges), I might out myself. I have mixed feelings about not signing, btw. I want to stand behind what I say, but I don't want to get abused for saying it. It happens sometimes, unfortunately, which is why I remain anonymous for now.
Have you entered any contests lately? Do you also judge contests and have you learned anything from that experience?
Lynn, I have done a few poetry contests, but never won anything. I have not done any short story or novel contests.
I have found that poetry contests have not helped me at all. It was by showing my poetry to Dr. Atkins and a few others that I learned what worked for me in the poetry department.
Since I do not go with the trends, I have not been successful in publishing poetry in the U.S. If you remember, I have quite a few that were published in Europe.
So I don’t find contests that helpful. 🙂
Entered. Judged. Researched. I’ve done it all. I select a contest not for its prestige or name recognition. (That’s what I used to do when I first started out because I was trying to build a resume of sorts.)
Now I enter a contest because there’s a particular editor or publishing house I’m stalking. That’s it in a nutshell.
I’m scurrying to get my entries into the GH…then, I’ll start thinking about other contests again.
As for researching judges, I think it’s important. There was one contest I looked at where the final judge for my category was an acquiring editor at a pub who–get this–didn’t publish the type of books in that category!!
Cyn, yeah, I really don’t know much about the poetry contest world. I was pretty much speaking specifically about RWA contests. We have a lot to choose from, many with acquiring editors and agents, and it can be a good way to get your work in front of them if you final.
It’s also a great way to get feedback, though at a certain point in your writing career, the feedback stops being important (I mean because you’ve probably gotten a critique partner or group that you trust and because you’ve entered/finalled in enough contests that you know your work is heading in the right direction).
Feedback is often more important for the newbie writer (the one attempting her first novel), though I’ve gotten some great suggestions as a veteran too.
Tanya, I totally agree. But with your contest resume, you can be as picky as you want these days! I got burned out on contests at one point, mostly because the negative feedback I was getting wasn’t helping me figure out what was wrong. My work needed the criticism back then, but it felt too personal and I wasn’t able to separate out what I needed to. That’s not a problem that plagues me anymore. Water off a duck’s back, baby. 🙂
PC, I know what you mean! This is exactly what I’m talking about. Why enter a contest where the final judge can’t do anything for you? I figure it can be worth taking a chance with agents who have a full list because if they love you, they’ll take you on. But editors in different sub-genres or categories? What’s the point?
I’m pretty much burned out on them myself, but *you* know why I’m entering them, and it’s not for the feedback. 😉 I get great feedback from my great cp (g) as well as a few other people I shoot stuff to in a crunch. To be honest, the contest feedback I’ve been getting lately has bordered on toxic. If I’d been new to the game, I would have wilted from it. Most of the comments are either from new writers or judges who shouldn’t be judging. I actually had one judge write:
“WTF is this nonsense? Are you serious?????”
And “Your hero needs Prozac!”
She was talking about the twin story.
You can spot a judge with issues by the vitriol they spew in their commentary. It bleeds all over the score sheet. As for the new writer judges, you can spot them too because they’re still obsessed with rules and consistently mark you down for silly stuff.
It took me years to figure out that rules can be broken for the right reasons.
Contests are definitely crap shoots. Like Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.
Tanya, OMG! I know I’ve had that judge, or a similar one anyway. Now, if we HAD to sign our comments, people wouldn’t talk like that. But they wouldn’t volunteer either. Still, that’s a person with ISSUES.
As for the newbie writers, yep, you can spot them a mile away by the comments. I finalled in a contest a while back where I’d gotten one newbie judge. She told me my writing was passive, LOL. Any “was” plus an -ing construction was passive voice to her. I could chuckle, and thank her politely, because I was still a finalist.