Writing Contests.. Yes or No?

Being a teacher means that when the students get a snow day, so do I.  When I was a student, I had no idea that the teachers were more excited than I was to get a day off for winter weather.  Now that I'm a teacher, I know that it is absolutely true!  This has been more like a "snow week", since we've been out of school for 4 days.  It's given me lots of time to think.

I've been pondering writing contests again.  A few years ago I swore off them.  I'd entered a few from time to time, with three different manuscripts.  Sometimes the feedback was helpful.  Other times it was bizarre.  A judge once told me that she "didn't like the use of contractions in my dialogue."  What?  Everyone uses contractions when they speak!  My heroine was a twenty-something woman from the Lexington, Kentucky area who ran a bed and breakfast.  She would not have said something like... "Maybe the next time we visit you you will be in a better mood.  It is no fun being around you when you are being such a sour puss."  It's much more believable for a woman like her to say... "Maybe the next time we visit you you'll be in a better mood.  It's no fun being around you when you're being such a sour puss."  

I decided the contest feedback wasn't wort the expense and the effort to enter contests.  The entry fees were anywhere from $20 - $30, not to mention the expense of the paper for three copies of my first 50 pages and the postage to mail it all to the contest coordinator.  The time involved may seem like a minor thing, but for a woman with a full-time job and a family at home, finding the time to put together a contest entry was sometimes difficult.  There was the printing of the manuscript copies, the filling out of the appropriate paperwork, the trip to the post office.  And really, I was getting the same quality of feedback from the talented ladies in my RWA chapter, some of whom comment regularly on this blog.  Are you listening Teresa and Devon!?

But even after I swore off them, there came a time when I decided to enter contests again.  I decided the feedback from people who didn't know me was valuable, as well as the chance of getting my work in front of an editor or agent I was interested in, should my manuscript final in the contest.  So, I sought out contests with final judges that interested me should I be lucky enough to get a chance at publication.  I didn't final in either of the contests that I entered for this reason, and the feedback was somewhat helpful.

I asked my KYRW chapter-mates about contests and feedback.   I learned that many of them had had similar experiences, and that many of them had entered contests for the same reasons I did... to get objective feedback and to try to get their work in front of a certain editor or agent.  I also learned something very interesting.  Some authors and some manuscripts just don't do well in contests.  Several published authors described entering contests and not finaling or scoring well with the manuscript that they eventually sold to a publisher.

I've come to the conclusion that some types of books do well in writing contests, and others don't.  The reasons for entering contests varies, and for a long time I've not even considered submitting my work to a contest.  But now, with all this time on my hands this week, I've started thinking about it again.  I have a new manuscript, in a new sub-genre of romance.  Maybe I could use some objective feedback?

Do you have contest experiences, good, bad or neutral, that you'd like to share?  If so, I'd love to hear.  Perhaps it will make my decision easier!


  1. Amy,

    I've yet to enter one single contest. Reason?? Because I've read so many authors discussing what a monumental waste of time they are.

    You have to spend your own money and precious time to enter, and the chances of getting your manuscript into just the right hands at just the right time are minimal -- and that seems to be what it takes to get anywhere in a contest. Sure it looks great on a query letter, but to me contests are a crap shoot at best.

    Would I EVER enter one? Sure. But I would have to be super tempted by say...an editor from Avon, Dorchester or maybe Silhouette?? Otherwise, what's the point? If it's just for the critique, we have an awesome support system at KYRW...

    I'd rather spend my time polishing my MS's for an editor or agent!!

    Just my two cents... ;) (Great topic, btw!!)

    Tracy Preston

  2. Thanks Tracy! Your thoughts echo my own in many, many ways. The money and time and availability of good critiquers in KYRW were the reasons I swore off contests. Now that I'm trying my hand in a new sub-genre, I've been thinking about entering a contest, for the objective feedback of someone who (hopefully anyway!) has some experience writing or reading that particular sub-genre. But I won't do it on a whim, like I did when I entered my first few contests. I'm going to take my time and do my research, and if I enter, I'll enter the RIGHT one... the one that will hopefully best meet my needs of objective feedback and the possibility of putting my work in front of the right industry professional.

  3. Amy,

    We've discussed the pros and cons of contests in the past. I went the rounds with them and got the entire spectrum, from helpful feedback and encouragement to downright bizarre comments that made me wonder where they'd dredged up their judging pool.

    The one time it actually paid off was the OVRWA win and request for full from the Harlequin editor. It was bittersweet because I never got to submit to that editor. Before I could send in the ms., Harlequin decided to do away with their historical line. They transferred the editor to another line. Then later, they decided NOT to do away with historicals, but shipped them over to England. Ack! Anyway, I ended up with a nice first place certificate out of it, but the request was wasted.

    Consider this. These days, there are contests online. No snail mail, no expense of wasted paper and ink. Often, not even an entry fee. You might want to keep an eye out for those.

    I wish you the best of luck with whatever you decide to do. :o)

  4. This is true, Devon. There are many contest that now allow entry via email, which does cut down on the time and expense. In that instance, I might not even mind the entry fee, especially if the final judge was someone I wanted to read my MS. I suppose like anything else, it pays to do your research before deciding to enter.

    I remember that contest win for you, and the request for the full MS. If nothing else, it's a feather in your cap!

    Thanks for the comment!

  5. Amy:
    I've entered several contests in the past before I was published, and for the most part, was very successful at them.
    One of the very best I've both entered and judged.(Not at the same time). The SMRW Laurie contest is hands down one of the best and offered me better feedback than any other I've entered.
    Now that I'm published there are few contests I'm allowed to enter and I miss that. I really enjoyed waiting for the feedback. And the opportunity to get my chapters in front of an editor or agent didn't hurt either.
    Good luck with your entries!!!
    Teresa R.

  6. Have you considered submitting pieces to literary journals rather than contests? There are so many of them, many online, and an acceptance means building your writing credits! Happy writing, either way. Enjoyed browsing here.

  7. Amy, this is a good topic to discuss. I'm always interested in others' contest experience. I only entered one, and the feedback was really helpful. However, it was the same advice my cousin had already given me--for free--that I was simply too bullheaded to take. Lesson learned the hard way: let the cousin read stuff first and LISTEN TO WHAT SHE SAYS. Then make changes accordingly and send. Maybe I should rent her out as a pre-contest screener?

  8. Hi Amy. It has been years since I've entered a contest. I think for me it is a matter of time and money. There are contests for published authors out there and often they have really good judges--top agents and editors--but right now, I'm focusing more on my submissions and deadlines than the contests.