Thursday, June 27, 2013

Should I Enter A Writing Contest?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.




Among writers, I've noticed two schools of thought about writing contests.

Writing contests are extremely helpful and can be great exposure.

or

Writing contests are a waste of time and money because you don't know who your judges will be.

And my opinion is, "I agree."

Writing contests can be extremely helpful. They can get your manuscript in front of great writers, agents, even editors. Even if they don't do that, you can get great, unbiased feedback from published writers that will help strengthen your story.

They can also be a waste of time because sometimes (often?) big contests are desperate for first round judges and you wind up with someone who has no clue about your genre trying to tell you how to write your book.

So ... what's a writer to do?

This is purely my opinion, so don't take this as industry scripture or anything, but I feel that if you're an aspiring writer and you're ready to query agents or editors, it's a good idea to start with a writing contest. Here's why:

  • Writing contests scrub your name from the pages. Which means the judges know only your words  and your genre. You won't get special treatment because you're young or because you're a relative or because you're friends. All biases are removed.
  • If something isn't working in your first chapters, your judges may have great advice on how to change it. Which might help you land an agent or editor. (This is what happened for me with my debut novel, Me, Just Different. I took the advice of the judges, and an agent who I'd previously queried loved the changes and wanted to represent me.)
  • Contests are good practice for receiving, accepting, processing, and applying criticism. When Me, Just Different didn't do so great in the contest, it was very hard for me. But handling that criticism was an important skill for me to develop.
  • With big contests, there are multiple rounds. If your entry advances to the next round, your book will be in front of an agent or editor. This means you'll at least be getting feedback from them, and you'll possibly gain representation or a contract from it. (I've seen both happen - though I've also seen manuscripts win contests and never get published. So...)
How do you know which contests to enter?

You can do a Google search for writing contests, writing contests for teens, historical romance writing contests. Whatever. You'll get approximately a zillion results. 

If it were me, I would start with a writer's organization. Romance Writers of America does a contest every year for unpublished writers, as does American Christian Fiction Writers, and others as well. (If you know of others, please share in the comments below!) With writers organizations, there's usually the big contests, and then when you join you find out about contests done by regional chapters as well.

Writers Digest has a bunch of annual competitions, Scholastic has one just for teens and Amazon has one as well. 

Contests cost money, so you'll want to consider that when you decide which ones and how many to enter. You'll also want to look at who the final round judges are. If it's an agent or editor you'd be interested in, then that might be a good contest for you. And I recommend only entering contests where the first round judging is done by multiple people as opposed to just one person.

And now for a word of caution.

Writing contests require a tremendous amount of volunteers. And often the people in charge of the contests are desperate for people to help get these entries read. They do their best to make sure they have good judges, but...

The Revised Life of Ellie SweetIn The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet when Ellie is trying to decide if she should enter a writing contest or not, her mentor, Bronte, is firmly against it and she puts it this way, "There are so many people who enter that AFW" (a fake writing organization) "has to scrape the barrel for first round judges. Which means you might have some old fuddy-duddy writer who's never read a single young adult book and doesn't appreciate your lovely, young voice. Therefore they give you low marks, bad advice, and you pay forty dollars for the privilege."

There's truth in Bronte's words, and it's something a lot of first time contest entrants don't realize. (I certainly didn't realize it!) And this is why if you choose to invest money in a contest, I recommend one with multiple first round judges. Just in case.

Do you have additional thoughts on writing contests you'd like to share? Have you had good experiences? Bad experiences? Have a contest you're curious about? Leave your thoughts below!


36 comments:

  1. I honestly have never thought about writing contests for manuscripts, so this was totally new information to me. :) I'll have to keep that in mind, but at the moment I know so little that I don't even have any questions, LOL.

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  2. Well, i'd love to enter a contest. I'm almost finished my first draft but it'll take me the entire summer+ to get it in shape. I'll look at contests in the New Year.

    -Shaneene.

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  3. I've never really thought about writing competitions other than "Operation First Novel" (Christian Writer's Guild). I've always said that I was going to enter that... if I ever actually finish a novel. ;)

    I do have a favor to ask of everyone on here (hope it's okay to do this). I have an idea for my blog, A Write Spirit, and I would love some feedback. I created a post about it a few minutes ago. Would anyone be willing to ease over there and look at it really quickly? Here's the link.

    http://awritespirit.blogspot.com/


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    1. I looked at your blog! I didn't know what to post my comment under (there was no anonymous)... One thing I noticed with your story (which sounds like it could be interesting :)) is Lexi's last name changes from Miller to Malone.
      I don't know much about sitcoms... And I am bad at writing about my life, so..... If you are good at that kind of thing, I say, 'go for it!' or, what you could do, is keep a pad of paper with you all the time and write down funny things as they happen and use them in other stories. :-)

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    2. Thank you so much for looking at my blog! :)
      Oh my goodness. Yeah. I changed Lexi's last name. I guess I just didn't catch it during editing because they both start with "M". Thanks for letting me know! I'll be adding more to her story soon.
      As for the sitcom, I've always been the family storyteller. Lol. Basing a fictional story on things that happen to me would be easy and fun. :) Thanks for the encouragement. I'm going to go look at the comments situation and try to fix it. :)

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    3. If you think you'd enjoy that idea, Ashley, go for it! :) You'll never know if it works or not unless you try! ;) I think it could be quite entertaining as well.

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  4. Novel Rocket: http://www.novelrocket.com/p/launch-pad-contest.html Does a contest every year (some categories are finished for this year) and the winner is set up with an agent or publisher. A number of winners are already published with houses like Thomas Nelson.

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  5. I agree with Amanda, I've never really considered bigger writing contests. I didn't know there were contests like that! Although now that I know about them I'm certainly interested! All of this post was extremely helpful, I want to do one sometime, whenever I finish my book :/

    Now I have a little question, just answer if you have time, I know you are super busy!
    Am I correct in assuming that the same "two schools of thought" can mostly apply to short story contests or prompt contest? If so what are your thoughts about them? Do they take away time from our WIP or give us a nice break?

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    1. That's a good question, Sierra. I've heard those two sentiments applied to big contests, but never smaller/shorter ones. My opinion? I think if you use them as a constant distraction from your novel, then they don't do you much good. But if you use them to exercise different writing muscles or to learn your strengths and weaknesses, then I think they're a good thing. Just my thoughts.

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    2. That's basically what I thought too. It's always neat to branch out and try something new with little contests :) Thank you!

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  6. I don't really know much about contests, so this was good. It gave me something to think about... :) Thank you!
    Is Mrs. Williamson ok? I thought she was planning to do Friday, plus I though you alternated days... I was just wondering! :-)

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    1. So sweet of you to ask about her! It's Thursday, so today is my day. Typically I post Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday and Jill posts Tuesdays and Fridays. She'll be here tomorrow!

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    2. Whoops! It is Thursdsy, isn't it? :) Thanks for answering! I wanted to make sure she was ok.

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  7. I'm considering entering a writing contest right now, but its not a novel one (word limit is 750) and I wouldn't submit an extract because the top 100 entries get published in an anthology, the proceeds of which go towards running the award next year, so then if I wanted to publish with a house there'd be all that "previously published" stuff to deal with. It's run by the Wicked! production in London and one of the judges is Michael Morpurgo! It's also specifically for kids and teens with multiple age categories. I think I am going to enter, because at worst it'll be an experience and at best it's an achievement to list in a pitch :)

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    1. what's that contest? Sounds promising! Good Luck!!

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  8. I don't really know much about contests, so this was good. It gave me something to think about... :) Thank you!
    Is Mrs. Williamson ok? I thought she was planning to do Friday, plus I though you alternated days... I was just wondering! :-)

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    1. Sorry that I posted this twice! It was an accident! :(

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  9. I've entered a couple poetry contests. The first one I never heard back from--the second I was featured in a book called "Talented," but I don't call that extremely special because lots of others--with poems I thought worse than mine (okay, maybe I was getting a litttttle too prideful here... ;))--were also included! I've never entered a "writing writing" contest, as in prose, though.

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  10. I think its important to have expectations in check when entering contests. I agree with everything you said. I did enter one contest and I never thought id make the next round (I didn't) I wanted some feedback to see where I was. I hope in the future to enter a contest with the same organization to see if I made any improvements. I first researched the organization, I was familiar with who they are and what they do.i also read who the final round judges were and looked to see about past winners (sometimes they have blogs and such). I don't know who judged my entries but I do know of authors that mentioned on their social media about judging a contest around that time, lol! Every time I read mt scores I pretend retain authors judged it! But really I got a lot of good feedback and was happy with it, probably because I knew that all I wanted was to see what a few published authors would say about my writing. I was really surprised by a few consisten strengths $ scores and surprised and one or two particularly low scores.

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  11. Great advice on contests!

    My own experience has been a mixed bag between helpful advice and judges who didn't care for fantasy novels (even though they were judging the speculative category). So you really never know what you will get.

    But they are fun to enter and you can learn some great stuff. Including how to handle criticism and people who don't get your book. Because people will still criticize you and won't get your book even after you are published. That's when you smile and eat lots of chocolate!

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  12. This will hopefully be something to think about this winter when I'm revising my current WIP!. :D

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  13. Definitely some food for thought.

    Speaking of writing competitions, is there going to be a Go Teen Writers competition any time soon?

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    1. Yes! We're looking at the second part of July for a writing prompt/150 word contest. It's been too long!

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    2. YAY! Contest!!! I've been looking forward to that ever since I found you guys. School's done, so I'm back to writing!

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  14. I loved reading this one, Stephanie, because, as you know, I entered my first writing contest this year! And it was a biggie!

    It was such a growing experience, though, that I'm glad I didn't progress any further than the first round. =) Entering was worth it.

    At the same time, looking objectively at the pros and cons of big contests (like Jill's reminder that they're subjective and your point that they're not perfect) is kind of cathartic for me now. So, thanks. =)

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  15. I generally enter in writing contests for just feedback. Yes, it's pretty awesome to get first, second or third place but what I really enjoy is the feedback. This is also I'm not a very competitive person but also because I feel that you can move forward more. The more feedback you get the more you can improve!
    Thanks so much for the post Stephanie!!

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    1. That's what I think would be the best part of a writing competition. I only get feedback from friends, so it'd be nice to know what complete strangers think about your work. 'Course, I've never entered a writing contest except for family ones my sister organizes, so I wouldn't really be an expert on that stuff. :)

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  16. I know Zondervan occasionally has writing contests, but I don't think teens are eligible for most of them.

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  17. Great post, Stephanie! I would love to enter writing contests eventually, but I don't know if I'll ever come to a point where my book is "done." :)
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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  18. I've entered one writing contest before--the one run for teens by Scholastic (artandwriting.org). The entry fee is only $5 and there are fee waivers available for anyone that qualifies for free or reduced price lunch. I submitted a short story, received a regional gold key, and then a national gold medal. I was invited to an awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall, where there were Really Famous People. Like Usher.
    I don't know much about other writing contests, but I would definitely encourage other teen writers to submit to Scholastic. It's pretty competitive (this year they received >230,000 art and writing submissions), but it's definitely worth it. The short story I submitted was the second short story I had ever written (and I wrote it like, the week before the competition deadline), so I'm not kidding when I say that I had absolutely NO IDEA what I was doing.
    Also, if the possibility of a really cool medal isn't motivating enough, they give you free books when you pick up your tickets for the national awards ceremony. Free. Books. xD

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    1. Oh, also--
      they don't give feedback on your submission (I can imagine that that would be highly time-consuming :-|).
      Despite that's it's still a great experience--especially as you get to meet so many other young writers at the awards ceremony. Families fly in from all around the country to go to the Carnegie Hall ceremony, so I got to meet all these writers from the West coast and stuff (it was awesome!!!).

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    2. That's awesome, Jenny! Congratulations!

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  19. I entered a writing contest, that asked for only three chapters and if you won, you got your book edited and published, plus you also got to go to New York. I don't remember all the details, I just know it was my first one I entered. I was all excited.
    Supposedly the results were to be announced within three or four months and if you didn't win you were supposed to receive a letter that would tell you and I figured maybe some helpful advice. But, now like three or four years later, still nothing. Obviously I didn't win, but seriously? I was really upset and I hardly even remember the organization that put the contest up.
    Yeah, that would be my bad experience.

    (MJ)

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