Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What's the Big Hype Over Writing Contests?

Contest, contest, contest. I’ve been hearing that word used a lot lately, but I’m unsure as to the value of writing contests. Many people seem to receive mixed responses to their entries. How would this be helpful? Not to mention the cost involved. There’s the entrance fee, but you also have to pay for paper, ink (or copies), and postage, which can add up in a hurry.

How do you choose between the different kinds of writing contests? Some evaluate your whole manuscript, while others look at the first fifty pages, the first chapter, or even the first sentence. Some contests are well-known and worth a lot of weight in the publishing industry like the Rita (for published authors) and the Golden Heart (for unpublished authors). While others are simple contests put out by bloggers. Do those count for anything? A win is a win, isn’t it?

At what point in a writer’s career should she enter a contest? I’m only about 1/3 of the way through the rough draft of the revised version of my latest novel. Obviously, I couldn’t enter any contest that requires the complete manuscript, but what about others that don’t? What if I was lucky enough to win? Would they then request the full? That’s what I’m assuming, which is why I haven’t gone the contest route. Wouldn’t that be my luck to have an editor or agent request more and I’d have to say: “You don’t mind waiting a year, do you?” Ugh. Although, if that did happen, maybe I could convince my husband I need more writing time… Hummm…

My guess is some contests are worth while, but how does a writer go about finding such contests? What have your experiences been? How many contests do you enter a year? Is there a contest you’d recommend? Are there some to stay away from and why? Is the feedback you get really any better than the comments from your critique group?


  1. Most of the contests I'm familiar with are for finished books, such as the Horn or Eric Hoffer Awards. Writer's Digest hosts many contests, but they also receive a lot of entries.
    I've never bothered with contests and probably won't in the near future.

    L. Diane Wolfe

  2. I stared out extremely small by entering Flash Fiction and short essay contests for The fee was small, $5 and there was a prompt for some contests, some were open. Max. used to be 500 words, it has now been upped to 750. I placed top 10 3 times and top 25 one me something to put on my query and that was worth every last penny. I did enter a chick lit novel contest and only the first 50 pages were used for that. While the fee was hefty- $30, I did get some really helpful feedback from an agent and a publisher. That was worth it to me.

  3. The big contests scare me with the entry fees... and I have also heard of winning a contest at the same time an agent want you (wouldn't we all wish! ;)) and then having to break one contract or another. I entered an itty bitty contest on a blog recently. Many authors are hosting them and I think entering into those is a good idea... if you win, perhaps their agents will read your blog... I had a really eye opening experience with one of those:

  4. Since I work full time, I try to keep any contests I enter to the low maintenance quick kind. I entered the WD short story contest several months ago but didn't win anything. I haven't been very aggressive about it, basically because I want to work at publishing them more than winning contests with them. Probably if I actually won one though, my tune would be different! LOL.

  5. I've entered a couple contests (short or flash fiction), but never really wanted to shell out big bucks to enter anything really worth winning. I think I'd rather spend that money on queries and trying to get published. If something's good enough to send to a contest, I figure it's probably good enough to try and sell instead. :-)

  6. I used to enter short story contests but haven't done so lately because it is time consuming checking out the various sites and entry fees can add up quickly. Two of the writing groups I belong to hold contests and I may consider entering them in the future.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  7. I haven't enetered any contests, so I'm curious about some of the comments on which ones are worth the time and money.

  8. I've only entered two, and they were geared toward Christian Fiction since that is what I write. One was the TBL contest through the RWA for Christian romance writers and the other was the Genesis through the ACFW.

    I entered, obviously, because it would be cool to win. Both winners get announced a big conferences and I figure anytime your name and your book title can be announced in a room full of known authors/agents/editors, that can't hurt!

    But, knowing that winning was a slim chance, the consolation prize to me was the feedback. I didn't agree with it all, but there were a few common themes. Plus, I'm a grade junky. I like to know "how much farther" I ahve to go. On my first book, I scored really well but didn't win. On the second and third I entered not so good. It was really helful to me to know what to work on.

  9. For a short time I entered contests but it didn't last long. The best ones for me were from the RWA online chaps, Faith Hope and Love and the Beau Monde. I didn't final in either, but got great feedback. I know some writers who enter almost constantly and some have vowed never to enter again.

  10. You know my story about contests. I finaled in the ACFW Genesis. Then I emailed the agent who had my MS in her slush pile. The final perked her attention, she read my MS, and then offered me representation. So, while I don't put a lot of stock in writing contests as a true judge of writing ability, I do think a contest win/final can possibly give us an edge.

  11. Before I entered any contests, I contemplated why I was entering. At the time, I had no access to a critique group, so I only entered contests that offered feedback, and I only entered a few.

    I think there are two good reasons to enter a contest: feedback and credentials. If you don't final, you'll at least get comments that will tell you why. If you do final, you have a credential to include when querying.

    Some of thhe biggest RWA contests for unpublished authors are the Golden Heart, The Marlene, The Golden Pen, The Orange Rose. There are several very respected RWA contests I didn't list, too.

    I've put a limit on myself with contests. I can enter up to three a year but I don't feel obligated to enter any. And now that I have access to critique partners, I only enter contests where the final judge is an editor I'm targeting.

  12. Thanks for all your comments, guys. I found them to be very interesting and helpful.

    As for whether or not I'm going to enter a contest... I'm not sure. I won't until I've completed my ms though. That'll be my main focus.

    Lynnette Labelle

  13. You should definitely complete your manuscript first. At least the rough draft. The first contest I entered, I finaled in. Yeah. Talk about a shocker. And the manuscript wasn't finished, I'd just done it for curiosity, to get some anonymous eyes on my work. The editor who was the judge was from the house I was targeting, so that was a plus. I finished the manuscript quick and sent it in. They don't always ask for a full though. First they asked for my synopsis.
    Also, that same entry has not finaled in any other contest. Just one. So there's subjectivity. However, I've gotten wonderful feedback from published authors and experienced writers. That's something.
    I find most of my contests through RWA. I enter ones with judge editors that are at the house I'm targeting. I only enter electronic contests too. WAY cheaper.

    Despite the subjectivity, a contest is, imo, extremely helpful. :-)

  14. I'll add my two cents even though I'm a bit late on this. I entered a contest by a small non-profit writing group in another state. I came in third and was quite happy with the tiny monetary prize and getting published on their site. It was an ego boost, mostly. But now, two years later, I still like that short story and wonder what I can do with it. The rights reverted to me, but many submission guidelines say they want nothing published elsewhere. So is my only option to see if I can get it into an anthology or post it gratis on my blog? It's just something to consider about contests. The big ones may give you something useful for your resume, the smaller ones I think are more for gratification.