I entered my first contest in 1999 and finaled, ultimately placing last in my category. Even though I didn’t enter again for a few years, I was hooked. In the past three years I’ve entered more contests than I’d like to count, finaled in enough to be proud of, received editor requests, made friends with other contest divas, and had my hopes crushed many times.
Contests are a fun ride, they’re nerve wracking, and aggravating–sometimes all together. Are they worth the time, trouble, and expense?
Absolutely. You get used to sending your work out. You develop tougher skin by learning how to take criticism–even when it’s wrong. And sometimes you get comments that are tremendously helpful.
If you final, it’s an opportunity to get your work in front of an editor. Not all contests provide editorial feedback, but at the very least, by their placement, you see how the editor responds to your work. Editors do request partial and full manuscripts off contests. And, sometimes they buy them.
Okay, now that you’re interested, let’s talk strategy. Not all contests are created equal. Some are just for the first few pages, some are for fifty-five pages (including synopsis), and some are just for queries or a first kiss. You have to decide where your work fits best, and what you want to get out of it.
Targeting the final judge is often a good idea. Are you aiming for a particular judge from Harlequin or Pocket or Avon? Some contests only use published authors for their preliminary judges, like the Orange Rose and the Maggie.
Should your manuscript be complete before entering a contest? Heavens no! Of course, if you win and get a request, you might wish it was, but if you are entering for feedback it’s best not to have completed the manuscript first.
Do all contests cost money? Actually, no. There are writing contests run on websites, and there are writing contests run by publishers, like the Delacorte YA Contest and Harlequin for their new Epic line.
More strategy: some contest websites have the score sheet you can download. If it has high points for the h/h meeting in the first chapter and yours don’t, that’s probably not the right contest for that particular story.
There are so many contests to choose from! These days almost every RWA chapter has one. Many of them are listed in the RWR. There are also two contest loops you can join. My favorite is Donna Caubarreaux’s Contest Alert and it’s accompanying website Diva’s with Tiaras. Every year Donna keeps track of contest finals and wins and three top achievers get a tiara! (Bring your own boa). To sign up for her contest loop send a blank email to ContestAlertfirstname.lastname@example.org. RWA also has a contest loop. To join send a blank email to email@example.com (you have to be a member of RWAalert to join).
I picked this topic because on October 8, OCC will be celebrating its 24th Annual Birthday Bash. The Orange Rose winners (both pubbed and unpubbed) will be announced. Along with nine talented writers (three of whom are my OCC sisters), I’m a finalist in the unpubbed contest. Wish us all the best! We’re really all winners, because we’re writing and getting our work out there. Bottom line, that’s what this is all about.