Writing contests offer a variety of benefits ranging from credibility to experience and feedback. There are many different kinds of contests, and there are a number of scams out there so it’s important to recognize a good contest from a bad one.
There’s this misnomer that any contest that charges a fee is a scam. Many very credible contests charge entry fees to generate prize money. Most contests I’ve entered charge between $12 and $25 per entry per category, and the grand prize is always mentioned up front. A quick Google search of the contest should give you a good snapshot of its credibility. If someone’s been burned or been happy with a contest, they’ve probably blogged, facebooked or tweeted about it.
Some contests generate more credibility for your writing than others. National contests that use credible judges with blind judging are best. What makes a judge qualified? Some examples would be editors, literary agents, authors or writers published by royalty publishers, magazines or newspapers, writing teachers, etc.
Another word about credibility…
When Marcy and I were at Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference this past April, we had the opportunity to present our work to editors and agents. One agent commented that based on the first paragraph in our query, she knew she couldn’t sell our novel because of the time period alone. Normally she wouldn’t have even bothered to read the sample work we’d sent in, but based on the contests we’d won, she decided to read our sample chapters. Our contest wins were a tipping point that gave our writing credibility and got our writing in front of an agent.
The very best contests are the ones that will send you the judge’s comments. Regardless of whether you win or not, to receive comments from an editor, agent or published author on how to help you polish your work is invaluable. True critiques can cost hundreds of dollars depending on who you have look at your work. I’ve received great feedback from judges (often more than one judge) for the cost of $25. There are contests I enter and don’t care if I win because I’m only interested in the feedback (I’m ecstatic when I do win). We’re all about free and saving money here at Girls With Pens.
Another great aspect of contests is having an in with other entrants or even judges after the contest. Some judges are willing to let you use their comments in queries and other promotional work (ask permission first – this is simple professional courtesy). The golden opportunity comes when they offer to read your work again, or help you sell it once the changes have been made. How much is that worth? It never hurts to ask. I first met Marcy as a result of entering the same contest – and look where we are now!
Contests are great for teaching you to write for a deadline and for rules. If the contest states that the work must be under 1500 words, anyone over 1500 words won’t even get read. If you’re late entering the contest, too bad so sad. You’re outta luck! Writers seem to be a great bunch of procrastinators aren’t we? Writing for contests taught me a lot about time management, self-discipline, writing under pressure, and writing to a theme.
A word of caution
The one thing that’s important to remember about contests is that the judging can be subjective. The judges may have been given a list of criteria to evaluate a work on, but at the end of the day the difference between first and second place is personal opinion. I entered a piece in one contest and won first prize. I entered the same piece in another contest and didn’t even get shortlisted. Don’t take it personally. If you struggle with handling rejection, check out my post on surviving a critique.
Here are three credible contests that will offer many great benefits. A quick glance through the Christian Writer’s Market Guide will offer many choices, or even Google. Caveat Emptor.
What are some of your contest experiences?