This past weekend was “contest entering” weekend for me—and I’m not nervous at all. (It’s okay, you don’t have to believe me.) But after several years of writing, this decision to enter a contest was a new one for me. Which of course begs the question, why did I finally decide to do it?
There are many—many—contests out there. And I’m sure there are just as many reasons for entering, or not entering, contests. I know some people swear by them and others hate them.
So before I made my decision, I had to know what I was looking to get out of it. Remember my post about knowing what will make you happy? You can’t possibly be surprised that I went in with an organized plan, right? Me, the over-achieving perfectionist? Yeah, I thought not.
Things I Look For in a Contest
- Receiving Feedback: I looked for contests that encourage their judges to give feedback with their scores. There’s a huge variety in the quality of contest judging, but if someone didn’t like my work, actual feedback is more helpful than just a low score.
- Contests can be another source of feedback on your work, just like beta readers or critique groups.
- Final Judge: I looked for contests where the final judge (usually an editor or agent) was one that I’d like to work with if they requested my material after the contest. Of course, I have to make it to the finals first, but I was engaged in a little positive thinking there.
- If you’re not sure your first page would draw in a reader, but the second or third page really shines, maybe a contest is the way to go. After all, the judges have to keep reading a contest entry. They can’t send a rejection letter after just the first page.
- Prestige: I looked for contests that I’d heard of, or that the sponsor of the contest was a prestigious group. Again, thinking positively here, but if I won a contest, I wanted it to mean something.
- For unpublished writers, contest wins are something to add to that skimpy bio paragraph in a query letter .
- Category Breakdown: I looked for contests that had categories that fit my work well. One of my stories is not a traditional romance under any definition of the word yet has romantic elements, so I looked for contests with a “Romantic Elements” category.
- There are enough contests out there to concentrate only on those that are a good match to your story. Kind of like looking for an agent.
- Ease of Entry: I looked for contests that had electronic submission, took payment by PayPal, and listed all relevant information on their website.
- If their website isn’t organized enough to clearly list the rules for deadlines and eligibility, how organized is the contest itself likely to be?
Have you ever entered your writing in a contest? Why or why not? If you have, was it a good or bad experience for you? What do you look for before you decide to enter a contest?