Monday, May 29, 2006

Writing Contests - Some Cautions

A member of my critique group - unpublished so far, but destined to be published if she keeps it up, she's a great writer - mentioned she was going to begin entering contests to get feedback on her writing.

I'm not a big fan of writing contests. I've entered a few, won some, finaled in some, but I've never felt the comments and feedback accompanying my scoresheets were particularly helpful to me. It's difficult for a judge to truly assess a book in any meaningful way on the basis of ten, twenty or thirty opening pages, and I found that many of the comments made by judges didn't really apply.

I once had a judge knock off some points and tell me to get rid of a certain character that appeared in the first couple of pages. The problem was, the character she wanted me to get rid of was the villain. Without him, there was no story. In another contest, I had a judge make a complex suggestion that would have sent my story off in a completely different direction. Not helpful.

I passed on the following cautions to my critique partner:

Keep in mind that a winning contest entry may not be publishable. As written, I mean. What contest judges look for in a contest entry may not necessarily be what an editor will find suitable or appealing. Writers with lots of experience entering contests usually write their entry specifically to appeal to contest judges. It's a knack.

Only enter contests where the final judge is an editor. Now, having said the above, if you do final, an editor will often ask to see a proposal, so it gives you a leg up, so to speak. You may have to further revise your proposal before you submit it, though.

Take the feedback with a grain of salt. Don't think that every comment a judge makes is written in stone. Often, the feedback will not apply at all. Use your own judgement. Take and keep what you can use, discard the rest. It's YOUR story.

Don't become addicted to contests. Don't focus your efforts solely on entering contests. I know of someone who won just about every contest she entered, but never sold a book. In fact, she never even submitted a proposal because she never wrote anything more than a contest entry.

Don't sacrifice writing time preparing contest entries. If you have a choice of entering a contest or moving forward on your novel, skip the contest.

If you win or final - BRAG! Go ahead. Tell everyone!

Good luck, Lena.

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