For some, contests have opened the doors they believe they wouldn’t have seen opened otherwise. For others, contests have only led to frustrating and conflicting scores and feedback. Which begs the question: How does a writer know if entering contests is right for them?
To answer that question, one must understand the nature of contests and have clear motivations for entering them. The first thing a writer must be aware of is that not all judges are published, which means, the person offering feedback might have little credentials to do so. And among the published, there can be a high degree of variable, from the small press that accepts every manuscript while offering little growth-inducing feedback to the rigorous big house that challenges their writers to grow with every manuscript, and everything in between.
One must also understand, few contests train their judges. As a result, scores and opinions are quite subjective. The good news is, so is writing. What one person considers a phenomenal story another may find a dud.
Most contests do, however, ask their judges to score stories using clear (and sometimes vague) scoring criteria. And most can recognize great story telling when they see it, and often, even when feedback and scores from different judges conflict, writers can sift through the comments, pulling story-strengthening nuggets from each.
But more than that, contests help writers focus on specific and necessary areas of their craft such as strong openings and clear character motivation.
A couple years ago, I entered a contest that only allowed for 500 words. To add to the challenge, those first 500 words had to come from a specific writing prompt, and the winner would receive a free conference registration. I’d never worked so hard on my opening line before, and I’ve continued to work hard on it since. The contest helped me zero in on the importance of that first sentence. Though I’d considered my openings previously, my perspective changed once I began asking myself: Is this a contest winning opening? Suddenly, a good opening wasn’t enough. I wanted mine to be the best!
Another benefit of writing contests is that they provide a definite and unmovable deadline, which can motivate writers to follow through with their efforts, perfecting what needs to be perfected without spending the rest of their career on that first paragraph.
Contests can also help move you manuscript out of the slush pile by capturing an agent or editor’s opinion. To move from interest to contract, however, the writer will need to make sure the rest of their story is as strong as their first 15 or 50 pages. To do that, they’ll need to utilize the judge’s feedback and sift their story through strong critique partners. But then again, that’s true for every writer, whether they enter a contest or not.
But remember, no contest can override the sovereignty of God, meaning, God will perfect that which concerns you, even if you never enter a contest or if you “fail” each one. Similarly, if you enter and do well, that’s because God intended you to do so and likely plans to use your contest placement for a specific purpose. Either way, He has a plan for you and your writing and has assumed full responsibility for carrying out that plan. Your role is to draw near to Him, listen for His guidance, always do your best with the gifts and talents He’s given you. The rest is up to Him.
What do you think? Do you feel contests are a good idea or a waste of time? Have you seen fruit from any of the contests you’ve entered? Do you find some contests more valuable than others? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Jennifer Slattery writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers, a publishing house passionate about bringing God’s healing grace and truth to the hopeless. She also writes for Crosswalk.com, Internet Café Devotions, and the group blog, Faith-filled Friends. When not writing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her teenage daughter and coffee dates with her handsome railroader husband.
Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.
Her debut novel, Beyond I Do, is currently on sale at Amazon for under $4 (print and kindle version)!
As the hurricane forces Jacqueline to evacuate, her need for purpose and restitution propel her north to her estranged and embittered daughter and into the arms of a handsome new friend. However, he’s dealing with a potential conspiracy at work, one that could cost him everything, and Jacqueline isn’t sure if he will be the one she can lean on during the difficult days ahead. Then there are the three orphans to consider, especially Gavin. Must she relinquish her chance at having love again in order to be restored?
Read a free, 36-page excerpt here: http://issuu.com/newhopedigital/docs/slattery_sampler/1