What’s with all the contests?

For those of us who are published or trying to get published, we know that there are many ways to publication.  You can get an agent and submit your manuscripts that way, or you can look for publishing houses that do not require an agent to submit, or you can try to get noticed via writing contests.

I belong to the Romance Writers of America (think of it as the Screen Actors Guild for romance writers) and there are many chapters internationally.  many of those chapters sponsor writing contests where you typically submit up to the first 50 pages of your manuscript and maybe a synopsis and have it judged by fellow writers, trained judges, editors, agents, etc.  The best hope? That your manuscript will catch eye of an agent or editor and you can jump out of the slush pile (the pile of unsolicited manuscripts on her desk) and maybe snag a book deal.

I’ve been fortunate enough to final and win (pardon me while I do a little snoopy dance) in several contests and I’ve received requests to see my manuscript by two editors.  It is still early days on my path to publication but the ride is super fun right now.

But the best part of the contests?  The feedback. I have received great feedback, advice, insight, and guidance from the judges and I know that it has made my work better.  Even the advice that I haven’t incorporated into my work has forced me to work through the process, analyze my manuscript and weigh the proposed edits with my vision of the story. As my friend Michelle says, “It’s all good.”

So, for those who have been asking about these contests – that is the deal.  Thank you also for your continued support of all my ups and downs as I pursue my writing dreams.

Go pamper yourself  . . . read a romance novel!

Comments 20

  1. Hi Robin. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with contests over the years, but the one thing I can say is that I’ve learned something from every one of them. Sometimes I learned the things not to do when judging other’s people’s work, but I still learned a valuable lesson.

    Congrats on your win. That’s a great contest to win.

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  2. Hey Robin! Congrats on your finals and wins.

    I’ve found with advice I get from contests or even my dear cp, when my first reaction is “She just doesn’t get it. I clearly meant (fill in the blank)”. But if I let it sit a day or two, I can go back to the comment and say, “Okay, maybe it wasn’t so clear to them after all. How can I convey what I wanted so it IS clear to the reader?” That has been the biggest help to me of all. Distance and objectivity instead of taking it personally. And sometimes, though I hate to admit it, I was just wrong. LOL

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      Stacey: You would think in my profession (attorney) where I write for a living and every reply is a politely worded dissertation on what an idiot I am that I would have a thicker skin! But, man, those first few score sheets really hurt the ego – but were so helpful when I took a step back and really looked at it objectively.

      Thanks for coming to “see” me!

  3. Robin, I’m a big fan of contests because that’s how I sold! Having no critique partner, I entered contests at first to get the feedback. Then I entered to rack up those contests finals and wins so I had something to put on my query letters. Finally, I entered contests to target the editors I wanted to reach. And the strategy worked. I finaled in a contest, the editor placed my entry first and requested the full, and she bought the manuscript (after a revision request) 11 months after the initial request. So I’m a big fan of contests and that’s how I know you’re really close to selling! 🙂

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      Carol: From your mouth to Harlequin’s ear!!!

      I have used the same strategy for contests – feedback, resume building and now I target the editors I want and hopefully get a sale. I think early on you gave me that exact advice and it has paid off for me so far – thank you!

  4. Contests helped me land my agent. It also prepared me for feedback from editors and even toughened my hide so I could deal with reader reviews. Every reader’s experience with your story will be unique. But entering contests is a great way to learn how to weigh that feedback and define your style and voice. Congrats on your successes!

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      Thank you Amy! You also gave the great advice to get a criticque partenr and that has also helped me with toughening my hide and improving my writing by learning to take feedback from others.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. What great advice regarding contests. As an aspiring writer I appreciate all the above information and tips and I’m soaking it all up like a sponge!

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  6. Carol, I didn’t know you published through a contest. So did I! I went the contest route for about two years before I finally sold. I’ll be honest; I did it because I’m terrible at queries and synopses. I just have a mental block about writing a synopsis in particular, and the great thing about contests was, you could get your foot in the door with your actual manuscript without turning off the editor with your crummy synopsis. 😉

    For me, the key was targeting the contests that were either prestigious or had an agent or editor I wanted to work with as a final judge in my category. By targeting specific contests that way, I didn’t spend a fortune. But I should say that this worked for me because I was at the point where I was finaling in about half to two-thirds of the contests I entered. The final round judges don’t mean much to you if you’re not finaling.

    If you’re just starting out, and you’re looking for feedback, you should pick the contests that promise feedback and that are judged in the early rounds by RWA Pro writers or PAN authors. And even then, you should take the feedback with a grain of salt. Read it carefully, let it sink in, and then decide if it works for you. Sometimes it will. Sometimes it won’t. Be smart and follow your instincts, but don’t assume you know everything.

    I think contests are definitely a viable way to avoid the slushpile for aspiring romance writers in particular. If you want to do it, be smart about it and go for it.

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  7. The road to publication is different for everyone. And success is measured in many different ways. I found myself in the small press world over the past couple of years and love what I’ve created there. Now I’m streaching and working my way into the bookstores and shelves. And if a contest is going to help make that happen, then I’m in.

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  8. Robin, I have no doubt you’ll be telling us about that first sale very soon!

    I’m also a huge fan of contests. Like you, I finaled so many times they nicknamed me the contest queen. And though I didn’t sell through a contest, the feedback I received was invaluable. 🙂

    Though my dear cp has been the biggest asset of all. *g*

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  9. I enter contests as well and they have helped me get my stuff in front of editors and agents. However, lately I’ve noticed a trend in judging that has me very concerned for new writers embarking on this journey, particularly if they want feedback. I add a cautionary note in saying that not all judges are constructive with their feedback, nor are they all trained. This leads to personal comments and critiques that can, quite frankly, eviscerate a writer who is not experienced.

    I’m a trained judge and a former category coordinator (not my strength). I have been appalled by the mean-spiritedness and personal subjectivity in many of contest feedbacks I’ve received as well as the ones I have heard about from other well-established, solid writers who have finaled and/or won prestigious contests like the DAPHNE, THE SHEILA, THE MAGGIES, THE GOLDEN HEART to name a few.

    Now I no longer enter contests for the feedback. I only enter them as a potential door to get my work in front of a coveted agent or editor. If I don’t make it past the first gauntlet of judges, I don’t read any of the feedback unless the score reflects what I believe is a fair judgment of my writing skills.

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      Christine: I have also heard the unfortunate instance of unconstructive feedback. I always try to make the best of everything so I used those instances to help me develop a tough skin. But . . . it was hard to think that had paid money for the privilege of being insulted!

      Thanks for your comment.

  10. A great subject, Robin.

    I quit entering contests long before I published because they just broke my heart, and I would quit writing altogether. Of course, after I pulled my self out of the hole I crawled into I would write again.

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