For the first time in years, I decided to submit some of my writing to a small contest. It has a short submission requirement: Seeking no more than 1,500 words of a scene’s best banter. That seemed very doable to me, like a good way to get my stuff out there. Because that’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it? So why not start with contests?
Come to find out, some contests have a standard policy to provide feedback to all participants. It’s a great way to get feedback beyond your trusted beta readers and critique group partners. Sometimes, judges for contests include editors of publishing houses, as well as literary agents. And if these are the same people who will be reading our query letters, anyway, why not try a contest?
Contests may provide direct access to editors and literary agents.
I always worry about slush piles when it comes to literary agents. Yes, a good query letter will certainly get the eye of an agent, but a contest can make the slush-pile feel a lot less slushy. With a contest, I can’t help but wonder if sheer numbers are in our favor. A smaller group of submissions go to a contest, compared to the overwhelming amount of query letters that go to an agent’s mailbox. And if you become a contest winner, you may get direct access to the editor or agent, if they are the contest judge.
Submitting to a contest could be a way to get constructive feedback. The contest that I submitted to was $20, and all entrants will receive a critique with comments. This doesn’t mean that I advocate sending unpolished work to a contest. Definitely not. However, a contest could be a great tool for feedback. If it provides a critique, it can demonstrate how your writing compares to others, especially if the contest renders scores on each submission.
If a contest offers constructive feedback from judges, it’s a great takeaway for all participants, whether one wins the contest or not.
Some small contests don’t even require a complete manuscript. They may only request the first 15 pages or a first chapter and synopsis. As I mentioned above, the contest that I submitted to had a hard-stop at 1,500 words. For those of us who haven’t finished a manuscript yet, this is a doable feat.
Even if you aren’t crowned the contest’s winner, you may be ranked a finalist or semi-finalist. That’s bragging rights, as far as I’m concerned. You still beat out a slew of other people to become a finalist or semi-finalist. (Think: Silver and Bronze medals at the Olympics. They still get a spot on the podium, don’t they? Yep, sure do.) That information would be great for your bio, your query letters, your website, your social media, the back of your book cover, or your book summary on Amazon. It would differentiate your work from others.
If you win a contest—or are a finalist or semi-finalist—it makes great pre-publishing marketing.
Submitting to contests starts the process of setting goals. After I sent off my entry to the contest, I started an Excel spreadsheet. Submitting to one contest makes me feel like I can submit to another—one baby step leading to another. So, my goal is to enter two contests a month. I’ll add my entries to the spreadsheet to track my progress.
So how do we find contests and awards?
There is an excellent article here that gives writer-be-aware advice on profiteering and illegitimate contests.
To be safe, a good place to start looking for contests are tried-and-true organizations like the following:
- Horror Writing Association
- Poets & Writers
- Romance Writers of America
- Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association of America
- Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
- Women’s Fiction Writers Association
- Writer’s Digest
And when looking into any contest:
- Check out the entry fees. Do they seem too high?
- See who is judging the contests.
- Find out what is awarded to the winners. If money is not the prize—if winners receive an image or button for their website, instead–does that meet your goals?
Read Jami Gold’s post, The Pros and Cons of Writing Contests.