Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Writing Contests: For Winners or a Waste of Time?

As writers our main aim is to get our work accepted by a publisher, right? And it’s hard enough sending out all those query letters and neat little packages of partials and synopses, without being bothered sending stuff off to some group with an odd-sounding name who’ll take a look at your work and — gulp! — maybe tell you it’s no good. Heavens, after all, we can get letters from publishers telling us the same thing, and less publicly!
If we get a nice letter praising our work from these contest judges, or better yet, our names appear as finalists or winners, so what? I mean, it’s not like being published, is it?
And contests cost you money, too. So why bother?
Now, gather round, all you ambitious writers, and listen up.
Contests can provide you with a showcase for your work, a chance to bring your work before judges who are also editors, agents, or published writers in their other incarnations. And you don’t have to win the contests to be a winner, either. Many writers will tell about their experiences of being contacted by editors or agents who read their contest submissions and were impressed enough to ask to see the whole manuscript.
So, is it really worth going to the trouble of seeking out contests, packaging up your precious work and sending it off? Many writers think so. Here are some positive viewpoints:
“I entered the Iowa Romance Novelists’ Query and Synopsis contest last year and was a finalist. It was advantageous in many aspects and I’m going to enter a few more this year as a result of my experience with the contest,” says writer Dawn Tomasko, “Contests can open doors for writers. It’s a tight, competitive market and if an editor or agent notices your work through a contest so much the better. It’s one way to get a foot in the door. I very much liked reading the different judges’ responses to my work (I had included the first 30 pages as requested) and not only was the feedback helpful to point out good and bad things in my work, but the differences in their opinions underlined the fact that fiction is SO subjective.”
Dawn is now on her third novel, and adds the contest final as a credit in her query letters alongside her publication credits. “I advocate contests wholeheartedly,” she said.
Author Laurie Alice Eakes is a first-rate example of how a contest can boost a writer into committing to her craft — and the successes that follow. “In 1993, I won my first writing contest,” Laurie Alice said. “After that, with the encouragement of writer friends and business associates, I got serious and finished my first true attempt at a readable novel. My first sale was actually a nonfiction book entitled Virginia Wine, A Tasteful Guide, published in 1997. In 1999, while I was in grad school at Virginia Tech, I contracted my first novel with Awe-Struck E-Books.”
That first novel, The Widow’s Secret, was nominated for best e-book of 1999 and the Frankfurt E-Book awards, and remained high on the Barnes and Noble best selling e-books list for several months. “When some unfortunate circumstances compelled me to take a leave of absence from graduate school, I began writing again. December 2001 marks the release of the paperback version of The Widow’s Secret. In February 2002, my Regency historical, Married by Mistake, will be published by Novel Books Inc., in both trade paperback and electronic format. Awe-Struck E-Books will publish my Regency suspense novel, Unmarriageable, in April 2002, and Novel Books Inc., will publish my first contemporary romance, Lessons in Love, in August 2002. “Under the Mistletoe,” my Regency Mystery short story, is still available as part of A Winter Holiday Sampler, in trade paperback and electronic formats from Regency Press.”
To emphasize the value of contests further, she adds: ” I have out three books now, two in print, which is nice. I just won a scholarship for my writing, a nicely large one. So that contest paid off, too.”
So, contests are well worth your consideration. Not only can you get valuable credits to add to your writers’ resume, but the judges often offer the sort of constructive criticism that some professionals charge a fortune for — giving you a chance to review their advice and revamp your MS, and all for the entry fee. If you’re not sure whether a certain contest fits with your career plan as a writer, ask. Ask the organizers — most have email contact addresses now. Ask other writers — often contest news is announced on Internet writers’ lists and so other list members may be able to give fast answers to your queries. And if there’s no email contact, then write for more details. After all, you are a writer, aren’t you?
(This article was first published several years ago; it's still popping up all over the Net, so I thought I'd get some extra mileage out of it, too)