Those of us who write commercial fiction, especially romance, are fortunate so many organizations host writing contests. These contests offer many advantages: experience with proper manuscript formatting and synopsis development; mastery of submission fears; and feedback from impartial sources. And a biggie if you final: the opportunity to have your work read by an agent or editor who might be interested in representing or buying your manuscript.
So, if contests offer so many advantages, why—other than publication—would an unpublished writer ever retire from the contest circuit? Read on for seven signs it might be time to take the writing contest golden parachute.
1. You spend more time on contests than actual writing. How much time does it take to format and polish each contest entry? If, during the course of a week, you spend more time preparing your entries than writing new words or editing your manuscript, ask yourself if this is time well spent.
2. You spend more money on contests than other areas of your writing development. Look back at your writing expenses for the past year (if you aren’t keeping track of your business expenses, you should). How much did you spend on contest entries? $100? $200? More? Consider whether or not those dollars might’ve had more impact if they were spent on classes or conferences.
3. You never move past the synopsis and first three chapters. Your synopsis and those chapters shine like they’ve been scrubbed by Mr. Clean, but the rest of your manuscript is full of dust bunnies and dirty dishes. Do you receive contest feedback only to rework and polish your manuscript AGAIN—sending your storyline and draft into complete upheaval? If you’re currently a one-trick pony, consider spending your time on your next manuscript instead of another contest.
4. You receive inconsistent feedback from first round judges. Does one judge applaud your well-crafted characters while another deems them cardboard? Does one judge think you have a fabulous premise and another that your story isn’t “high concept” enough? If judges’ comments fall into a wild scatterplot and you find each bit of advice more confusing than the last, you might consider cutting off the flow of head-scratching feedback.
5. You final consistently, but receive no requests from the final round judges. If it’s to place your work in front of the right editor or agent, but you’re not receiving requests, look at whether your manuscript is suited to the lines/agencies you’re targeting. But if your work is garnering consistent, helpful feedback, that might be benefit enough!
6. The feedback you receive paralyzes you for days or weeks afterward. Who hasn’t encountered this scenario? Contest results come through email and you open the message immediately, only to have your heart sink into your stomach…or lower. You ask yourself: what did she mean by my pacing was off, characterization was thin, premise was cliché and heroine was TSTL (too stupid to live)? If this type of feedback sends you into a total zombie-like funk, decide if the judges’ comments are worth the Prozac you’ll need later. Remember, not all first round judges are published, have PRO status or have even completed a manuscript themselves. Of course, you should read and consider a judge’s feedback, but don’t assume every judge knows more about writing and crafting a story than you.
7. You have solid critique partners who catch the same issues as contest judges. Do you have two or three writers who read and critique your work on a regular basis? If so, and they’re commenting on the same issues as your first round contest judges, consider utilizing your trusted CPs for free rather than paying to enter a contest.
Do some of these signs sound familiar to you? If so, should you retire from the contest circuit permanently? No, but if you decide to stay in the game, prepare yourself before entering the next contest: limit the amount of time and money you spend, prepare for both negative and positive feedback and understand your goal for each contest entry.
Good luck with with either an early retirement or your future contest-related pursuits!
How have writing contests helped your writing career? How have they hurt it?
Be sure to drop by Monday when author Maisey Yates is here to talk about bi-racial romance.
Kelsey Browning writes contemporary and paranormal romance with a hint of southern sizzle. In her former life, she worked at one of the ten largest universities in the U.S., raising money and teaching students how to land their dream jobs. These days she pursues her dream job of freelance and fiction writing, which provides excellent benefits such as unlimited coffee and an office dress code that permits flip flops.
She’s also a co-founder of Romance University blog where the mission is to empower writers, entertain readers and understand men. Originally from Texas and after four years in the Middle East, she now lives in Southern California with her IT-savvy husband, baseball-obsessed son and seriously spoiled dog. She’s currently at work on the first book in a new paranormal series.
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