This last week I found out that my latest, as yet unpublished, middle grades novel was a semi-finalist in a respected writing competition.
Writing Competitions and Contests are a great resource for writers of all kinds and levels. Whether you are an unpublished writer and just looking to strengthen your skill and craft, or a published author trying to up your game, contests and competitions are a great way to push yourself as a writer.
Contests are also a great way to get your writing in front of objective eyes. To get another’s perspective on your writing. Judges are not your critique partners, your writing group members, or your beta readers. While these are all critical to our growth as writers, contests and competitions provide another layer of feedback.
Most writers approach competitions in one of two ways-
1) Find a competition or contest and write a piece that fits their criteria for submission.
2) Seek out competitions and contest to submit an already completed manuscript.
Both are valid, valuable, and do not cancel each other out. I have used both approaches.
Where to find competitions and contests:
- The best place is through legitimate writers’ groups and organizations. Many of the big ones have annual competitions that encompass multiple genres and categories.
- Look for contests where not only is the judges’ criteria transparent and clear, but ones that will submit the judges’ feedback to you after the competition. This allows you to truly use the competition as a tool for growth as a writer.
- Yes, competitions and contests do charge fees. There are very few that are free of charge, so expect to pay to enter. This is because the sponsor must pay for the time and energy of the judges. Most are successful writers themselves, or agents or publishers. The chance to get your writing in front of these professionals is well worth the investment.
Things to remember:
- Know the rules and guidelines and FOLLOW THEM! Font size or spacing may not seem like a big deal, but they are there for a reason and you do not want your work invalidated for something like that.
- Pay attention to deadlines and give yourself plenty of time.
- Do not enter something that has not yet been thoroughly worked on, revised, edited, etc. That does an injustice to you and the judges.
- Use the feedback of the judges’ rubrics and comments. It may be difficult to read harsh assessments of our writing, but it is the only way to grow and strengthen our skill.
- If your piece does well in a completion or contest (an honorable mention or semi-finalist) those are things you can absolutely add to your query letter when seeking an agent or publisher for that manuscript.
- There are some “competitions” that are nothing more than a money-maker for the sponsor. They ask for submissions of short stories, or poems, or whatever the genre might be. They ask for permission to publish in a collections book, and then expect all of the authors included to purchase a copy (or multiple copies) of the book. There are several problems with this scenario. First, the legalities of you being able to publish that work elsewhere may fall into question. Second, you have gotten no feedback in order to grow as a writer. So, when selecting competitions, keep in mind what your goal is and select accordingly.
While winning a writing competition is thrilling, even if you do not win, you can win from the experience. Several years ago, one particular manuscript of mine was entered in a competition, and while it did not win, the judges feedback gave some great insight into the weaknesses in the story. After some extensive revisions, I was able to secure a publisher for the manuscript and it was ultimately, traditionally published.
So, as you plan out your writing projects, goals, and submissions’ schedule, be sure to add a competition or two!!