My Experience With Writing Contests

I’m not normally a huge fan of contests. For myself that is. Some people swear by them. Entering dozens upon dozens of them. Spending hundreds of dollars. I entered exactly two contests. Which both left me feeling luke warm about the process. Why? I didn’t get the feedback that I expected or I got no feedback at all. It’s very frustrating to be a new writer, desperate to learn the craft, wanting to be published so bad you can taste it. We enter these contests to learn from our mistakes, to get better and hopefully to get our work in front of editor and agents. We don’t shell out our hard earned cash for nothing.

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I felt like I got nothing. One set of pretty good scores, the others just middle of the road or low with no explanation. I knew I had something. I just needed a little hint to steer me into the right direction. So when I judged my chapter’s contest  this year I wanted to make sure other writers didn’t have the experience that I had.

There was one entry I hated. HATED. I hated the characters, the premise. But besides those personal taste things, the writing technically wasn’t good. The pacing was slow, there was no discernible plot,too many POV switches, and head hopping (Very few authors can get away with head hopping. Very, very few.) I had to give low scores. I felt uncomfortable doing it, but I had to. I also explained in detail what I thought the author could fix, but I knew that when he or she opened those scores they were going to have a hard time coming to terms with them.

Then I read two really good entries. One of them was AMAZING. I was glued to every word.  I felt like I knew the characters. I felt like I was in the room with them and when it was over I found myself disappointed because I would never know how it would end. I gave that one high scores. 9s and 10s. I raved about this author’s entry in my comments and when the scores came out she sent me an email to thank me. We exchanged a few emails and through the process I learned that she received a really low score. I was floored. How could somebody dislike what I thought was so brilliant.

I learned some lessons that I would like to share with you.

Take scores from contests with a grain of salt. What one might hate, somebody else might love. 

Don’t let one bad score discourage you from doing what you love.

Take what you can from the feedback and move on.

And most importantly keep on trucking.

What have you learned from contests?

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6 thoughts on “My Experience With Writing Contests”

  1. Sugar, I so agree with you. The one contest I entered last year was a bomb. I thought I would get the feedback I was so eager for, good or bad, but all I got were scores, good and bad. Very little feedback, and only for the good. So I decided I would never enter that contest again, and if I was ever a judge, I would give comprehensible feedback. That’s what I did for the Write Stuff. I spent hours and hours and hours. Every score was detailed with an explanation. Hopefully, my feedback was helpful, good and bad.

  2. I’m coming in on the other side of the fence, here. I find writing contests to be valuable. Of course it’s always a hit or miss as far as feedback goes, and I agree–you have to take comments with a grain of salt, just as you do with any critique or review. Writing is very subjective, and some people will love what you do and others will hate it.

    But on the plus side, it gets your work in front of other industry professionals and I know of several people who have gone on to get publishing contracts from their contest entries. Also, placing or winning in a contest can look very good on your writer’s resume. I use my placement with some very reputable contests on several of my books which I think adds to the legitimacy and sets them apart in the over crowded industry.

    I enjoy judging the Write Stuff contest each year and have read some wonderful stories. Yes, I’ve endured a few stinkers, too, but I try to give as much feedback as I can that is both honest and helpful. Everyone has to start somewhere with learning the craft and the only way to get better is practice and learning from others.

    1. Actually, I heard from a few agents and editors that they don’t pay much attention to contest wins in queries, especially if the contest is put on by a local chapter. Their reasoning, that most of the judges are unpublished untrained and don’t know what they are talking about. I’m not suggesting that they aren’t valuable, but I think joining a good writers group for me was the best way to go.

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  3. I’ve only entered one contest, and the results were maddening. Two judges gave me very high scores with very, very good, constructive, easily-implementable feedback; the third judge gave me a very, very low score without good feedback and clearly just did not like it. If people are going to enter contests (and there are good, valid reasons for doing so–it just wasn’t the right choice for me), I would advise them to heed your advice. Just like out in the real world of readers, some people will love your work, some will hate it, and some just won’t care about it one way or another.

    I agree with you, Sugar. Joining a professional writers’ group was far more valuable to me than any contest. And I’d rather spend the money on wine (or Bay Breezes if I’m with you–how have I lived so long without them?), handbags, and books!

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