This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Writing Contests

I have a confession to make. I don't like writing contests. Now that I've made that statement, I also want to make it clear that there are many advantages to entering writing contests. It is for these reasons that I enter and I am very selective.

Now that the major writing conferences are over, it will soon be time to enter contests again. Writers around the world will be revising and polishing their manuscripts for another chance to see their work shine forth above what others have written.

I have only entered four contests in eleven years, and I only finaled in one of those contests. I wasn't impressed with some of the comments. A few of the judges gave some very bad advice. Others gave good advice and I put the good advice to work on my manuscripts. In the last contest I entered, a judge insisted on critiquing a one-page synopsis that wasn't supposed to be critiqued. It was optional to include and I assumed the contest rules would be adhered to, especially by the judge. I was wrong.

I keep an open mind to entering contests because not everyone is going to love my work no matter how well I write. Once my work is in print for the whole world to read, some will like it, some will be indifferent to it, and others will hate it. This is a fact I have learned to accept. However, my goal will be to find people who like my writing style and sell my books to them. In the meantime, contests will help me prepare and deal with the compliments and criticisms I receive from others.

Other advantages include getting your manucript in front of an editor or agent, building writing credentials on your bio, gaining you exposure to the publishing world, givng feedback and a better writing experience, etc.

Because of some bad experiences, I have been reluctant to enter more contests. They cost money and I have to make sure that my investment will be worth it. Therefore, I have learned a few lessons to determine which contests to enter.

1. Choose a writing contests that has a category for what you write. Some contests do not have categories for women's fiction, young adult or inspirationals. Don't waste your time and money if they don't have a category for which you write.
2. Enter a contest that will have an agent or an editor judging the category for which you are entering. If your manuscript finals, you will be given a chance to have your manuscript read above the slush piles on their desks. This can take years off your "waiting to be discovered" period.

3. If you are entering a contest to receive feedback on your writing, only enter a contests that provides written comments from judges. If the contest uses generic score sheets, you might not be getting the kind of feedback you want written directly on your manuscript.

4. Only enter contests with reasonable fees. The average contest should be no more than $15-35 per manuscript. If it is a huge contest where hundreds are entering, the fee might be anywhere from $50-$150.

5. Don't assume that trained judges or published judges are the final word on what is right. Research their comments and suggestions to determine if they are valid before you revise your whole manuscript on a few comments.

6. Don't have any expectations. If you final and win -- wonderful! If you don't, use the good suggestions and discard and forget the bad suggestions. Some comments will be totally off and you will know in your spirit whether or not to ignore them.

7. Judges are volunteers and writers themselves. Therefore, they may recognize a manuscript they have critiqued for a friend in a critique group from online or a local chapter.

8. Keep an open mind and prepare your heart with prayer and supplication. You may honestly need some of the critiques you receive.

I pray your submissions will go well in your next contest.

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