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

Monday, February 08, 2010

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Writing Contests

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

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 used to enter and I was very selective.

Now that we're in the new year, it's 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 their peers and be noticed by an agent or editor that can move their writing to the next level--publication. .

Prior to my publishing contract I had only entered 7-8 contests in eleven years, and I only finaled in a few 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. I put the good advice to work on my manuscripts and ignored the rest. In one 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.

Keep an open mind to entering contests because not everyone is going to love your work no matter how well you write. Not everyone enjoys historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy, women's fiction, or whatever it is you write. This is a fact that all writers must learn to accept. Your goal will be to target people who like your writing style and sell your books to them. In the meantime, contests will help you prepare and deal with the compliments and criticisms you receive from others when your books are released.

Other advantages include getting your manucript in front of an editor or agent, building writing credentials on your bio, givng feedback and gaining a better writing experience.

Contests cost money, so do your research on them, be selective, and make sure your investment will be worth it. Over the years, I 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.


I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Jennifer, Great, thoughtful post! I'm going to refer a friend to your blog who has had some stinging feedback this way recently. I've never entered a contest but think you've showed beautifully the pros and cons of both sides.
Your upcoming book looks wonderful!

Very interesting article. I stumbled upon your blog because I'm running a small writing contest on my blog (nothing as formal as what you're talking about - this one is just a fun one for bloggers and a chance to promote your site noticed by a different audience) I'm hoping to attract some applicants with some measure of skill - so I'm trying to appeal to the writing crowd. Oh, and I promise no 'stinging feedback'. :-)

Found you on blogged. If you're interested in the contest please stop by.