Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On Contests

Okay, so I had another topic that I'd been thinking about blogging about this week... but something has got my mind on contests, again ;-)

And it's not just the ABNA thing. I'm the coordinator for my local RWA chapter's contest this year and I've spent a good chunk of the last week getting everything ready to go for that.

My opinion on writing contests has vacillated considerably over the five or so years I've been writing. The first contest I ever entered, the feedback I got just made me angry. I suppose it was the first time I'd received absolutely objective feedback. Not that I think my CP's or writing instructors had been lying to me... but they gave me feedback face-to-face, and so couched the negative in positives and were likely gentler than the anonymous judges.

I should see if I still have that entry and the feedback to check, but I expect much of it would echo the feedback I'd give if judging my 2003 era work. (But I think a few things would still make me angry. Some people have strong and strange biases and while you hope a judge won't let her bias show... it often does.)

A year later, armed with a new manuscript, I entered a whole whack of contests -- every one I could find that had a final round judge from Harlequin, the house I was targeting with that ms. I think that's the year my eyes were opened about the hit or miss subjectivity of contests. So much depends on the quality of the judges (which you can't control) and their likes and dislikes. And the only way to "control" the likes and dislikes part is to write something very vanilla, sure not to offend anyone, and while that might get you ahead in contests, I firmly believe it will NOT help you get published.

My mileage certainly varied contest to contest that year. In my own local chapter's contest, I did terrible. Whoever in TRW read my stuff that year hated it. Two out of three of them, anyway. Enough to put me way down in the pack. The exact same entry came second in the NYC chapter's contest and 3rd in the New Jersey one, and finalled in one more... Can't remember which. Now, I guess that's not a great ad for the contest I'm running this year, LOL. But it made me realize just how much luck goes into contests. You have to get the right judges. (Don't even get me started on my ms that BOMBED in the GH one year and finalled the next -- with no changes.)

I don't enter many contests anymore. I've got an agent to get my work in front of editors and don't feel like I need the pats on the back that contests can sometimes bring. (Okay, sometimes I do.)

That said, obviously I enter some. Higher profile ones. Ones where the stakes are high enough to make it worth the trouble.

How about you? Do you enter contests? What makes you decide which ones to pick?


Kimber Chin said...



Brace yourself for my strange use of contests (you've heard this before, Maureen, so you might want to take a nap or something).

I use contests to test concepts, motivation, characters, etc. That's it. I submit the first draft of everything (scary, I know) and my sketched out first run of the synopsis.

I send this mess to contests where I'm guaranteed to get feedback. Then I brace for the harshness. I believe I received mid 30's (out of a 100) in my last entry.

But those 30's are priceless.

In one, I heard that the financial quest novel didn't have a big enough "treasure." Awesome. Turns out the treasure I settled on did wonderful things for the storyline.

In another, I heard that my heroine was too much of a b**ch. I switched the story around so a softer moment came first.

I'm very happy that our contest is open to published yet not quite PAN authors. I thought this fast track on feedback was closed to me.

Anonymous said...

I think I've missed some important contests, but they are so hit and miss for me.
And I have a great critique group, so the critique's from them aren't as important to me.

Maureen McGowan said...

Kimber, I know other people who use contests that way, too. Of course, one person's b**ch is another's interesting character... so I'd just be cautious not to put too much weight in one opinion. But you know this. I'm preachin' to the choir.

Maureen McGowan said...

And Sinead. Yes. A strong critique group takes away the need to use contests for critiques. (See my rant last week about the ABNA contestants who seem to think the contest was a critique group. A critique group in public??? Crazy.)

Kimber Chin said...

Oh, absolutely, Maureen. I have to agree with the suggestions before I make changes but more often than not, my gut is saying the same thing. I know something isn't working...

Sinead, definitely a critique group is an option. I use contests for feedback as I don't wish to allocate time to analyzing other people's work (that makes me sound like a selfish bastard, doesn't it?).

That's the same reason I pay for a pre-editor. It really depends on what you wish to allocate - time or money.

Annette Gallant said...

LOL Even after all that, I'm still planning to enter your chapter's contest. The final judges are so good I'm taking my chances, hoping things work in my favour. But if not, I plan to keep plugging away. Timing and luck are one thing, but so is persistence. :-)

Overall, joining my critique group has been the best thing for me in terms of feedback. And judging contests really opens your eyes as well.

Maureen McGowan said...

Our contest really is great, Annette.

And we have training for the first round judges now. (Didn't back in 2003.)

But with contests, there always is an element of luck involved too.

I hope you enter and do very well. We do have FABULOUS final round judges.

M. said...

interesting to hear things from the 'other side' *g*

i had a twilight kind of moment this year when one contest judge gave me, i think, 70 out of 130 points, and another gave me 130 out of 130. they had to bring in a tie-breaker - who scored more or less in the middle of the two. it was quite surreal.

maureen - i am willing to do first-round judging for golden opp, if you need more such people.

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