a Beginner's Guide
1) Feedback helps you improve your work
2) Finaling gives you a writing credit
3) Entering teaches you to meet deadlines
4) Entering pushes you to do your best work
5) Actually sending it gets your work out there
6) Discover how your work stacks up against others' in your area
7) Get readers' reactions
8) Entering thickens your skin.
9) You can check your critique group's/partner's effectiveness.
10) Your finals w/different mss can get an editor/agent's attention
WHO SHOULD NOT ENTER A CONTEST:
1) Those who have thin skin and take comments personally.
2) Those who are very sensitive to negative comments to the point
it adversely affects their writing. Or makes them stop writing,
or switch stories, or.
3) Those who believe a contest win or final means they'll be published.
4) Those who aren't going to change their writing no matter what
anyone says anyway.
5) Those who have no feel for their own writing.
DIFFERENT STAGES, DIFFERENT NEEDS:
Beginners should look for 2 or 3 first round judges, w/o synopsis
requirement. You want lots of write-on-the-ms comments to help you
improve your work, not just numbers. Your goal at this stage is
to get feedback.
After you've gotten consistently good feedback, move on. Middle-stage
writers should look for published authors and contests w/synopsis.
Again, it's a great way to see how your work compares to others'
and how readers will react to your story. You should keep an eye
on final judges because you're at the stage where your work might
get to them, depending on what the other entries are like. (see
When you think you're ready to win, aim for the contest that has
the editor/agent you want to get your work in front of (or at least
the target market), but don't look at finaling as a sure thing.
You still need to get good feedback. Again, look for published authors
as judges and contests w/synopsis. You still want to get value for
your dollar in case you don't get to the final round judge.
THINGS TO CONSIDER:
Is the contest a good $ bargain or are you paying $30 for getting
5 pages critiqued? Winning means your writing was the best ENTERED.
Make sure your hat still fits after your win. *Not all contests
are equal. The most prestigious ones are (in order) Georgia Romance
Writers' Maggie; West Houston RW's Emily; and Heart of Denver RW's
Molly. If you final in any contest, mention it in your cover letter
as a writing credential. If you final multiple times, just say "a
finalist in # RWA-chapter contests." However, if it gets to be too
high, you look like a contest junkie who enters rather than concentrating
SHOULD YOU ENTER THE GOLDEN HEART? Yes, if:
You understand the Golden Heart is NOT a learning tool.
You're happy with a number score. That's all you get. A few numbers,
appointed meaning by your judges. My 3 may be someone's else's 7,
and vice versa. The judges are told to assign number scores, but
also to decide what those 1-10 means to them. And they should use
tenths of points.
You believe you're ready to compete with other works that are good
enough to be bought.
You want the prestige of finaling should you actually final.
You understand you still may not get bought even if you final.
Check what you get for your entry fee. Then:
Enter the correct category. Follow the rules. Enclose
If it's a "First Chapter" contest and you can enter a max of 25
pages, but your first chapter ends at 18, figure out how much more
of chapter two you can put in there. Make sure you take out 'CHAPTER
TWO' from the ms. Just center an * or # and space it.
End your entry with a hook, even if it's a page or so short of the
maximum allowed. Do not stop at the page max in the middle of a
scene or sentence.
Double check each page. Make sure your pages are all there and all
Send it out, then go back and write.
Don't become an addict. Once you've entered the same ms in enough
contests to get a handle on it, MOVE ON. If you want to enter another
contest, you need to use a different ms.
Remember, this is a tool. You can improve your writing, get reader
responses, jump over the slush pile. BUT winning doesn't = selling.
HOW TO HANDLE THOSE REMARKS/SCORES:
Look at your scores, skim your remarks. Then SET IT ASIDE. Time
will give you some perspective. Give yourself at least 3
days to deal with your emotions. You may need longer.
The worst feedback is the NOT HELPFUL kind. The judges give you
3's out of 5, but don't really have to explain because those aren't
bad marks. Remember, this is just a contest, not an emotional attack.
First, say Yippee! because 3's are respectable. Say to yourself,
"Next time I'll do better."
This is a learning tool. You may not have gotten the answer you
hoped for, but you did get an answer. Go back to your ms.
Another kind is positive feedback. Yea!!! However, after the first
euphoria (3 days), you need to examine it. Was this a judge who
just couldn't say anything mean? Was this a judge whose own skin
was too thin or whose comments indicate she isn't too knowledgeable
herself? Or are these genuinely awesome remarks? Yea! However,
DO NOT get too full of yourself! It's just a contest, not sainthood.
How you handle these (or a final or a win) will say a lot about
Then there are the negative remarks. DO NOT take these comments
personally. Negative remarks don't mean you can't write.
1) Don't take anything personally! This is about your work.
2) You don't have to change anything you don't want to.
3) Evaluate the remarks. Are they fair and knowledgeable? Has more
than one judge pointed out the same aspect of your work? These remarks
need to be considered. However, if the remarks are negatively related,
you may disregard them totally or in part.
BEFORE you contact the contest coordinator, however, double-check
that the judge is in the wrong, not just your bruised ego. You don't
want a reputation as a whiner.
There are contests for everything: synopsis, first chapter, first
60 pages, first meeting, sex scene..
Check what you get for your money.
#1 The Maggie (Georgia RW). My personal favorite. Two pubbed authors
write excellent, knowledgeable, and for myself, always constructive
comments on the ms. No synopsis. Deadline beginning of June. There
is no number score. You either final or you don't. But the comments
are WAY worth it. $35
#2 The Emily (West Houston). Two authors, usually pubbed, give excellent
The Barclay Sterling (Lake Country RW) allows 5 pg synopsis and
60 pg total entry, which means for $30 you can get 55 pages of ms
critiqued. Deadline March.
Orange Rose (Orange County RW): 55 page total with synopsis for
$30 with pubbed judges. Deadline April Same amount for $35 from
Golden Rose (Rose City RW) but w/o pubbed judges. Always know what
TARA 1st Impressions contest: finalists get comments back and can
revise ms before it's sent to editor/agent final judge. Other contests
offer this option-it's worth doing.
There are also contests for Gothic elements, h/h first meet, first
kiss, sparks/chemistry/tension, paranormal, query only, etc. There
are agent final judges, editor final judges, or both. Or neither,
in the case of some with a famous pubbed author as final critiquer.
Charlotte Dillon has a fabulous website
on many aspects of writing, including contests.
Mia Zachary's webpage
on many things, including contests.
NOTE: she now has a disclaimer at the bottom regarding the currency
of the information.
Contest resources: The two sites above and the RWR
(c) Megan Kelly, 2006