Writing Contests – are they write for you?

27 Jul

We’ve talked about writing contests before on this blog, but the subject just came up for me again and it’s on my mind, so . . . Are writing contests write for you? Not just right, but do they help your writing? It depends.

I, personally, like writing contests. I like to hear a total stranger’s perspective on my writing. Why? Because it helps me see the holes, the plot problems and whether my story grabs the reader right from the beginning. Most writing contests are for the first few chapters of your work.

Having said that, I have also learned not to take everything said to heart. What one person likes another doesn’t and it is important to distinguish the good critiques from the bad. If a judge comments on point of view shifting, that is something to improve. If a judge says “I think this would be better written in first person because I like first person” that’s their opinion and is totally unhelpful. And yes, that is an actual response I received from a contest.

If you take everything said to heart, your own storytelling voice can get lost in your re-writing. It’s important to listen to your own voice when deciding whether or not to make changes in your work, after all it is YOUR work. Not the judges. This is your baby.

When deciding what contests I am going to enter, I consider three things: 1. The scoresheet – if the contest shows how and what they score, I will read it through. My hero and heroine may not always meet in the first chapter – if it is a one chapter contest and scores are handed out for the first meeting, I won’t score well and I won’t enter that contest. 2. The final judge in my category – if it is an editor or an agent that I would love to have read my work, then this is a contest that I would definitely consider. This may be optimistic, but no one enters a contest without hoping they will final and it is always better to consider the whole picture. Plus if you do final, it is another thing to go on your resume when sending out query letters. 3. The fee – if I can afford two contests in a month then I’ll choose the best two that would suit me as a writer. If I can afford one then it is one.

One last thing that I will say about writing contests is that they force us as writers to be brave simply by entering them. Sharing our work as writers can be a scary thing. No one wants to be criticized. Contests can help us overcome that fear, thicken our skin some and get us ready to query that agent or pitch to that editor.

I like writing contests. What’s your take?


Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Idaho


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16 responses to “Writing Contests – are they write for you?

  1. johannaharness

    July 27, 2011 at 4:48 AM

    All good things to consider, Meredith. I am really picky about writing contests. Usually I rely on personal recommendations or past experience.

  2. Liz Fredericks

    July 27, 2011 at 6:10 AM

    A very thorough summary of considerations for contests! You are so right about helping us face fear, but I think it’s also useful when one doesn’t final or win. Mastering self-doubt is critical and learning to sort through advice. I’ve had contest comments that helped me focus on important skills.

  3. Janis McCurry

    July 27, 2011 at 7:18 AM

    I use contests as sounding boards through a manuscript’s development. I’ll enter a partial when the ms is fairly new-ish (first draft and gone through CPs). Then, I wait until the “final-final” which is an inaccurate portrayal at best, and resend the partial to another contest to compare the two results. So, the final-final might be changed (will probably be tweaked) depending on the final contest feedback.

    But, the best advice to take away from this blog is to be sure and keep your voice. Don’t indiscriminately take every criticism as truth.

  4. Meredith Conner

    July 27, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    Thanks for commenting Johanna, Liz and Janis! You are right Johanna – not every contest is the right one, being picky is a good thing. Liz – you know me, battling my inner demons can be one of my biggest challenges 🙂 Janis – I do the same thing. How does my new WIP come across? Contests are great for that!!

  5. Peggy Staggs

    July 27, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    Contests are great tools. And you hit on a very important point, don’t take everything to heart. Take them for what they are, other writers at different points in their development. I entered a contest once where one of the judges actually went through my entry and changed all my “ed” words to “ing’s”. I shook my head. Most of the sentences no longer made any sense.

  6. Meredith Conner

    July 27, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    I totally agree, Peggy. You have to navigate that fine line and know where to stand your ground and when to change something. I always go with my gut instinct.

  7. Kyrsten

    July 27, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    Great blog. I’ve only limited experience but what I do have agrees with your comments. I’ve learned more volunteering as a judge (I didn’t turn any “ed”s into “ing”s that I remember) than as a “contestant” as I’m not to the point of entering right now. The whole process of contests is valuable.
    Thanks for sharing

    • Meredith Conner

      July 27, 2011 at 2:19 PM

      Thanks for commenting Kyrsten and what a great point! Judging can be just as insightful as entering!

  8. Mary Vine

    July 27, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    Very good points to consider before sending out with your well-earned money.Thanks!

    • Meredith Conner

      July 27, 2011 at 2:20 PM

      Thanks Mary. Those contest fees can add up, I do my best to pick and chose the right ones for me.

  9. piecesofcandi

    July 27, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    Entering contests was one of my resolutions for 2011. It’s July and I have yet to try one. I’m a novice at best. It is fear that makes me second guess myself. What if my baby is ugly? Ok that doesn’t stop me but looking at past winners and all the accolades marking their journey is pretty intimidating.

    I know we all have to start somewhere… I just need to learn how to be that girl who just plugs her nose and jumps into the cold pool. Thank you for your insight.

  10. Meredith Conner

    July 27, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    Try one! Jump out – whether you belly splash or make a swan dive, you’ll be a part of that big sea. I was absolutely terrified the first time I entered a contest. I entered 5 I think last year. The first contests I ever entered. I won one and didn’t even final in the other 4! But I learned a lot. I still second guess myself each time I enter – I’m convinced my baby is the ugliest one in the state – but I keep pushing myself because I can’t stop writing.

  11. Paty Jager

    July 27, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    All your points are good ones to consider when entering a writing contest. When I first joined RWA and hadn’t acquired critique partners or for that fact anyone other than family and friends to read my stuff, I used the contests to learn more about the craft of writing. I also gained my first CP from a contest. One of the judges offered to be a critique partner with me and we’re still friends 10 years later.

    You do have to sift through the judges comments and determine which are good solid suggestions and which are not.

    I believe in contests and now enter my published books in contests.

  12. Carley Ash

    July 27, 2011 at 7:19 PM

    I’ve only just begun to enter contests and hope to use them to get my manuscript in front of the right people.

  13. P. L. Parker

    July 28, 2011 at 7:06 AM

    I’ve only entered a few and didn’t have much luck, what they promised wasn’t what ultimately happened. Only one contest gave me some actual feedback. I wish I had a list of the contests other writers feel are good ones to enter. Like Carley, I have a manuscript right now I’d like to enter into some contests.

  14. Clarissa Southwick

    July 28, 2011 at 8:42 AM


    I think you did a great job summing up the pros & cons of writing contests.

    Entering contests has become a part of my writing process. Why? Because I want the words on the page to stand on their own. I tend to talk too much about my stories in critique group, and then my CP’s have “extra knowledge” which might influence how they see the manuscript. A writing contest is the closest I can get to an impartial reader.

    That said, I know some fantastic authors who have never done well in contests. Perhaps their voices are just too unique to get past the judges. I don’t think writers should continue to throw money down the drain if they never get any useful feedback.

    Great blog. Thanks, Meredith!


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