Why Enter a Writing Contest?

It’s writing contest season.  To enter or not to enter? What value does it bring?  I entered a few and here are my two cents, which I am giving away on my blog for free. Now that’s a bargain.

Reason 1:  You can win.  Then you get to display a nifty badge for the website, get to write award-winning author in your bio, and max the ever-loving crap out of its marketing potential. It feels pretty good too. I’m a finalist in the the Passionate Ink Stroke of Midnight Contest Novella category. See, over there,  nifty right?

But not everyone wins you say. Boy, I know that too.  The novella is not the only piece of work I submitted. Here’s the value I gained from submitting “next year’s winner” in this year’s contest.

Reason 2Skin thickening.  A useful trait for the writer-inclined. No matter how good you get, someone’s probably not gonna like you.  One of my critiques one was damning.  All part of the process.

Reason 3:  Mastering market realities.  Of my three reviewers, one loved it, one ripped it to shreds and stomped on it a few times and the third was in the middle.  Not all readers are the same. Not all markets have the same expectations.  Mastering that big wide market out there and learning to target an audience is key to mastering the business side of the craft.  Like injections, this part of the game is  painful but necessary.  Contests can proxy the emotional experience of sending work into the market and learning to deal with mixed returns.

Reason 4: Anonymity. I got critiques from the unknown faceless crowd which were helpful. I want to get better. I want to see how someone who does not know me reacts to my work. Critique partners become known entities, familiar with your style. Having someone read it who knows nothing about the work (or me) adds another layer of value.

What have you learned from submitting to a contest? Would you do so again?

11 comments

  1. Hi Sabrina,

    Writing contests are a wonderful way to get a professional critique, direction, and positive reinforcement. Last year I entered Real Troopers, my contemporary women’s novel, in the Pacific Northwest Writers Literary Contest, and it was a finalist. The two professional critiques were so valuable. I took what I learned from them, revised and entered it, and again it is a finalist. The competition at PNWA is stiff, but if the new and improved manuscript doesn’t win, I can count on more valuable feedback.

    There are different kinds of contests too. It seems that most contests ask for the first 10-30 pages, but MERWA’s Everything But the Kitchen Sink Contest asked for the first three pages, the last three pages, the best scene for dialogue, the best scene for character introspection, and the best scene for romantic tension. I was a finalist in that too, which told me that the rest of the book is on track as well, if not quite there yet. I didn’t win, but I was given two valuable critiques that told me what I needed to work on.

    I WELCOME this feedback because it’s important to know what a cold reader thinks. I am pretty thick-skinned. I know what rings true, and then I fix it. I don’t change everything, but a good critique will tell me that I need to set something up better for the reader.

    Best of luck in all your writing endeavors!

    1. Hi Naomi,

      I’m actually pretty thick-skinned myself. I find the process really useful to learn how to trust my own writing instincts. Critiques are useful for how they make us better, not for what they say. The diversity of opinion really drives that home. Not everyone reads our stories feel it in the same way. Its good to know, and makes you realize how many ways there are to get it right (or wrong). Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      1. Yes, I have a friend who entered a contest and she had someone who loved her work and someone who hated it and was actually rude when writing down her comments. It is so subjective, and good that you have a thick skin. I wish you great success in your writing, Sabrina. Your comments are always so intelligent and well written that I am certain you are a very fine writer and I look forward to reading your novel very soon.

  2. Hi Sabrina – Very helpful post I’m a very new writer and craving feedback by objective people who aren’t friends/family. Do you know of any contests for essayists? Not up to novellas or short stories quite yet.

    1. Thanks. No I don’t but I find contests through association list-serves mostly. A lot of people help out their chapters by posting calls for entries. I belong to romance writers association and several genre specific sub-groups and found contests through them. Good luck with your writing.

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