Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Writing Contests: Do We Need Them?

Have you ever entered a writing contest? I've entered several, never won one. I came in second one time, third another, Honorable Mention still another, and nothing but a nice note from the last one! After I blew that one, I had second thoughts about entering any more.

But I've gone ahead and entered one again. This time it's a Writer's Digest contest for Middle Grade fiction...unpublished fiction. Since The Freedom Thief is still out in a publisher's never-never land, I decided to enter my fantasy novel, Lily Leticia Langford and The Book of Practical Magic. My critique group once said I should win a prize just for the name alone. Hmmm...

Here's the link, in case you're interested:

The problem  is that I just found the contest, and the deadline is Monday, August 27th. However, that still give you time to enter, because it has to be with a completely finished novel.

I've been we need writing contests? How many have you entered? Why did you enter them? Was it because you might get published if you won? Got a hefty prize for winning or even coming in second or third? Lots of reasons to enter, lots of different kinds of prizes offered even for those who don't win.

But are they of any real value? I've looked back on those I've entered, and my opinion is yes, they are. One that I entered and really,REALLY wanted to win was a very prestigious magazine, Glimmer Train. Being published in this magazine could lead, possibly, to being contacted by an agent or an editor.

Uh...this is one of those I didn't win. But I did get a nice note complimenting me on my writing. At least I knew the judges actually read my story, and liked it...even if they liked someone else's better. So, that's something, right?

Let's talk about some of the reasons to enter a contest.
1) Contests require stories of varying lengths. I write mostly novels, so short story writing is a real test for me, and for most writers not accustomed to 'writing short.' So this gives us the chance to stretch our wings and do something we're not comfortable doing. You can even take a long chapter out of your WIP and see what you can do about turning it into a short story. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you can cut out, and still have a real story.

2) Contests usually spell out the genre they want, or the age group. This gives you the opportunity to try writing in a new genre or for a different age that you may not have thought about doing before. Who knows, for someone who is an historical fiction writer, you just might become the next great steampunk author!

3) Most of us who write, whether it be novels or short stories, don't make and most often, don't keep to any kind of a deadline. Contests are all about deadlines...keep them or you're out before you've ever started. It gives those of us who normally don't set deadlines for ourselves the opportunity ( yes, it IS an opportunity) to feel the real pressure that comes from having to write a certain number of words...and a coherent story...under a deadline.

Just a few of the reasons why you should consider entering contests, and keep on entering them, even if you don't win. But suppose you DO win? Does that help you when it comes to publishing the novel you're working on? Hmm...probably the best answer to that is yes... and no. Winning a contest, even placing in one, always looks good on a query when you're asked for publishing credits. You can use it as a promotional tool: of course you would talk about it on your blog or website! You could even send a letter to your local paper or TV station and perhaps earn a blurb in the paper or on the TV news about "local author wins prominent contest." Why not create a sticker about winning as an "app" on your blog that others could copy and paste onto their own.

The "no" part of the answer concerns the actual selling of your book: winning a contest probably won't help the sales, because the people who will buy your book don't particularly care if you won a contest, they are only concerned about how much your book is going to interest them.

How do you feel about writing contests, and do you enter them?

Until later,
That's a wrap.


  1. I have never entered a writing contest (at least that I can remember...sometimes I do things and forget about them). I'm always just too nervous to have my work "judged". Makes no sense, I know, especially as how I have no problem sending my work out for actual publication consideration.

    I'm glad you entered this contest, Mikki. It's the one with Sara Sciuto as judge, right? She's really great :)

  2. Entering contests really helped me when I was querying. It got my query letter and opening pages where I needed them to be in order to get an offer for representation.