I entered my first writing contests around this time last year and it was the one of the best decisions I could’ve made. I’d been writing short novels (50-70k words) for a year or two, but I was too scared to ask anyone to read them. I didn’t know many of the “rules” for writing commercial romantic fiction back then, but after I entered the contests, I starting reading craft books and taking classes. (By craft, I mean plotting, dialogue, setting, etc.) The feedback I received from the contest judges was in line with the advice from the “how-to” classes and books. If I hadn’t started there, I wouldn’t be getting ready to self-publish this year.
Based on my experience, I came up with these reasons why entering contests is a good thing.
1. You learn what you’re doing right. Sometimes, part of the process comes naturally. If you’re one of those lucky people, the feedback can let you know what stands out about your writing, whether it be your voice, or dialogue, or use of punctuation.
2. You learn what you’re doing wrong. This is the painful part, but if we don’t know what to fix, how can we make our writing better?
3. You learn that your ideas aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Most contests have multiple judges, and if a few are close in score and one is waaayyyy lower than the rest, you just have to chalk that up to…whatever. Maybe they don’t like the genre. Maybe their partner left them at the altar the same way you heroine’s did and it just made them mad to read it. Whatever the reason, not everyone has the same tastes.
4. You learn to edit and revise. With the feedback you get, you can start re-thinking your story, or your approach to your next project. So, romance readers expect the hero and heroine to meet in the first couple of chapters? Now you know, and you can make it happen.
5. You get better. Practice might not make perfect, but it makes better. (In most cases) The more feedback you get, the more you can discern what to leave and what to keep and use to improve your writing.
+If it’s good enough, your work gets in front of professional editors and agents.
The contest I received the best feedback from was the one sponsored by my local RWA Chapter, Southern Magic. Three judges filled out score sheets and some even “tracked changes” and made notes on my first 25 pages to let me know what worked, and what didn’t. This contest is currently open for entries and the fee is only $25.50. (Less if you also judge, see below.)
The Linda Howard Award of Excellence Contest for Unpublished Authors is sponsored by Southern Magic RWA. You enter the first 25 pages of your manuscript and no synopsis is required in the first round. (Finalists will have a week to revise entries and add synopsis before final round judging.)
If you’re not quite ready to enter, or just love to read, judges are needed. The lovely and talented Julie Hinz is coordinating the contest and free training is available for judges. The deadline for first round judges entries is May 2, 2014. If you’re PRO, published, and/or interested in training, please email Julie at lhcontest at southernmagic dot org.
For more information, visit the Southern Magic website.
What are you waiting for?