Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Contest Conundrum. Do I? Don't I??

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How many of you are raring to go with the contest season basically jumping down our throats?

And how many of  you are set to gag at the thought of entering one. more. contest.

With many and varied options available to writers for getting their work in front of a contest judge and hopefully that last round of editors and agents, it can be hard to determine whether to enter and which ONES to enter. Contest hopping isn't cheap.

So many writers live and die by the contests they enter. Knowing someday that golden contest is going to strike the clock right at midnight and the goose will lay the golden egg. The Midas contest touch. And while contests are wonderful to enter and glean from, if you do enter, you must enter with a level of understanding firmly in place.

I have entered only a handful of contests in my writing life, but within those handful I've had a wiiidddeee range of info returned.

One contest told me I needed to invest in writing books and I couldn't write my way out of wet paper bag (my words, not the judge's).

Another contest, I was one of six finalists.

Not in the same year.

But do you see how crazy the contest world is!?!? It's definitely not for the faint of heart. And some contests give great feedback, others just write a little number down on the line. And if the judge woke up with indigestion that morning, you might not get a good score.

Contests are subjective. Incredibly subjective.

I don't say this to say you shouldn't enter contests, however I don't think contests are the answer to all of a writer's prayers.

Critique partners.

Freelance editors.

Mentors.

Writing classes and books all can help improve your craft without the emotional headache. (most of the time. ;-)

When you do enter contests, consider several things. Who reads this entry? You won't know beginning level judges-- you will know final round judges. Always go into a contest assuming you WON'T final or win. It'll be easier (or more joyful!) when you do/don't. But do take into consideration who those final judges are and would they be beneficial to your writing?

Don't enter just any contest. Smaller contests tend to give more feedback...but you have to look at the cost and whether or not they are with a reputable group. Asking other writers of their experience with that group is a great place to start.

Do a bit of research into the contests. Don't just enter any contest that lands on your doorstep. You'll be exhausted and so will your wallet.

Don't let a bundle of negatives overwhelm or discourage you. Take this as a cue that your writing needs a bit more work, and be willing to make the necessary changes.

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Do have a discerning eye or ask someone else to give you unbiased feedback if a certain judges' comment doesn't make sense to you. Like my 0 on writing ability, it held a grain of salt, but ultimately I had to look to other contest results and trusted writing friends to tell me the *real* truth.

On a personal note, I happen to be entering the Genesis and Frasier contests this year. Both contests are respected and known for their ability to discern high quality writing. However, in this case: the Genesis generally does not give much feedback. The Frasier is geared to help writers grow. I've decided this year that my writing has reached a level where I want to know how I might do in the Genesis. I enter that one to see if I've grown in my writing. I enter the Frasier to learn.

You of course will have to make that decision for yourself and your writing. Hopefully these few does and don't's give you an idea of what to gear for.

Are you entering any contests this year?


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Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people.

19 comments:

Jeanne T said...

Great post, Casey, you bring up some good points. I like how you balance contest results with getting more personal feedback from those who know you and your writing.

I am entering the Frasier and I'm praying about the Genesis. :)

Joanne Sher said...

Hi, Casey! I entered quite a few contests last year, but have decided that I'm not going to enter any this year. This is my "learning" year - I entered genesis last year and learned a LOT about what I need to learn to make my book ready. So I'm learning it in 2012 ;) Or something like that. Want it looking good enough to at least place before I enter, yanno?

Definitely great tips!

Naomi Rawlings said...

Oh, what a good post, Casey!!! Entering contests can be so tricky and frustrating. I advise people to bring their writing as far as they can on their own, and then get help. From contests, mentors, paid editors, and critique partners. I my case, critique partners helped me more than anything else.

Good luck to everyone entering contests this year. I hope it helps to strengthen your writing, because that's really the most important thing.

Mary Vee said...

Thanks, Casey
I'm glad to see you entering the Frasier again. Can you link to that contest for us in your comment? Also could you include the link to you fab post about the Frasier from lastyear?

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Casey,

Great post. I would add (having entered many contests!!) that you need a thick skin when reading the results. I suggest reading the comments, then putting them away for a few weeks and come back to them fresh - after the tears have abated! LOL.

Pick and choose what you change in your ms based on similar comments from more than one judge. Because literally in one contest you can get a 99% and a 60%. One judge gushes over your writing, and one HATES it! Talk about confusing! If you have critique partners, discuss the issues with them and try to be as objective as possible. (Takes time to do this!)

I had never heard of the Frasier before I saw you as a finalist. Was the feedback from the judges worthwhile? When is the enter date for the Frasier?

Cheers,
Sue

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great attitude, Casey! Contests for sure aren't the first place I'm looking for feedback. I'm really praying that I would find a mentor this year though as I really feel like that is where I may benefit the most.

Casey said...

JEANNE, good contests to enter. ;-) It's important to not dwell on the negative. Learn from it yes, let it propel you forward, but in the end, balance the feedback. :)

JOANNE, I know EXACTLY what you are saying. I did that last year and only entered the Frasier. It's why I'm looking to broaden my contest horizans a little bit this year. Where it goes from there, only God knows! :)

Casey said...

NAOMI, I completely agree. It's why I love critique partners. You build a level of trust with them that only comes from working long term. A judge is only there for a few minutes to grade as far as THEY think it should be graded. Contests are a great place for feedback, they are not the first, imho.

MARY, the Frasier is linked in the post with the Genesis and then the link to last year's Frasier post is: http://thewritersalleys.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-contest-experiences-with-frasier.html (can't figure out the embedded link. ;-)

Are you entering this year??

Casey said...

SUSAN, if you want the feedback I got the last two years from the Frasier I would be happy to send it to you! Yes, I do believe it was very helpful. Critical, but encouraging! LOL, no kidding! I do the same thing. Lay it aside and then come back, because generally when I do, it's not as bad or negative the second time around. ;-) I keep all my contests results, but to be honest don't look at them often, I should more, but I don't. :-/

The entry date is I believe 1-22. They haven't refreshed the page yet, so I don't know when it closes.

JULIA, I know what you're saying and I've struggled with that as well. I can say, face to face meetings and devoloping friendships online make such a difference in finding a potential mentor.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Great post, Casey! My criteria for entering contests is usually the final round judges. I've gained some majorly invaluable feedback from final-round judges I highly respect, and you'd better believe I'm saving those files for future reference. ;) Best of luck to you in your entries!

Casey said...

SARAH, oh don't I know it! And I bet you too. How many contests have you finaled now?? ;-) Are you doing any contests this year?

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Great post, Casey! I entered the Great Expectations with my medieval. I need to put that to rest, but the final judge was a good one, so I thought I'd try. I would like to enter the Genesis with something new, but I haven't got anything ready. Ack! :)

Casey said...

SHERRINDA, now I hadn't heard of that one. Do you know who put it out? Sounds interesting. And did you tell us when you did?? Do I just not remember??? :)

Pepper said...

Great post, Case.
SO happy to hear you are entering the Genesis and Frasier! YAY!!

I entered the Phoenix Rattler - but only because I NEEDED a chance at paid ACFW registration for 2012.

Not so sure about the Genesis, but I am considering the Frasier this year.

Contests are valuable if you look at them through the right lense. YOu've hit the main points in this post. I've had valuable info, heart-breaking comments, and esteemable honors - but none of them have been as valuable as trusted friends who have critiqued my work.
You know who you are!! :-)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

The deadline for the Great Expectations was December 30. It is done by the North Texas Romance Writers of American. The final judge for inspirational was Natalie Hanneman at Thomas Nelson. I just entered it by the skin of my teeth.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Good post, Casey! Contests are tricky things and it helps to know what you're getting yourself into. It can hurt when you get rough feedback, but if you take things with a grain of salt or learn which comments will help you, they can be super beneficial. I'm not sure about the Genesis yet. I've only entered it once and that was the very first time I ever entered a contest. I still haven't done many but I've learned, like you said, to be picky about which contests you enter. Thanks for the post!

Beth K. Vogt said...

In the past, I've entered contests and one of those contests led to connecting with an editor who wanted to see my manuscript. While that editor didn't buy my novel, it was still quite a kick to get noticed because of my contest entry. And, ultimately, my ms was picked up by another publisher.
View from the other side: I've also had the chance to judge some contests and I try to give lots of feedback because I've submitted to contests before and been frustrated with minimal comments/suggestions when my entry is returned. So I try to treat the entrants the way I would have wanted to be treated.

Casey said...

PEPPER, and I *almost* entered the Rattler too for the same reason. Glad I didn't now because I just didn't have the right story. You've done the gauntlet for sure, interested to see what you're going to do. :)

SHERRINDA, that would be a good judge for sure!!

Casey said...

CINDY, learning to take comments is SO important for sure. Even in the ones like my 0 on writing abilty, some of the things the judge said (while I didn't like his/her tact) got me THINKING and ultimately helped me change how I write.

BETH, which is why you will be a judge that is loved and adored! ;-) It can be a tough thing to be put through, but can prepare you ultimately for readers. Because that is all a judge is: an educated reader.