Hi. I’m Gail Zerrade, aka The Countess of Controversy. My writing partners gave me that title because I tend to wander into topics that stir up loud debates. If you want to rile up romance writers, ask them about their experiences with writing contests.
Recently, I was discussing 2010 writing goals with some of my critique partners, and several of them mentioned that they would like to enter more writing contests, but didn’t know which ones to enter. As something of a contest addict, I’ve entered a wide variety of contests. Stephie Smith has a wonderful chart listing all the major RWA chapter contests here. With so many choices, here’s how I decide which ones to enter.
- Decide what you want to get out of the contest. Your choices will be different depending on whether you hope to final, are just looking for unbiased feedback on a new idea, or need to have that all-important query letter/synopsis critiqued.
- Cost: Writing contests are one place where you don’t always get what you pay for. Some of the most expensive contests offer the least amount of feedback. So check how many first round judges will be commenting on your entry. Then look at the final judges. Some contests, like the Lone Star Writing Contest, will have both an agent and an editor look at the finalists. If cost is a problem, look for free contests on writers’ websites. An example of this type of contest is the Chase the Dream Contest by Leigh Michaels and Rachelle Chase. Or consider entering a contest that only looks at those crucial first pages. I‘ve had good luck with The Dixie Kane Memorial Contest and The Great Beginnings Contest.
- Look at the Score sheet: Most long-standing RWA chapter contests will post their score sheets on their website. Go through it line by line and make sure it’s a good match for your manuscript. Some contests have different score sheets for each category and that can work to your advantage. You don’t want to send your coming of age story to a contest that only judges sexual tension.
- Categories: Make sure there’s a category that suits your work. A romantic suspense will probably do better in its own category than lumped in with all the other contemporaries. It’s all about judge’s expectations. If the judge is looking forward to a secret baby story, and you show up with a serial killer in the prologue, you’re probably not going to do well.
- Judges: Perhaps the most important element in choosing a contest is the judges. Check out the first round judges. Who are they? Are they trained? The Great Expectations Contest is one example of a contest that goes to great lengths to train their judges. The final judge is equally important. Is it an editor who acquires what you write? Or an agent you would like to work with? You may not expect to final, but chances are, if you’ve come this far, you’re better than you think you are. Plan to win and enter accordingly.
Contests change from one year to another. If you enter enough of them, you will eventually have horror stories to tell: The one that lost your entry, the judge who gave all zero’s on a scale of one to ten, or the judge who swore she would personally make sure you were never published in the United States or Canada. But there are also those favorites you come back to year after year, looking for good feedback and hoping to catch the eye of a top notch final judge.
I would love to hear your contest stories. Which ones are your favorites? How do you decide which ones to enter?