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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

TOPIC: Why enter writing contests?

Again and because contest season is just around the corner, another re-post, this time one about why enter writing contests - previously entitled, "Do you have the contest bug?"

This is a timeless topic often discussed among writers - the value of entering contests.

RWA Valerie Parv Award
Some are for entering them and are vocal advocates of the benefits of doing so, others advise against entering as many seem to "encourage writers to write to the contest" or they see the writer receiving little value out of them.

I fall into the former category of advocates. The name "contest diva", "contest queen", or the more affectionately yet derogatory "contest sl**" was often mentioned in the same sentence as my name (*grin*). In the course of my unpublished career as a writer, I entered almost 100 contests over the nine years since tackling my first.

When considering whether or not you should enter a contest ask yourself this - why are you entering?

RWNZ Clendon Award
Is to get feedback on your work? Is the contest aimed at judging 3 chapters, a short story or a full manuscript? Is it to final? Is it because your want to get in front of a particular agent or editor? Is it to get a contest resume under your belt?

Let's consider each question.
  • Feedback - entering can be a cheap way to get feedback on your work, particularly if you find a full manuscript contest that gives comments (eg. RWA Emerald Award or the RWNZ Clendon Award).
WHRWA Emily Award
If you belong to a writing organisation, ask yourself this - can I get feedback any other way besides through contests?

Some writing organisations have mentoring schemes, critique groups or critique partner schemes running, so this might be another avenue for you to pursue in your quest to get feedback.
  • Contest criteria - entering a specific type of contest can help your craft. I avoided entering any sort of synopses contest, purely because I hated writing them. But because it was a weakness I'd identified in my craft skills, I forced myself to enter several of these to get feedback before I sent my work out on submission.
  • To final - this is a feather in any writer's cap. I used this as a benchmark to see whether I was improving in my craft but then, in the context of where I was as a writer (geography and isolation, not the level of skill) and the services I had access to this (era of time) proved to be the only option available to me to measure this. (So context is important.)
  • RWA Emerald Award
  • Getting your work in front of an editor/agent - if you have the budget, you can enter as many contests as you like, and some have done this. Most writers don't have unlimited funds, so choosing which particular contest - based on reputation or final judges or specific feedback - and this may determine your decision on whether you enter or not.
Toward the end of my unpublished contest career my goal for entering was driven by who the final judge was. I wanted to get my work in front of an editor or agent who acquired my genre.
    RWA Golden Heart
  • Contest resumes - racking up finalist kudos, placings or wins is certainly a way to impress potential editors and agents but it doesn't always help. Some take no notice of your achievements. I admit, one of my main goals for entering contests, in the latter part of my unpublished career, was to build a resume for each manuscript but it wasn't the only avenue I relied upon to get my work in front of editors/agents.
I think the secret of entering any contest is to identify why you're entering it, what you're hoping to get out of it as a result and to understand that it's one of many strategies, not the only one, to help you in your journey to publication.

So, with the RWAustralia and RWNZ contest season about to start fresh, I know there will be some of you keen to try the contest circuit (and good on you, go for it!). There are a wide range of ones for you to enter here and overseas.

Keeping that in mind, here are a few links you might like to explore to find the sort of contests you'd like to enter:

Romance Writers of Australia contest page
Romance Writers of New Zealand contest page
Romance Writers of America contest page
Stephanie Smith's contest page for author

RWNZ Clendon Readers' Choice Award
But, just remember, I've seen many friends who've taken the contest circuit route in the attempt to get published and I know of others who haven't entered any contests yet been picked up through submitting their work.

There are valid reasons to try both paths, one isn't better than the other.

It's whatever works for you.


  1. I think you're spot on, Kylie. Contests can be very useful but know your reasons for going there. The feedback can be hit and miss. And gosh that Clarendon is shiny pretty!