Do Writing Contests Help Your Career?

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Recently, one of my clients emailed that two of her stories had placed near the top in a writing contest and would be included in an upcoming anthology. An editor’s note soon followed confirming that all three stories my client submitted will be published in the anthology. Her note ended with, “Quite an achievement!” Nice. But the bottom-line question for today is, do writing contests help your career?

One of the richest rewards to be had from a contest is the affirmation of placing as a semi-finalist or above. The news came at the perfect time for my client. She was in a discouraged place in her career as a published author. After several rejections and some real-life obligations that prevented her Writing-Contest-Logofrom devoting time to writing, she began to wonder if she should just give up. Of course, I knew she couldn’t give up because she has a gift. When you have a gift, you are practically compelled to use it. Her success in the writing contest was just what she needed. It helped to invigorate her career, and when authors are invigorated, creative juices begin to flow again.

However, many writers have higher expectations than that. They enter contests in hopes that winning might clear a path toward a traditional publishing contract. The truth is publishers note contest wins, but those wins don’t create a tipping point in a publication committee’s decision whether to extend an offer or not.

Here’s why.

Contest judges rate entries on quality of the writing, whether they like the story, or are moved to action by the nonfiction content. A judge’s personal preference can come into play as well. Most contest evaluation forms don’t ask judges to assess if an entry is saleable. Publishers, on the other hand, must view a submission more objectively. They may also like the story and agree the contest winner deserved the honor, but if the publisher doesn’t think the book is marketable, there won’t be a contract offer. In other words, a judge doesn’t have to evaluate a submission from a business perspective, but a publisher does.

Besides the affirmation you receive from winning or placing well, other good reasons exist for entering contests:

  1. A contest placement is a nice addition to your author bio.
  2. A placement or win gives you a certain amount of name recognition among important people in your career: agents, editors, authors, and other publishing professionals.
  3. Many editors will offer valuable—and free—feedback about what they liked and areas needing further polish before submitting your proposal to an agent.
  4. Although you might not win or even earn placement, the judges’ ratings in the various categories and their constructive remarks are useful in pinpointing areas to concentrate on improving. Critical comments can sting but don’t allow them to be devastating. By taking the hurt to God and asking him to help you develop a thick author skin, which you’ll need in this business, you can turn a negative into a positive perspective. You’ll be better able to view critical comments as free, professional editorial assistance. This response helps your writing career.
  5. Entering a writing contest provides an opportunity to practice the discipline of scheduling your writing time to meet a deadline. Every writer needs this kind of practice.

I don’t have space to offer an exhaustive list of writing contests, but here is a sampling of various types:

Strictly Romance:

Romance Writers of America (RWA) Rita Contest for published authors and Golden Heart Contest for unpublished romance writers. RWA is a general market trade association. Learn more about the contests here.

Fiction:

American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis Contest. This is perhaps the most well known contest for novelists because ACFW has the largest membership of novelists in the Christian market. View details of this year’s contest here.

Fiction and Nonfiction:

Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Writing Contest. This contest launched last year. See details of the 2014 contest here.

17 Categories, including Fiction and Nonfiction

Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference Contests includes categories for fiction and nonfiction as well as many others. See details here.

Do writing contests help your career? As long as you have realistic expectations about the weight they have with publishers and you study and learn all you can from the judges’ evaluations, entering contests can be a low-cost way to benefit your career.

What were your expectations when you submitted to writing contests? What has been your experience with writing contests in the past? If you’ve never entered a writing contest, what is holding you back?

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67 Comments

  • You’ve presented a compelling list of reasons to consider entering contests. I’ll have to consider this, because I have a strong bias against them.

    It’s not a fair one, because it comes from another area of artistic endeavor – for many years I worked hard at landscape painting, and reached a point where I was happy with what I was doing – and was getting some attention in the community, and a bit of a following.

    When I started entering contests, I quickly found that while the public liked what I was doing, judges didn’t. I was called technically proficient – but that was a criticism, not an accolade.

    In that field, blind judging was almost impossible; established painters have a recognizable style, and judges and their assistants quickly associate the image with a name.

    My work, personality, and background didn’t fit the criteria of what the judges and their coterie found appealing at the time, and their remarks could be scathing – “derivative”, “academic”, “pretentious”.

    For awhile I tried to chase fashion, and tailored my entries to the preferences of individual judges, but that did more harm than good. I lost the joy of the exercise, and eventually quit completely.

    It had been a lot more fun when I was just trying to sell paintings out of the trunk of my car at the beach.

    My understanding is that writing contests are far less ‘politicized’ in their judges’ following of the currently popular trends, so I assume my experiences probably wouldn’t reflect what I’d find in writing contests today.

    But I guess I’m like Mark Twain’s cat, who learned, by sitting on a hot stove, never to sit on a cold one.

    But the cold one may provide ready access to the food.

    • I’m reading Mark Twain now, Andrew! :)

    • Harsh feedback can stifle creativity and desire to improve. I’m sorry you faced that, Andrew.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Andrew, I can understand how those critical comments must have stung. Artists and writers are creative people, and its their quality of sensitivity that powers the emotion and tension on canvas or printed page. The downside is that sensitive areas can bruise easily. Entering writing contests can help writers develop the thick skin they’ll need throughout their career.
      Most publishing professionals agree to serve as judges because they’re interested in encouraging, coaching, and finding new writers. Constructive criticism may sound critical and abrupt on initial read. Cutting judges some slack, they have a number of entries to evaluate in a short amount of time and need to use words efficiently. But after giving the criticisms more thought, a writer might discover it was the best advice they could have received.

      • I was definitely more thin-skinned than I should have been, but more than the sting of the criticisms, I was turned away by the absolute rule of style and fashion – not being an adherent of the current trend invalidated everything. The criticisms were along the lines of, “This is a waste of canvas, because it’s not relevant.”

        It’s pretty common in painting – when the Hudson River School fell from fashion, paintings like Church’s “Niagara” were cut from their frames so that the FRAMES could be reused.

        But what really ‘did me in’ was trying to change myself to follow those trends, and to be ‘in'; that was what lost me the love of the art.

      • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

        Interesting peak into that counter-creative school of art.

  • Good day to you, Mrs. Keeley. Thank you for this interesting and thought-provoking posting.

    My first thought was to say that contests engender a healthy sense of competition, which seems to augur well for the competitive writing career, but on reflection – that is a dangerous path.

    With whom are we competing?

    If we are competing with fellow writers, does that not encourage envy?

    If we are competing with our own sense of perfection, and our ‘best work’, is this not the road to pride?

    Perhaps we can, as we always should, turn to Scripture.

    There is little direct reference to competition, save one – Paul having fought the good fight, and ‘finished the race’. In the context of the day, this would not have been seen as anything but an ‘external’ competition. In a land without timing, a personal best would have had no meaning.

    With whom, or what, did Paul compete?

    I would like to suggest that it was his own personal sense of inadequacy. He made veiled references to this, the feeling that he was a poor vessel indeed to carry the Gospel.

    That feeling of not being up to the task is something every honest man carries with him through life, and as Paul implies, winning the race means staying ahead of it to the finish line – death, and birth to eternal life.

    (Inadequacy may also have been Paul’s affliction, the thorn in his side, but that is a theological musing for another day.)

    What I feel this means to the writer is that every contest entered is a victory of action over the small, evil voice that says, “You cannot do this.” Every querying letter sent to an agent keeps the runner a step ahead.

    We may now cue the music from “Chariots of Fire.”

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      “…every contest entered is a victory of action over the small, evil voice that says, ‘You cannot do this.'” So true, Surpreet. This is one of the best reasons for writers to enter a contest. And an attitude of competing with yourself from a desire to improve, based on a judge’s ratings and remarks, keeps a writer from becoming prideful. Thanks for your thought-provoking comments.

      Playing music from Chariots of Fire in the background is a great idea.

    • Wonderful insights, Surpreet.
      Not feeling up to the task is something I struggle with more than I’d like to admit. Leaning hard on the Lord’s strength is a daily choice.

  • I entered a writing contest recently and didn’t place. I found out about the contest the day before the cut-off date. But strangely, an idea had been tossing around in my mind for a YA novel. I even made it’s own folder on my computer, jotting down ideas. When I found out about the competition, I basically had one afternoon to write. I submitted. But, I’m one of those people who takes a week to write a simple blog post … things usually come to me slowly. So two days later, I was hit with a wonderful way I “SHOULD” have wrapped up the story, a neat connection. Oh man! Too late. I hope to improve … to get quicker, too. But I’m still left with some good ideas for a novel. So, that’s a plus! :)

    • I’ve done that, too, Shelli — where I rushed to meet a contest deadline, then cringed later every time I thought about things I should have done better. I NEVER could have written a good story in one afternoon, so kudos for trying! :)

      • Jennifer, that is one lesson learned … don’t enter a contest unless you have more time to write. I’ve done a little cringing … :) I’m learning … right?! :) There’s another plus!

    • You’re brave, Shelli. :) Good for you stepping out. And how fun that more ideas have come to mind since you entered. Who knows what good will come from that? :)

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Shelli, good point about not entering a contest until you’ve polished your entry to your current best. The judge’s rating and remarks will be more accurate advice for the true level of your craft.

  • I entered the Frasier in 2013 and the feedback was mostly helpful. It helped me with learning to write with more power.

    One judge said the beginning was exiting. Another said it was dull.
    And the other was meh.

    Three Bears Syndrome, methinks.

    • “Exiting”, Mrs. Major?

      Surely not!

      In all seriousness, there is a Punjabi story that is similar to the Three Bears; the counterpoints of negativity become supports that hold up and validate the positive response.

      If I may ask, and please pardon my ignorance, what manner of response is ‘meh’?

    • That’s one of the things about contests, isn’t it Jennifer? We see the subjective side of judges when one loves the same part of the entry that the other judge hates. :) I guess we learn how to sift through the feedback to find what will help us improve as writers.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      “One judge said the beginning was exCiting. Another said it was dull. And the other was meh.” That may be an example of how a judge’s personal preference can come into play, and it’s helpful for writers to recognize these possibilities. But the advice that helped you learn to write with more power made entering the contest worth the effort.

  • Hahaha! Thank you, Surpreet!

    I’m typing on my tablet in a cafe, and it doesn’t catch the spelling mistakes.

    “ExCiting…”

    And “meh” means dull, or boring. Certainly not gripping.

    • Thank you, Mrs. Major; a formal education often omits colloquial Americanisms. You have expanded my vocabulary, and I am grateful.

      • Ahhh, Surpreet, you are most welcome. And my dad was in a similar situation. Or “in the same boat”. His education was in Egypt, and he could read and write English perfectly. But when it came to modern literature, I did a lot of idiomatic and colloquial translation. I still do.

    • That’s funny … I read “exciting” … had to look back to see “exiting.” I’m awful at catching mistakes on the computer screen.

  • Contests are fun, but I try to not depend on them for affirmation. I finaled in my first contest ACFW First Impressions and two others including RWA Great Beginnings and RWA Touched By Love. The winners for TBL will be announced at the RWA Co ference. Unfortunately I can’t attend.
    Of course, I realize winning doesn’t mean publication. But I would still love too!
    Thanks for this post.

  • I love what you said in #4, Mary. I entered ACFW’s “First Impressions” contest this year, and I felt it was SUCH a good use of my time. It was helpful to get unbiased feedback on my work — and for the low cost of an entry fee! It also helped me develop thicker skin for critiques.

    I semi-finaled in a short story competition recently, and it helped motivate me to keep plodding along. I’ve never seriously considered giving up writing — it’s always been a part of who I am — but there have certainly been times I WISHED I would give it up…Trade it in for an easier hobby. :) As you mentioned, placing in a contest serves as a confidence boost — encouragement to keep going.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Jennifer, I’m so glad to read your placement in the short story contest boosted your confidence when you needed it. If God has put writing on your heart all this time, you need to stick with it. Contests are a means to affirm and challenge your growth.

  • I should not have commented from my phone. Forgive my typos.

  • Sarah Thomas says:

    I found contests HUGELY helpful primarily for the fantastic feedback I got on my entries. As Jennifer mentioned, the feedback occasionally failed to match up, but more often I’d get multiple authors reinforcing what needed shaping up in my manuscript. Initially I entered those contests to win, but eventually I did it because I could get multiple critiques for a nominal entry fee. SO worth every penny!

  • Great post, Mary. I began entering contests, probably before I should have. :) But, overall, I’ve received very helpful feedback. The reason I began entering was to receive feedback from those who knew more than me about writing. I figured having others’ eyes on my work and hearing their comments about it would help me grow as a writer.

    The first time I finaled in a contest I was shocked. Most contests I’ve entered have given great feedback. When I see more than one judge commenting about the same thing, I know it’s an aspect of my writing or the story that needs changing. I will continue to enter contests for the feedback; and when I final (or maybe even one day win) I’ll be thrilled.

    Like someone above said, it’s not wise to allow contests to be my affirmation, but I admit with a couple finals, it was a huge encouragement and prompted me to keep moving forward with my writing.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Amen to that, Jeanne. Finaling in a contest, not to mention more than one, provides assurance that you are on the right track and should keep moving forward, as you said. Congratulations on those achievements.

  • Mary, I’ve entered the Genesis contest three times and semi-finaled twice. I’ve had the same experience as Sarah and Jeanne. With my first entry, I dreamed of winning. (Don’t we all?) But with my latest entry, I primarily was after the excellent critiques. I’ve watched names over the past few years and observed what you have stated, that placing in a contest definitely doesn’t guarantee publication, and publication once doesn’t guarantee publication again. Like so many writers, I’ve had plenty of moments of wondering if I should just quit. Is it worth it? Am I or could I ever hope to be good enough? But even with my first try at a contest, I received encouraging comments…comments that hide in the recesses of my mind and the Lord resurrects when the waiting gets long. Thank you for the encouragement today!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Meghan, those encouraging comments the Lord reminds you of are worth gold, the Refiner’s gold. His noticed presence with you has to be the sweetest part of the journey.

  • Keli Gwyn says:

    I’m a big fan of writing contests. Why? We can learn a great deal from our judges. Sure, some of the comments might make us scratch our heads, but we get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. I’m so grateful to the judges who read my early (lousy) work and gave me such helpful feedback. They taught me so much.

    A final or win can, as you said, Mary, get our name in front of our peers and publishing pros. While nothing came of my three Golden Heart® finals as a direct result of that contest, I was taken more seriously as a writer as a result. In fact, I took myself more seriously, which prompted me to work harder and study craft more intently.

    A final in some contests, such as RWA® chapter-level contests, can get our work in front of publishing pros, who might ask to read more. That happened to me. Rachelle Gardner read my story in one of those RWA chapter-level contests back in 2009, requested the full and offered me representation. I still had a lot to learn before she sold that story, but it was through the contest that my work got her attention in the first place.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Keli, thanks for those excellent points. Both should be added to the list of benefits. There is no guarantee of a contract, finalists are taken more seriously and remembered by publishing professionals. I like what you said about taking yourself more seriously too, which prompted you to work even harder.

      Your other point shared in your experience with ultimately being offered representation by Rachelle is a motivator for writers to take the risk and enter contests. An agent serving as a contest judge may see such promise–as Rachelle saw in you–that it could lead to representation and further mentoring.

      • Keli Gwyn says:

        Mary, it’s interesting that you mention the mentoring. That played a LARGE part in selling the story. While the beginning Rachelle had read in the contest showed promise, the execution faltered at the one-quarter mark. Her assessment of the story was spot-on. I smacked a palm to my forehead when she pointed out the glaring weakness. I had to delete three-fourths of the story (75K words) and start over, but I did so willingly. I learned a great deal as a result of that experience.

        Would I do it again? Yup. In fact, I received a “revise and resubmit” from the Love Inspired editor who purchased my second book. I performed the revisions, and we sold the story.

        I’ve learned the value of being willing to rewrite or revise. These days I think of myself not as a writer, but a re-writer. I’m sure there are many other writers who can relate.

      • Keli, thank you much for sharing that experience. So encouraging!

  • Michelle Ule Michelle Ule says:

    The feedback can be helpful, but must be taken with a grain of salt. I received a low score one year with a snide comment about my inability to use commas correctly.

    Degree in English Literature and training as a newspaper reporter for me. Who was this judge?

    Once I got over my outrage, and was soothed by my boss assuring me she hadn’t seen a problem, I went back and read up on comma usage. Maybe I was wrong?

    No. I was right. The judge was wrong.

    So, I never took the comments personally after that.

    My finaling in the Genesis contest helped me get my first contract, so I say, write away!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Thanks, Michelle. Beyond personal preference coming into play, judges can be dead wrong sometimes. But I like the way you humbly double-checked yourself. Finding out you were right is an affirmation in itself.

      And you are one of the success stories of getting a book contract as a result of being a finalist for your story.

  • Michelle Lim says:

    Writing Contests have given me valuable feedback as a writer. I’ve found it also helps to catch an editor’s/agent’s attention during a pitch. But, it is so true that it really doesn’t indicate whether you will get a contract. It just says, “Yes, she has the chops to write with quality.”

    It is helpful to have the affirmation of a contest sometimes.

    Love the way you broke this down, Mary! It makes so much sense.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      True, Michelle. When writers confirm they won or placed in a contest for the book they’re pitching to me, it isn’t an automatic tip-the-scale moment, but it does give a hint to the quality of their writing, which I’m about to read.

  • Other benefits to submitting to contests:

    Practicing the art of following guidelines.
    Finishing. (A contest deadline has moved many a writer to finish a project on which they’d procrastinated or ruminated too long.)
    Learning to accept constructive criticism.
    Figuring out the important answer to “Is this resonating with readers?”
    Discovering strengths of which we may have been unaware.

    I know few writers whose goal in a contest is to decimate the competition. Within ACFW, for instance, there’s so much mutual cheerleading that watching another win is only briefly disappointing. It quickly turns to support and congratulations. The primary goal for most isn’t defeating everyone else, but seeing the work recognized for excellence.

    A contest sometimes forms that “great cloud of witnesses” cheering us to “press on.”

    • Cynthia, so true! I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to see fellow writers win contests. It lessens the “poor me.” :) And it encourages one to strive harder … that maybe one day it will be me.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Cynthia, thanks much for the additional benefits to add to the list.

      The mutual cheerleading fostered at the ACFW conference is apparent, and I see that genuinely supportive attitude among members extend way beyond the “walls” of the conference.

  • I entered the First Impressions contest this year, and was pleasantly surprised at the extent of helpful suggestions from two of the three judges. They went above and beyond the number score, making extensive comments in the document itself.

    It’s thrilling to look through a list of contest semi-finalists or finalists and cheer for my friends. They set a great example of perseverance.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Jenni, do you think the help you received from those extensive comments was what contributed to improving your book to the point where you were offered representation?

      • Interesting question, Mary. To some extent, yes. But I also think my presence here, willingness to continue learning, and future story ideas may have contributed. Believe me, I have ‘room for improvement’ written all over me. I’m grateful to work with a amazing agent for the long haul.

        Perhaps one minor negative point of entering contests is that the writer focuses so much attention on making the first few chapters sing the rest of the manuscript can show evidence of less attention.

  • Terri Wangard says:

    Two years ago I have a Genesis finalist. It proved to be a godsend, because I had a professional critique done, and it was absolutely savage. It left me reeling, but I had to wonder how a story that could be so bad would also make the finals. With advice from a mentoring appointment at conference, I disregarded much of the critique when I rewrote the story. This year it made the semi-finals while my two stories that won contests last year did not. Scores ranging from 95 and 88 to 64 illustrate that you can never please everyone.

  • I semifinalled in the 2012 Genesis with historical romance. It was just the right boost at just the right time, as I was coming out of a really hard place in my personal life that caused my words to dry up. It was my very first complete novel, too. Not a bad showing for a first novel. This same novel also got two requests for the full when I pitched it in St, Louis, and a third request for a full off a client recommendation.

    Again, just what I needed at just the right time.

    I switched genres that year, and markets, and with the new genre I’ve only entered one contest. The feedback was good. But it can’t hold a candle to the feedback I got in my email Tuesday from a freelance editor. And it wasn’t even a full developmental edit! She calls it an analysis edit.

    I write romance, but I color outside the lines. How? Romance told largely from his POV. It’s always his story, his struggles, his issues. Judges don’t know what to do with it and I end up getting marked down for having too much of him in the entry.

    Contest do have their place. But I never learned anything from them. My editor is the one I’m learning the most from, because she had the whole manuscript and was able to pinpoint my trouble spots I knew existed but couldn’t see. What I paid for this edit would have entered me in three contests where I got feedback on, at most, the first 50 pages.

    I’ll stick with my editor.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      I see your point for your “color outside the lines” book, Rachel. In your case you made a wise decision to go directly to an editor. I’m glad that arrangement is working well for you.

  • Sheila King says:

    I entered the SCBWI-MI contest this year. The prize is a year’s mentorship with a well-known published author. Even if I am rejected, it was a good discipline and it caused me to rethink many passages that I thought were good. Knowing I had a tough audience made me tighten up sections and I became less “protective” of scenes that I liked, but didn’t really move the story ahead.

  • Ada Brownell says:

    So editors decide whether a book is marketable. What do you think makes a book salable.

  • Elaine Manders says:

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post.

    I too would like to know what criteria go into a salable book. Even reading best-sellers doesn’t help much since those best-sellers have a name.

    Contests are helpful even if subjective. The best may not always win, but I believe eventually the best rises to the top.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Deciding what is saleable is the responsibility of a publisher’s acquisitions and sales teams. They study purchasing trends, topics meeting current felt needs, and try to predict what book buyers will want in the near future. When an acquisitions team sees potential in a proposal, they’ll often meet with the sales team to get their opinion about its marketability, based on trends they continually study.

  • If ANYONE knew the answer to what makes a book salable, it would be the Books & Such Literary Management team. And if they knew precisely, every book they proposed to an editor would be purchased.

    But alas, we can know no more than basic ideas that are then subject to the day’s stock market activity, the temperature of the breeze off the Pacific or Atlantic, the phase of the moon, the latest hot topic blog post, and the climate of readers.

    What we do know is that (IMHO):

    a great story still trumps everything else. So we endeavor to write great stories.
    a great story is usually a familiar emotion or felt need told in a fresh or unique way (That applies whether romance, historical, fantasy…)
    a great story that’s told well from an author who has done his or her homework about the market and readership as well as grammar, structure, and character-development will not be an automatic sell, but has a stronger chance.

    In non-fiction, a salable book is credible, well-written, approaching an old or new topic in a unique way, meeting a need, informing, or persuading.

    There’s no formula. And each publishing house would define “salability” differently. READERS even define it differently. Yes, they purchase the popular books, sometimes because of an author name or media efforts. But readers, too, have widely varying definitions of what makes a book worth purchasing.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Cynthia, thanks for the compliment for Books & Such. It’s much appreciated.

      Thanks also for your extensive response regarding saleability. IMHO you are spot on.

  • I entered my first contest this spring (Oregon Christian Writer’s Cascade contest). I have not yet deleted or filed away the email announcing my story is a finalist. There’s something special about a group of strangers judging my work that felt more validating than the trusted remarks from my writer’s group. The feedback I received from the three judges made the effort to enter all worthwhile. The winners will be announced at the summer conference in August, but whether my story comes in first place or third, the experience has been worth it.

  • I haven’t entered contests in a long time. I had a bad experience with one and I’ve been gun shy ever since. Not that I won’t enter one in the future, but just like trying to get over my fear of water, it takes time.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Cheryl, I’m sorry to hear you had a bad experience. I hope your next contest entry reaps twice the positive benefits for you. Don’t let that one bad experience rob you of future encouragement and (free or cost of entry) constructive comments, which might push your craft, and your career, to a new level.

  • I’ve given up on writing contests. The research needed to find them, learn the rules, and hone the piece(s) takes away from writing time. The contest fees are usually exorbitant for the chance of winning anything. I’ve never received any feedback, not one word. I used to enter poetry contests. But then the rules would say something like: “Sonnet contest: must be strict iambic pentameter.” So what about relief feet? Or sprung meter? Or hypermetrical line endings? Would that disqualify you? With such lack of clarity, and such subjectiveness, I decided my time and money is better spent elsewhere.

  • Natalie Monk says:

    What an excellent post, Mary! Thank you for sharing the contest links.

    My contest experience has not always been pleasant but has been extremely helpful in my learning how to be a better writer. Contests are one of the best, most difficult and quickest ways to learn craft.

    One of my “hardest” judges challenged me with advice which led me to winning the 2013 RWA Lone Star contest after a complete rewrite of the first pages for the final round. That story also placed third in the 2014 RWA Great Expectation contest and the sequel garnered a final in the 2013 ACFW First Impressions contest.

    The joys of winning are exciting, but they don’t compare to the satisfaction of seeing my writing-quality improve with taking advice from each round of judges. That’s why I enter contests.

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