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 from 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.
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:
- A contest placement is a nice addition to your author bio.
- 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.
- Many editors will offer valuable—and free—feedback about what they liked and areas needing further polish before submitting your proposal to an agent.
- 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.
- 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:
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.
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?
Do writing contests help your career? Yes, but not in the way you might first think. Click to Tweet.
Winning a writing contest is no guarantee of a book contract, but there are other worthwhile benefits. Click to Tweet.