Contests: to enter or not to enter

When you make it to that point where you’re brave enough to let others read your manuscript, you inevitably start thinking about entering writing contests. Many groups have yearly contests in which a writer pays money (usually around $20 or so) to enter the first chapter to the first three chapters of their book. Why pay someone to read your work? Because the judges who critique your entry can offer an unbiased opinion and valuable feedback. And if you make it to the final round, your judge will be an editor or agent who may request more material which could lead to your big break.

When I wrote Wild Heart, my most recent manuscript, I felt in my gut that it would be published. When I entered it in The Golden Acorn Contest and received a request from the Kensington judge to see more, I felt justified. Finally, after six years of rejections, I was getting somewhere. Four months went by without a word from Kensington. I was crushed. It was then, while deciding to toss aside yet another finished manuscript, that Kensington called with an offer.

Some people love contests, while others hate them. Let’s be realistic, if you look at the ratio of people who are actually published because of a contest, it’s probably rather low. Not only is your chance of getting a request minimal, but some writers have had unfortunate experiences with unfair judges who belittle their work and do more harm than good. Just because you don’t final doesn’t mean your manuscript isn’t ready. After all, there are many best sellers that wouldn’t hold up under the “rules” of writing, rules that judges often use as basis to grade a manuscript (for instance, limit narrative, especially at the beginning of a book). But, on the other hand, if you are getting the same comments from judge after judge, perhaps it’s time to think about changing your book.  

So are contests worth it? I had the money at the time and I was pretty much willing to do anything legal to get published. But if you decide to enter a contest, do it as a way to get feedback and not just to win. Make sure the final judges are actually editors and agents you’re interested in so it’s not a waste of time and money. If you don’t have the money to enter contests, look for free contests online, they’re out there! In fact, come September I might be having a contest on my blog which could land your manuscript in front of a Kensington editor. Also, find a good critique partner and write the best book you can. After all, in the end, all that matters is how well written and interesting your book is, contest wins or not.

How about you, have you entered any contests, writing or otherwise, in which you had a positive or negative experience? Leave a comment or question. Three people will win a $10 gift card to Barnes and Noble and a signed cover flat of Wild Heart, my debut historical romance out in November.

To find out more about Lori Brighton, visit

23 Responses to Contests: to enter or not to enter

  1. Jennifer Lopez Wallpaper

    I love Jennifer Lopez. Badly she is not my Girlfriend :).

  2. kh

    wtg winners

  3. Lori Brighton

    And the winners of the cover flat and gift card are….

    Amy S.

    Please contact me with your mailing addresses!
    Thanks everyone!
    I’m always giving out free stuff on my blog, so come by for your chance to win!

  4. Renee

    *waves* I’m a day late, but wanted to say hi, Lori!

  5. Lori Brighton

    Thanks all for stopping by! I’ll announce the winners in a couple days.

  6. kh

    congrats very brave
    i had good results for free books and contest. they are fun and get to try new authors

  7. Pam S

    I have had good experiences entering in contests for books so far. I have won several times and always find the contests enjoyable.

  8. Amy S.

    I have entered a lot of book contests and won some of them.

  9. Lori Brighton

    Edie, you were just in the huge dorchester contest! Congrats on getting so far! Contests are addictive, aren’t they? The money also adds up real quick! The thing is, they aren’t for everyone, but at the same time, when getting published is such a shot in the dark, I suppose, if we have the means, we should do whatever we can. And you’re right, Brianna, a lot has to do with timing. I was turned down by about every agent/editor I could, the Kensington deal was my last chance for my book. so they’re right, it only takes one editor to like your work!

  10. Edie

    I’ve finaled in several contests, won a few, got a few requests, but I’m off contests for now. There are so many judges who just aren’t good and it’s frustrating. I might change my mind. Sometimes I get the contest bug and can’t stop myself from entering. 😉

  11. Lori Brighton

    Hi Kim! Thanks for stopping by! It is thrilling when you final in a contest. And there is no higher honor than the Ritas, which, Kim is a finalist in! Congrats Kim!

  12. Kimberly Killion

    Hiya Lori!
    Love the post topic since it’s dear to my heart. I’m a contest slut! Always was, probably always will be. Pre-published, I entered all of them and I learned a ton. Toward the end, I was a finalist in lots of RWA contests. OK….I wasn’t the diva Lisa Marie Wilkinson was, but I was getting there before I got published. I really enjoyed being on the contest circuit and think it’s just as fun in the published contests. 🙂

    Contests aren’t for everyone, but it’s easier to take critique from an anon judge versus someone who know. Plus, it’s easier to blow off what they say. LOL

  13. Christiana Cameron

    I have tried several times to post here! I hope this goes through!

    I loved this blog! It offered me reminder and insight into entering contests.

    Thank you, Lori!


  14. Aaron

    It’s a bit different in journalism, where you’re ultimately working to fulfill your editor/art director’s vision, so it’s easier not to take it personally. But otherwise, yes, just become dead inside. 🙂 Even so, I sometimes have knee-jerk reactions to someone’s opinion, but then I think about it a bit, and sometimes it’s really good advice.

  15. Lori Brighton

    Aaron, how do you develop the thick skin? Any advice? Does it just eventually occur, or is there a point where you realize its not personal? Or do you just grow cold and numb, realizing the world is never going to appreciate a genius like yourself?

  16. Aaron

    You just have to develop a thick skin. I’ve always worked in journalism, both editorial and art, and after awhile you just get used to editors trashing your copy and art directors trashing your designs. haha

  17. Jennifer

    Great advice, Lori! I admire your tenacity.

  18. Lori Brighton

    Thanks for stopping by, guys! Isn’t is awesome to win free stuff, JCP?!

    As for writing contests…I have friends who are great writers, but don’t final in contests. Like I said, there are many ny times best sellers who probably wouldn’t final with their books as is. Two of my books did well in contests, and both were very dramatic at the beginning, with death scenes. I jokingly told a cp that to final in a contest you have to kill someone off.

    Let’s face it, writing is one of the most difficult things to break into. Not just getting published, but at no other job are people criticized as much as we are. And when you get published, its not any easier, seriously. Then you worry about if your book will sell well, if your second book will sell. why another author got way more money than you. If people will like it. The doubt never ends and we have to find a way to let go of that insecurity. Which is hard to do when you’ve been getting rejected for years. But if we dont, we’ll go insane!

    Avon author Alexandra Benedict said in an interview that the critics dont bother her much because she is proud of her work. We have to do that, just step back, forget what others say and just be proud of what we’ve accomplished, whether someone else likes it or not. I know, easier said than done.

  19. Brianna

    I am trying to get published. I think contests help me, but it’s hard to hear that my writing is not good enough. I think it has a lot to do with timing. Writing in the righ genre at the right time.

  20. Amos

    I have entered contests before, but have yet to final. It kills me when I am submitting what I believe to be an awesome book, to then be rejected. These contests are cut throat and I would rather have a critique partner. I will take note of your advice though, if I hear the same advice more than once, I may need to listen and adjust my writing…..

  21. Amy

    I am just a reader who loves romance books. I can only imagine the frustrations upcoming authors face. However, it sounds like contests offer these authors a great service, if they are confident enough to handle constructive criticism. On another note; Lori, Congrats on your book Wild Heart, I have already ordered it on Amazon! 🙂

  22. Geraldine Lynnann

    Lori, thanks for the positive push to all writers. We all need to be reminded that it’s normal to feel rejected and in the end all that matters is that we wrote a book that was worthy. Thanks Lori, I appreciate the info. about free contests and look forward to your possible upcoming contest!

  23. jcp

    I enter book giveaways on author web sites and blogs and sometimes win.

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