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 www.loribrighton.com