How Do You Choose a Writing Contest?

This April, I entered the 2013 OCC Orange Rose Contest. It offered comprehensive critiques by three judges and the possibility of moving on to a select group of publishers and agents. My head spun with visions of literary giants vying for my work.

I plugged away, writing a synopsis, and entered the contest just before the stroke of midnight deadline. And waited. By the second week in July (when winners would be announced), I hardly dared leave my house for fear of missing that life-changing email. And I waited. Finally, hearing nothing, I decided that my entry must have been too late for the deadline. (Because, of course, had they received my work, I would have won.)

Last week, I received an email from the contest. Attached were detailed critiques from three judges. No, I hadn’t missed the deadline. I hadn’t won either, but I decided I could at least enjoy the praise. Flipping through the score sheets, I wanted to cry. Out of a possible 150, one judge had given me a 94!  I tossed the critiques aside and proceeded to lick my wounds.

This past weekend, I dug out the critiques again and re-read them. The judges’ comments were familiar. I’d heard similar words from others who had read my manuscript: “Show don’t Tell”, “too nice to your characters”, “need more conflict.” All three judges even mentioned the deadly newbie mistake, “info dumps”. It hurt. When I stopped banging my head against the desk, I read the critiques through one more time. Guess what? During my plunge into self-pity, I’d missed some important information. Each of the judges also said that they liked my story. One even said, “terrific potential” and “great imagination.”

My motive in entering the contest had been to find an agent or publisher for my book, nothing more. What I received, though, was invaluable insight from authors who had been where I was and who wanted to help me succeed.

Writing contests

How to Choose?

It came to me, then, that all writing contests are not created equal. Some are so large that unless your writing is excellent, your chances of winning are truly slim. Some simply dangle the promise of riches and fame. If you don’t win, there’s no consolation prize. Then there are the small contests, the ones that offer the services of gifted authors and, possibly, agents and publishers (which, by the way, can translate into riches and fame.) Contests like this usually allow only a small number of entrants. That gives the judges more time to review the writing and submit a clear and positive assessment. Fewer contestants also means a better chance to win. And, you get all this for a minimal fee. What’s not to like?

I think I’m hooked. The next contest I enter will be one with a guaranteed prize (an author’s critique) and, of course, the possibility of attaining the gold ring. In the meantime, however, I’ll be editing.

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