Things I Have Learned about Writing That Run Contrary to Accepted Practice: Installment #1 — Contests

Go anywhere on the web and you’ll see this warning:

DO NOT 4Everybody’s BFF, “Preditors & Editors”, says:

“We strongly advise writers to enter only those contests without a fee. P&E does not recommend any contests with entry fees.” also pans fee-based contests, saying:

“…often a fee can be a red flag for a scam” and “you may want to stick to free writing contests” as “there are certainly enough of them.”

They go on to list 27, headlined by the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. huh.

Or this, from

“ brings you only the writing contests that have $0 submission fee. In other words, we only list below the writing contests that do not require an entry fee. There are obviously many other writing contests, but we don’t include them below.”

In fairness, things are beginning to change – and it’s about time.  Yes, there are scams, as there are in every field of endeavor. But does that mean all fee-based contests are bad? Absolutely not.

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Daphne du Maurier

For several years, I’ve had the  privilege of being a judge for the Daphne du Maurier Awards for Excellence in Romantic Mystery/Suspense and Mainstream Mystery, popularly referred to as the Daphnes. To enter the Daphne competition, you must pay a fee of $30 and send along your baby (first 5000 words for the Unpublished division, four copies of the book itself for Published) by March 15th of the year. Finalists for each division are announced in May (Unpublished) and June (Published). Between March 15th and May/June, the entries are judged.

What exactly does that mean?

First of all, there are five separate Romantic Suspense categories (Historical, Paranormal, Inspirational, Single Title, Series) and one Mainstream Mystery Suspense category for each division. The number of entries is capped per category and totals 400 Unpubs and 240 Pubs. Each Unpubbed submission has three first-round judges,  Pubbeds get four.  Unpubbed second round has one editor judge and one agent judge. Pubbed also has two final round judges.

You can do the math – if your head isn’t spinning by now. Hint: My judge number is in the high 200’s. It takes a lot of manpower to pull off something like this.

All Daphne judges must undergo training. After that, you fill out a detailed score sheet for each submission in the genre you’re judging. I usually judge in straight mystery suspense or romantic suspense. Here’s part of one sheet Daphne provides to help entrants understand how they will be judged. Complete copies of sample sheets are available here: final As you can see, in addition to multiple choice answers, the sheet asks that we elaborate on the answer to each question. (If we fail to do this, someone in management will gently remind us.)

The second part of judging is commenting directly on the manuscript itself. Again, we are “encouraged” to make detailed and substantive suggestions. Word’s Comment feature comes in handy here though this time around I found some of my comments really put it to a test.

Copies of both the score sheet and the critiqued entry are given to the entrant.

This year, I was an “Emergency” Judge. I was not assigned any manuscripts at the beginning of the judging period but received them at the very end. Basically, because of an email address snafu, I had a week to complete what other judges finished in a month.

Fortunately, I had only two submissions. They were each 5,000 words long. Plus a 675 word synopsis to give me greater insight.  How hard could that be?

It took the entire week to do the job right – and I barely squeaked in under the deadline. I figure that each of my entrants received about 30 hours in dedicated, considered critique time – at a total cost to them of around $1 per hour. (Bear in mind that I was only one of three judges whose comments the entrants saw at the end of the contest. That $1/hour figure is only for my time.)

Now, I know that some judges give more to the task than others. I can remember being a contest entrant one year and receiving a final score sheet that looked like the judge had blown on it – and that was about all. (I wasn’t about to complain, though; the other two judges had plenty of thoughtful, helpful comments.) That was also a number of years ago and I believe our judges are increasingly professional.  It’s an honor to be asked to do this job; most of us take it very seriously.

So, do I think contests that ask for money are bad for authors?

Of course, if they’re flim-flam artists.

But absolutely not if they’re a reputable organization such as the Romance Writers of America, the parent organization for Kiss of Death, the direct sponsoring group of Daphne.rwa logo Of course, nothing quite says legitimacy like big name winners. So, who’s actually won the Daphne Award in the past?daphne results

None other than the likes of Lisa Gardner, C.J. Barry, and Erica Spindler, among others. Can’t do much better than that.

Bottom line: do you get your $30 worth at Daphne?

Dear reader — the ball is in your court.

~~Britt Vasarhelyi

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2 thoughts on “Things I Have Learned about Writing That Run Contrary to Accepted Practice: Installment #1 — Contests

  1. Bottom Line: I got more than my $30 from Daphne. The four in-depth critiques I received were worth so much more. I’m a big proponent of contests. But, you’re right. Check out the contest before you enter. Buyer Beware!

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