Are Writing Competitions Worth Your Time and Money?

Competitions are, well, competitive. Writing competitions are no different. With so many writers entering writing competitions, often with substantial entry fees, are they really worth your time and money?

IMG_7169

Basically, yes.

The main reasons for entering, as I see them, are:

  1. Exposure in magazines, journals and other publications, which increases readership of your work and promotion of you as an author. It’s hard to put a price on that.
  2. Prizes, usually cash – let’s face it, most of us could do with more of that. Prizes may also include subscriptions to the relevant magazine or journal, or readings of more of your work by agents or editors. There’s that further exposure again, key to building industry relationships – and your career.
  3. The prestige of having your name attached to a literary prize. Even if you only reach long or short lists, or receive a mention for your effort, these achievements look great on your bio and can help get future work read by agents and editors.
  4. The democracy of competitions – all writers enter on an equal footing. When names and other identifying features are removed before judging, you have just as much chance of winning as anyone else. The quality of your work is what is being judged, not whether you have previously written a New York Times bestseller.
  5. The motivation of a deadline, especially if you have invested money in your entry with a fee. The fact that money is invested also means that you will be determined to submit your best work (or should be).

Competitions are worth entering, but I am very selective with which competitions I enter for two reasons, the first being that:

I do not have unlimited time and money.

That being said, there are free competitions out there for those willing to do the hard yards without having the dollars to back it up. You just need to look for them. For example, Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest (https://twitter.com/ChuckSambuchino) and Eric Smith, associate literary agent at P.S. Literary Agency (https://twitter.com/ericsmithrocks), are currently running a free contest for writers of Young Adult fiction. This contest closes on the 29th of this month. Check it out at http://tinyurl.com/nz6n2p8

I am also selective with my entries as:

I may not be able to simultaneously submit if I have entered a competition. My entry may be tied up for weeks or even months before I can submit it elsewhere. I must be prepared to wait.

After ensuring I meet all entry requirements, I also ask myself one question before entering any competition:

Do I strongly believe I have a piece that is good enough to win?

If I cannot answer yes, then I give it a miss.

What about you? Do you enter writing competitions? Have you had any success?

Happy writing (and good luck)!

Rebecca

Surviving an Editorial Assessment

My first foray into paid writing came from a spur-of-the-moment magazine submission. I wrote something close to my heart and, on a whim, sent it to a magazine, who agreed to buy and publish it. This led to nearly a dozen more pieces being published by the same magazine, including several feature articles requested of me by the editor-in-chief.

Open book

But a YA novel was what I really wanted to write so, between magazine submissions, three kids, and part-time work, I wrote my first novel.

All ten drafts of it.

When I felt I could move no further in my revisions and it had run the gauntlet of my inner circle of beta readers, I submitted it to a manuscript development program, then a publishing house competition.

No bites from either.

I then sent it to an agent who appeared to be looking for EXACTLY what I had written.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” was the reply.

Before I ruined my chances with any other agents by submitting a manuscript that may not be as polished as I believed it was, I decided to have it editorially assessed by an independent freelance editor. After MUCH research, I settled on three and put my proposal to them.

First response sent a wave of alarm bells through me (the reasons for which I won’t go into here). This time, I was the one who said, “Thanks, but no thanks”.

The second sounded great, but was not available for a number of months. I wasn’t prepared to wait that long.

The third sounded just as good as the second, and was available in a month’s time. The timing suited so, after much back and forth with questions (all answered to my satisfaction, I might add), a contract was signed and my “baby” was sent for examination.

A few weeks later, I received the assessment. With my heart in my throat, I read the letter (all ten pages of it).

And my confidence plummeted.

Phrases like “a bit slow at the start”, “having a difficult time sympathizing with characters” and “too plot-driven” jumped out at me. Others that mentioned that my multiple POV prose was good and that I don’t tend to overdo exposition in my narrative faded into the background. All I saw was NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO DO THIS. Ouch.

I felt defeated. After a near-perfect record of successful magazine submissions, I felt that I did not have what it takes to write what I really wanted to write – a novel in the genre I love.

I put the letter away to create some distance (my editor’s recommendation after a first read), and revisited it a week later.

And saw it for what it really was: an honest independent critique of EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING an agent or acquiring editor might reject my manuscript for. Not would, but might. I realized that my editor had done her job. She had done what no number of well-meaning family members or friends could – she had incorporated industry knowledge into her recommendations for improvement to my writing and, therefore, my manuscript.

Like writing, editing is subjective. There are no set rules or formulas for a perfect plot, compelling characters and wonderful writing style, just as there are no hard and fast rules for ensuring publication in the traditional sense. Hiring an editor can be an expensive decision but if you treat it as a learning opportunity and a chance to improve your writing (and self-editing) skills, than it can be well worth it – not just for your current manuscript, but also for future projects.

I am currently reviewing my manuscript with my editor’s letter by my side. The decision to hire her was worth it. It just took me a few days to realize.

Next revision coming soon…

Until then, happy writing!

Rebecca

Would love to hear of your experiences with independent editors…