Wednesday, March 23, 2011

To Contest or Not to Contest, that is the question…. Again

Here it is, another contest season.  I’m going forward on my story and my mentor says I’m doing great.  Whew.  That’s a good sign.  It’s slow moving.  Ok, it’s caterpillar crawl moving.  It’s “was that a turtle that just passed me?” kind of moving.  It’s “old women with arthritis and bad backs run faster than this” kind of moving.

It’s slow.

So, I’ve been trying to decide whether I should enter any right now.

When it comes to contests, entering is a very personal thing.  In my mind, there are a lot of pros and cons.  I thought I’d throw some out there for your consideration.

PRO:  Get in front of agents/editors.

If I final (the ultimate goal), I could get in front of agents or editors I want to impress.  Maybe they’ll request more of my story.  It could be a gateway to a business relationship.

CON:  Exposure too soon?

If I do final and an agent/editor does like what they see, there’s a chance—with my slow pace—that I won’t be ready to give them anything when they ask.  Or, what I give them might not be ready for public consumption.  Either may do more harm than good.

PRO:  I’d get some feedback.

Feedback at this point would help me to see if the story is resonating with an audience.  Granted, contest judges are just a slice of the reading population, but feedback—good or bad—is still feedback and maybe it’d help me to refine my story, if it needs to be refined.

CON:  Maybe I won’t get any good feedback.

Not really an explanation needed.

PRO:  Can put a final on my query letter

IF I final, I can use that exposure going forward on my query letter.  Some agents are into that, maybe it’d draw their attention.

CON:  Maybe I won’t final

Again, not really necessary to explain.

CON:  Contests are expensive

If I don’t final, it’s basically money out the window.  Oh, the feedback’s nice, but there are other ways to get feedback.


PS:  Good luck to any of our contributors and readers who entered the GH or the Rita.  We're rooting for you!!


Anyone else thinking about jumping into the contest pond?  Anyone else excited to see who finals in the GH or the Rita (that's tomorrow, squeee!!)?  Anyone else have any pros or cons to add to the list here?



Bosun said...

I entered the GH, but I don't really expect a phone call tomorrow. Not that I won't have the cell charged and close by, but then it always is. :)

I've considered entering some other contests, but the only reason I'd do it now was if there was some kind of real prize given, and there was a chance to get my work in front of an agent/editor that I really wanted.

I'm not interested in feedback from contests anymore. I have enough reader friends I think will be honest with me, I'm confident in my gut feeling at this point, and I've seen too many editors say contest finals/wins mean nothing to them. So there you go.

Donna said...

Marn, congrats on your progress. It doesn't matter that it's slow. You're still moving forward. That's the important thing. :)

Contests have been a good experience for me. I finalled in all but one that I entered, and I entered two different books (one contemp, one historical).

I entered the contemp before it was finished, because I wanted the feedback, since it was different than other things I'd written. I finaled, which was great feedback, and very unexpected. LOL I also picked this particular contest because of the judges, one of whom asked to see more of the manuscript. By the time that happened, I had finished the manuscript. She had it for about 4 months when I got an offer from someone else, so I could nudge her about it.

I tweeted with someone yesterday who had judged another contest I was in a year ago, and she remembered my entry right away, which was flattering.

I am judging a contest right now and I am in awe of how creative people are, and how differently we all see the world. The score sheet feels a little confining, but luckily we can write all kinds of comments.

So, in my long-winded way, I'm saying I feel it's worthwhile. It can be scary, for all the reasons you listed, but it's also a great way to get used to the rest of the process: querying, reviews, etc.

I've got my fingers crossed for you!

Bosun said...

Two comments and two totally different views. LOL! Gotta love this ship!

Marnee said...

Donna - my experience so far has been similar. I've entered a handful of contests, all chosen for their final judges, and finaled in all but one. Well, I didn't final in the GH the year I entered that, so that's two I guess. :) But I've had some good feedback and some not as good feedback. I had the one so-so score with no comments at all.

Overall, I've come to see them like I see cleaning--find the amount that works for you, beneficial when done right, but too much can make you nuts.

Bo'sun - I'm rooting for you, sister! :) Fingers, toes, eyes, etc crossed.

I have heard that some editors/agents say they don't matter. I don't know. I'm not sure of the return. Wonder if there are any statistics on how many requests end up in anything good?

Donna said...

Terri, my fingers are crossed for you too. I remember seeing the results post online last year, so I'll watch tomorrow, looking for your name. :)

When I finaled in the GH years ago, I was vacationing in New Orleans, and they had to track me down there. LOL It was a great place to celebrate, that's for sure!

Marn, the other thing about contests that have an agent or editor -- I felt that they HAD to read the entries, whereas if they requested a partial or full they could stop reading whenever they wanted. :) So that felt like another plus.

Marnee said...

NOLA sounds like an awesome place to celebrate a GH final. :)

Donna - good point! :)

I generally only pick contests that have agents that I want to get in front of. I feel like an editor probably isn't going to buy from a contest without the entry being agented anyway (maybe this is a stereotype, but I'm not sure). So, I try to watch for contests that have agents on my top lists.

Hellion said...

Love the caterpillar analogy. Caterpillars unite!

I'm not into contesting any longer. I used to be, but I was interested in contesting around the same time I was interested in going to bars and dancing on the dry bar. I have neither the time nor inclination for either event any longer. Much like dry bar dancing, you're struggling against a standard few can meet--the hot young big boobed blonde--and feeling rejected instead of having fun can deplete your energy to getting published.

Yes, contests sometimes show if you have talent or not--but the thing is we all know you have talent. We all know you can write and can write complete manuscripts. Putting your stuff out there to see if it resonates at the time isn't very telling for me. (I emphasize "for me".) Mainly because trends come and go so quickly, it's hard to get a bead on any of them. You should just write the best story you want to write and know that eventually it'll find a home. Writing is not about winning a contest. It's about being the last man standing and believing in yourself.

Marnee said...

I like the bar analogy. LOL!!

I think that one of my problems with contests is that they don't allow for much rule breaking. At least, not as a habit. If your story has elements that are different than expected, there is a chance that you'll find a judge who is intolerant.

There's a chance you'll find a judge who loves it too. But, I would say that the probability of having more erratic scores is higher if you're trying to stretch the box.

Not to say that there's not a chance a different story will hit gold in a contest. Just that it seems a little more difficult.

Donna said...

What the heck is a "dry bar"? LOL

Marn, I agree that trying to stretch the box will increase your chance of getting erratic scores. Another example of the subjectivity of things. I often got two high scores and a third oddball one. LOL

I was willing to try contests because I was at a stage where I couldn't get quite as far with querying as I wanted, so it was another method to get where I wanted to go. The same with meeting agents/editors at conferences, going to Pitch Slam in NYC, etc.

Whatever resonates with you and helps you succeed is the best choice.

Janga said...

This old woman with arthritis and a bad back never runs, but my walking speed is a fairly good analogy for my writing speed these days--fiction writing, at least.

Like nearly everything else about writing, the benefits of contests depends upon the individual. I've squeeed for friends who finaled and celebrated the boost the contest win gave to their confidence, but I've also commiserated with friends who received knock-out punches from a judge. I've seen friends in both groups go on to become published writers and friends in both groups struggle on as yet-to-be-published writers. So much depends upon the luck of the draw.

My own experiences with contests is limited. I entered one. I didn't final, but I was only three points out of finaling and the feedback was largely positive. I don't regret having entered that contest, but I haven't been tempted to enter another one. Each time I consider entering, I end up concluding that I can find better uses for my money.

Bosun said...

Thanks for the finger (and toe and eye) crossing, ladies. Me finaling is as likely as Charlie Sheen being named "Father of the Year", but a girl can dream. LOL!

Sounds like entering the contest fray boils down to WHY you enter and WHAT you're looking to get out of it. Seems if you go in with realistic expectations, prepared for the good and bad, ready to possibly waste the entry fee, then go for it. But I think "realistic" is the key word there. :)

2nd Chance said...

Well, I find contests terribly annoying. But I write so far out of the box that I plain old got tired of too many judge comments that showed they'd never left the box. Ever.

So, I sucked at contests and now have an agent and am published. Granted, not a big-assed New York publisher, but it's out there...

I've had friends who did fabulous in conteste. Got comments that anyone would kill to hear. And nada has happened for them. Granted, several haven't pushed forward.

And I wonder how many contests are won or finaled in and the entrant never goes further. Like she got her fix of kudos and once the praise is out there the impetitus to push forward and take the bigger chances faded...

I'm not sure. It almost seems like contests can suck the energy out of a writer...especially if you do well!

My twisted bit of two cents...

Janga said...

Ter, I forgot to say that I have all appendages crossed that you'll get a GH call! But you're already a winner because you met your goals of completing the ms. and entering the GH.

Hellion said...

Me finaling is as likely as Charlie Sheen being named “Father of the Year”, but a girl can dream. LOL!

As Charlie would say, "WINNING!"

Hey, if CBS can offer Charlie his job back, which I thought would be nigh on impossible--you have a great shot. More than a great shot.

Hellion said...

It almost seems like contests can suck the energy out of a writer…especially if you do well!

I think this is true too! *LOL*

2nd Chance said...

CBS offered him the job back? You have to be kidding me!

Hellion said...

Donna said...

Maybe Charlie reconsidered since he and his agent "parted ways". Apparently CS didn't like the offers the publishers were sending his way. LOL

Bosun said...

The president of CBS said he'd like to see him back on the show, but CBS doesn't pay to produce the show, Warner Bros does. And after what he said about them, I don't see it happening.

Anyone else marking their calendar that Hellie just agreed with Chance???

I know someone who had finaled in the Golden Heart at least four or more years. Most years, with more than one MS. Still not pubbed. Goes to show. LOL!

Donna said...

Terri, are you saying there's a GH curse, just like the Oscar curse? Eeek. LOL

Marnee said...

Donna - I think it's true; whatever works for each writer's personality.

Janga - I've seen the gamut too. I think this is definitely a subjective thing. That's why I started with the pros and cons. I don't think that it's the same for everyone either.

A loop I'm on just had someone railing against a contest judge. It brought me back to the wide array of experiences from contests. I've judged some contests too. I think that definitely gave me a different perspective.

Bosun said...

Thanks, Janga! If I do get a call, you might hear me scream all the way down there. LOL!

Donna - Nah. That same writer is on a blog with about 19 other GH finalists, most all of whom have gone on to publication. Just sayin'... it's no guarantee. LOL!

Marnee said...

Chance - And I wonder how many contests are won or finaled in and the entrant never goes further. Like she got her fix of kudos and once the praise is out there the impetitus to push forward and take the bigger chances faded…

This makes sense to me. I've also seen it that people focus so much on contests, on polishing an entry for a contest, that they forget about the big picture. That's what I said about the cleaning. Too much obsession isn't healthy here either.


Bo'sun - no negativity here!! We're staying positive. Positive thoughts into the universe today. :)

That is wacky about Charlie Sheen. The network is probably salivating over all this publicity, in all honesty.

2nd Chance said...

Well, I think CBS is insane. So totally not winning!

And yeah, I swear, I hear more about GH authors who don't go onto be published. I think there is a danger with contest entries and writings resting on their laurels... It would be hard to go from wonderful scores to rejections, so they don't move forward past the contests.

It's a danger!

I don't know about a curse, but there is a danger!

Well, Hellie would agree with me, it's a dark comment! ;-)

Bosun said...

I've seen more authors totally rocked by negative contest feedback and stop completely. For the beginners, contests can be writing suicide. I entered one when I first started with the purpose of finding out from totally anonymous, unbiased source if I was wasting my time. The judges pointed out the weaknesses, but both said shows potential. That's all I wanted to hear. :)

But if it had turned out differently, I'm not sure what would have happened. I knew one person who got back a score sheet with something like "English is obviously not your first language." was her only language. Luckily, she was a very strong person, and knew to ignore, but not everyone does.

Donna said...

Chance, I think you're right about it being a danger if the writer doesn't try to move forward. That can happen at any level though, not just with contests. Or if a person gets just a few rejections and decides not to send any more of them, etc.

As with everything in life, it's about perseverance, even when it seems like the goal gets further away. :)

Scapegoat said...

There was an amazing post a few weeks ago at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood (2009 Golden Heart Finalists) that shows exactly what has happened with their writing since that year. If they won or not and if they sold that particular manuscript or not.

VERY informative and eye-opening as a still-unpublished writer to see all the different paths you can really take and that a HUGE contest win (because hello the GH is like the oscar for un-pubs) doesn't = a contract.

Here's the link I found to that article. A couple broke my heart.

It's really an amazing read even if you don't like contests.

Scapegoat said...

BTW Donna - holy cow congrats on finaling in the GH. Somehow I think I'd heard this before but totally forgot about it! Good job.

Bo'Sun - we're all rooting for you and no matter what we won't make you walk the plank! :) JK.

Seriously though - I'm amazed at anyone who can put their work out there in contests - especially the GH.

Bosun said...

Good point about the rejections, Donna. But you kind of have to take the risk of rejection, if you want to get pubbed. You don't necessarily HAVE to take the contest risk. LOL!

Bottom line, you have to be ready to push through no matter what if you want your book on the shelves (or eReaders.) Keep yourself realistic and informed and then venture down whatever road you feel like you should take.

Thanks for the link, Scape. I'd like to read that.

Donna said...

Thanks, Scape. I finaled in the Regency category, when it was just straight Regencies, and then the bottom fell out of that market. So I had to regroup and wrote other things. Even though nothing came of it at the time, I'm glad it's on my writing resume. :)

Terri, you're right about not having to enter contests. It's good practice for getting rejections or bad reviews. LOL AND, it's also good practice for getting acceptances and good reviews. I can't tell you how many times I had judges wish they had the rest of the book to read, and how they were looking forward to seeing it on the bookshelves.

So it's not always evil.

Okay, now I'm off to finish my blog post that will likely getting me thrown overboard next week. :)

2nd Chance said...

Donna - Yeah, it does happen in more than just writing. I think with writing, the personal glow from good contests scores can increase the fear of rejection, or even make rejection so unthinkable, it would only take one to knock a person off track. Because writing is so personal.

As the Bo'sun says, a contest is by choice...rejection is just a fact of life. It's a good distinction and can play into exactly how any author manages the two worlds of contest entry and rejection.

Great link, Sabrina! And encouraging for those who do well in contests. I'd be curious to see figures on those who landed in the bottom of the barrel and what has happened for them! ;-) Because I'm contrary!

2nd Chance said...

Yeah, Marn - It seems like there can be an unhealthy focus on contests and stacking up the "I finaled!" kudos... And writing for the contest instead of the agent/editor stuff.

I'd be curious with other contests how many of the final winners are picked up by the editor/agent judges...

Marnee said...

Bo'sun - I can't believe a judge would say, "English obviously isn't your first language." Now that is the kind of comment that is unnecessary, to anyone. Ever. Sheesh.

Besides, what sort of help is that?


Scape - I'd read that article too. It was a good one. I think it is important that not everyone goes forward in the same way. There's no right way to achieve success. And one persons "success" doesn't equal another persons. It's a good lesson to remember. :)

I think it's hard, in general, to push past obstacles. It's not just successes or drawbacks directly pertaining to your writing, but successes and drawbacks in the Real World. Real Life things can make a writer stagnate, same as professional things. It's important, I think, if I plan on succeeding, to keep my eyes on the prize. Hang on to that goal and keep clawing my way there. And grow a really thick skin.

By the way, I'm not sure if there is a way to get used to rejections. If there is, someone should share. I could use that help. :)

Scapegoat said...

I think the best way to get used to rejections is to reward yourself for every single one. You put your work out there and that alone deserves a reward.

For me, every R is going to equal a glass of wine and some "me" time to do something nice. It's important to reward yourself for taking the steps. :)

(all based on never having submitted though!)

Scapegoat said...

damn - how many times can I say reward - DRINK!

Bosun said...

Celebrate the "R"s. Sounds like a plan to me. Though can I substitute Haagen Dasz chocolate ice cream for the wine?

2nd Chance said...

I also liked to grade my rejections. You know, one star, two star... I started a scrapbook of them. I mean, they judge judge them back!

I always dreamt of the day I hit it huge and I could flirt with releasing it to torment those who doubted me... BWAH HA HA!

I'd never do that...

But I think you have a very good idea, Scape. Now, submit something so I can buy you a glass of wine. An expensive one if you get THE CALL and a pleasant one if you get rejected...

BTW, glad to see you come out from under the Twitter-brella...thought we'd lost you completely there for awhile! ;-)

Hellion said...

Celebrate the R's.


Anything else?

Bosun said...

Richard Armitage!

Hellion said...

You're right, we should always celebrate Richard. *LOL*

Bosun said...

He qualifies. LOL! He is an R.

Oh, and RUM. How could we forget rum?

2nd Chance said...

The Rolling R Contest...

Rite about Richard Armitage drinking Rum after facing Rejection(it's imaginative, ok!?) from Rita who Requests a Reference (I threw a new on in there)so he revises his reproach to whether he wants her at all (this is where the author inserts herself as an option.)


Bosun said...

Now I just need a nap.


2nd Chance said...

I shoulda said approach...not reproach...

2nd Chance said...

Let's throw Rango into it! I saw the movie yesterday and enjoyed it a great deal. Just wish it had been a little shorter...

Marnee said...

I love the idea of celebrating Rs. :) Most of the time I'd have wine, but it was to lick my wounds, not to celebrate. LOL!

Scapegoat said...

Marnee - pirates don't lick wounds! We show them off proudly as battle scars and tell the story behind them!

Bosun said...

Wow, Scapey has been drinking the rum laced Kook-aid.


2nd Chance said...


I mix it up special!

Bosun said...

That was supposed to be Kool-aid. LOL! Though Kook-aid totally fits this ship.