Writing Contests – What Are Your Thoughts?

I love contests. For years I entered the Writer’s Digest monthly writing challenges — things like, Write a new end to a favorite fairy tale in 75 words or less. These were good for one thing — to exercise your writing muscles. The winners did get their names in an upcoming issue of the magazine, but that was the extent of it. Still, I entered dutifully because it was fun.

When I started writing full time, I graduated to a contest I learned about from a friend in my critique group. Each year in her local newspaper there was a challenge to write a story using a certain prompt and a select number of words.

Later I moved on to the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis contest. Open to members who are unpublished, this contest judges the first ten pages of a novel.

I’ve also entered a good number of short story contests, from ones offered by Writer’s Digest to those held by the now defunct online e-zine Swords Review.

Then there are the quirky contests offering things like cash, Amazon gift cards, or editorial reviews as prizes. I’ve entered a three line pitch contest, a 24-hour story contest, a first page contest, a first 100-words contest. In fact I originally started this blog so I could enter a contest that paid money for ranting (mine was about bookstores 😉 ).

Some of my favorite contests have been ones I’ve come across on agents’ blogs. Once there was a picture and contestants had to write a story to match. Others require the incorporation of certain words. Some involve poetry.

I’ve even held a couple contests here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, which I called Fantasy Challenges. The prizes were books donated by particular fantasy authors.

All this to say, I’m thinking about holding another contest and have even lined up another judge to help. But recently there’s been some conversation about frustration with contests.

I’ve had my share of those too. Sometimes the judging seems arbitrary. On a few occasions the entry fee seemed exorbitant especially in light of the (almost non-existent) prize. Once I waited months for results only to find out my entry was never actually a part of the contest due to a technological failing.

Other times, however, when bloggers could comment or judges gave feedback, I’ve found the contest extremely helpful.

So what do you think about contests? What kind do you like to enter (or do you)? When it comes to the prize (sorry, cash is out of the question 😆 ), if you had the choice between a new novel donated by an author or a free 10-page critique by yours truly (or perhaps another freelance editor if I can get someone else on board), which would you opt for?

Published in: on June 8, 2011 at 6:42 pm  Comments (10)  
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10 Comments

  1. Our local council runs a yearly writing contest. I entered it a couple of times. I never won. After watching who won for about five years in a row I figured I would not bother entering. The contest is always won by some elderly pensioner with reminiscences of our city in the 1920s or 1930s. They usually offer up some old photos to go with it.

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  2. Hey I remember that rant contest that started this blog. You won big time and then sent a bunch of money to me.

    I love contests. I don’t enter every one. I’m pretty picky. But I do try to enter a couple of contests a year.

    I’d like to win the ten-page critique if I had a choice in prizes.

    Will your contest offer feedback to all entrants? Or just to the winner?

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  3. I’ve gone the contest route and won several times – including big name ones – but don’t look for them to help land a contract or movie deal. Most charge fees to use as prize money or cover cost.

    I think people use them as an ego-boost or some kind of validation since very few are worth entering to earn any recognition, never mind the ultimate end – to get signed.

    For all the effort, I haven’t see any returns. In fact, I get more reaction from my screenwriting credit on an old cartoon show then my writing awards.

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  4. I’ve entered a few contests before but they were very politically-run, meaning that the winners were standby entrants that everyone knew or wrote stories about trendy topics with instant appeal. The quality of the stories or writing was secondary at best.

    Some contests had weird rules in order to be funny. One said that you had to use exactly 500 letter e’s or else instant disqualification. Please.

    I avoid.

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  5. Hmm… I’ve entered only two contests so far. I did not place in either one, but one was helpful and one was downright discouraging. The first one the judges gave me some helpful tips on how to improve my writing. The second one I felt like I was judged by my genre and story, not my writing. I can improve my writing, but I will not be changing my genre.

    I think in the end I discovered one of my greatest weaknesses in writing is the beginning. And since most unpublished contests involve the beginning of a book, I think I’ll pass on them for now.

    Of course, now I remember I just entered another contest recently. This one you could enter any scene from your unpublished book, 500 words. They were looking for the best setting description. That was fun!

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  6. How about this? The winner gets the novel and the last place loser gets the critique – cause he needs it more. Then I’d enter.

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  7. The best online contests I’ve seen (and one of the worst) allowed feedback from blog visitors. That was especially helpful, I thought, since normally only the winners would hear from the judges.

    I also liked it because I heard from people who didn’t know me and who were responding strictly to my writing. It was sooooo incredibly helpful.

    I’d say nothing — NOTHING — has helped my writing more than feedback, so that’s why I think I’d like to have visitors respond to each other’s entries.

    Morgan, I was thinking about making the post a first page contest. That seems practical to me because so many readers decide whether they will or will not buy a book based on the first page. It’s nice to know if we’re on the right track or not. I’ve thought I was on the right track at least a half dozen times, only to find out from feedback that , no, the scene still wasn’t working. But where do you get fresh eyes and people willing to look at your opening one more time? Contests! 😀

    But I’m still open to other suggestions.

    Depending on how many entries we get, we could even have the judges narrow the field, then have readers vote for the winner.

    As to the prize, maybe we could have options and the winner could pick either the book or the critique and then the second place would get the other prize (if they wanted it).

    Becky

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  8. First page sounds interesting 🙂 I’ve changed my opening a couple times. Perhaps one of the reasons I had such disparaging comments on my first 15 pages was because the judge wasn’t interested in fantasy. Since then, I have had 2 people (one a friend, the other a published writer) both say they loved my book. Hmm, that is book though, not first few pages. Oh well 🙂

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  9. I think contests are fun, if I can afford them, and they are well written, to help me accomplish something. I don’t expect to win, at this stage of the game, but I do expect to learn, and for me, that is winning!

    Yes, I would take the critique, over the book–but they’re both good options. Now, I just need to learn to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14 (NASB)

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  10. I have mixed feelings about contests. I suppose I think of them like I did tests and choir concerts back in school: I loved taking tests, and preparing for concerts, but dreaded getting tests back and actually performing. A contest can provide the extra push that helps me to actually buckle down and write, but with my tendency toward stage-fright in situations like this (anything where I’m putting myself or my ideas forward in public or to a stranger) I’m likely to worry myself to pieces.

    If I were to enter a contest, a critique by someone whose opinions I value would be a far more valuable prize than a novel (“so many books, so little time …”, to say nothing of finding the space to put another book).

    I’ve had some quasi-recent experience with one set of contests that might be helpful to your plans. I joined WEbook (an online social network/community for authors, readers, and editors that’s also a publisher) a few years ago, and they periodically had contests with the prize being consideration for a publishing contract for the top percentage. I didn’t have anything ready to submit for any of those, but I could see that it was a valuable source of feedback but was also plagued by the problem of non-anonymous voting: “you vote me up and I’ll vote you up.” Last year, they switched to something called PageToFame, which added a submission fee, anonymity, and an initial limitation to the “first page” of a work (which is why I thought of all this when you mentioned “first page” above), but constantly accepts submissions. I’ve entered a lot of my work into the PageToFame contest, but especially at first I found that “first page” limitation very restricting—mainly because they just say “first page” everywhere, and only at the point of entry tell you that this means only 250 words, but I also find that I don’t do the 250-word length at all well. If you decide on a “first page” contest, please choose a much longer word limit.

    Your earlier contests were well before I happened upon your blog, so I’d have to see specifics before deciding whether to enter. But I expect I’d be quite interested.

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