Contests–are they worth your time?

Most writers have had their experiences with contests and they are not always positive. After reading and commenting on countless discussions on FaceBook and LinkedIn, I decided to post this on our blog. I wrote it in response to skepticism about contests in general.

As some of you may know, Critique My Novel runs an annual contest for novels.

I agree with what was said about most contests. I used to do the rounds myself and wondered about the results. I never got any notice of my place or even who the winner was. Now that I’m on the other side of the fence, I have tried to take all that I used to hate and do things differently.

I have always liked feedback in every aspect of my life. As writers, we need feedback more than ever to help fix what needs fixing and to know where and when we are doing something right. Can you imagine taking a major exam in school, but never knowing your score? This would be torture for me.

For our contests, every single person who entered gets an e-mail telling them their novel’s score in judges’ points, and its placement in the contest. If they want to see the breakdown of the score and the comments each judge gave, I will mail them the sheets. (I pay the postage. It’s just a stamp.)

In addition to offering some great feedback, we also have the honor of two wonderful guest judges: two literary agents who have agreed to help. I spent months researching and emailing agents who accept a wide range of genres and who accept new writers. Most never responded; a few said they didn’t have time for this. But two accepted! Each has also agreed to offer feedback and consider representation to any of the top three novels. Other contests offer to publish in their own anthologies, (Yes, I have a poem in one of those and paid $50 to buy a copy) but we are not affiliated with either of these agents, nor do we make any promises that they will represent any novel.

Some people commented about contestants of some contests getting notices of other services pushed with along with the contest. I suppose it is understandable if the company has other things to offer that they want to let you know, but I don’t agree with being pushy. All of our services are listed on the website if you want to look, but no one will try to sell you anything. I do give a voucher towards our service for the top three winners, but it’s basically just a gift certificate that you can use or give away. Certainly no pushy sell tactics.

The question of fees is always a touchy subject. I have to charge a fee because I have to hire judges. And I can’t pay the prizes out of my own pocket. Large companies have the resources to do this, but we are small and unable to.

So the moral of this story: Even of you don’t win, you get some great feedback from four different judges. That should make the entry fee worth it. If your novel places high enough, it has a guarantee to be read by two agents.

What are your experiences with contests?

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Contests–are they worth your time?

  1. I entered my memoir, “Incomplete Passes” in several contests and had modest success. My book was a finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I didn’t place in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Awards, but they sent a written critique which actually stated that the judge didn’t find any flaws in my book. I entered two other contests without placing. The results have made me feel good about myself and my first book, but I haven’t even come close to recouping the entry fees with increased sales. I haven’t even recouped the cost of the “Finalist” stickers I purchased to put on the covers of my books. Maybe some of this is my fault, although I mention the Next Generation honor frequently in my promotion. I’ll still probably enter a couple of contests with the next book, which is still in the very early stages, and will consider Critique My Novel’s.

    • A finalist? Always exciting. Did you have to pay extra for the critique with the WD contest? We tried that last year, but I got too behind on our regular services and have decided not to do that again. Sounds like your experiences haven’t been so bad. Thanks for your comment and we would love to see your novel for our contest.

  2. Gwen

    I entered a flash fiction contest back in November at Wow! Women on Writing. I chose this one because: I like the website, I had a flash piece to enter, I could pay a bit extra for a critique, and the number of entries for each contest are capped at 300.

    I received an email 2 weeks ago that my story was being considered for the finals – only one of 32 remaining stories out of more than 250 entries. I was excited, because it was the first contest I’d ever entered. Regardless of whether I place, my story will be read by a literary agent, and I like the satisfaction of knowing that I took a chance and got great results. I view it as an important step forward in my budding career as a writer.

  3. martininwhangarei

    I occasionally enter poetry contests and have been placed or won several over the last 20 years or so. It is immensely rewarding, but generally I find the feedback disappointing. Judges reports are often imprecise. Now, I tend to enter only if there is sufficient detail from previous competitions to give some indication of standards and expectations. Your approach is to be admired – it is exemplary, and no doubt encourages the writers who enter your competitions.

  4. I haven’t entered a contest in a long time, and when I did it was a short story. Really never heard anything during the process. I made my way into an anthology with a poem I wrote, and had no updates until I knew I was selected for the book. It’s nice to know what’s going on along the way, but I can understand in a way why it isn’t.

  5. I did a few contests couple years back and found it lacking. You pay a fee and essentially get it “critiqued”, often by someone who writes another genre, or isn’t even published. Some advice is good, but I can get that from people I trust. Those agents you get, have to be a finalist for that. Oh, and if its an RWA subgroup sponsor with catagories for non-romance with romantic elements, several have come back with bad marks for not following the RWA plot process (romantic interest met in first chapter, satisfying ending, etc.). Contests don’t work for me, but many think otherwise.

  6. I write paranormal romance novels and only enter contests that are both specific to my genre and are contests for which I receive feedback. I’ve found it very helpful and, if I win or place, I have “bragging rights” to use in query letters. I think you need to do due diligence in researching a contest to see if the entry fee (if there is one) will net you something you need in return.

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