I’m always in two minds about entering competitions. The entry fee, the fact that your manuscript is tied up in a judging process when it could be being sent out to publishers, and the uncertainty of whether it can really help your writing career, are all factors which make me think, “Is it worth it?”
Of course if a competition is free and you enter near to the closing date, it is always worth the trouble if you have something suitable. My main concern with paying competitions is that quite often they are simply money raising exercises for groups, or, increasingly, a way for small publishers to charge for submissions, by announcing that they are closed to submissions but, “You can still enter our competition to be published!”
The allure, however, is strong, and I did succumb to temptation a few times this year. The excitement of waiting for results, the satisfaction of a good placing, a worthwhile prize and a good addition to your writing CV are all positive aspects. Perhaps the most useful is feedback, which is not a feature of every competition but, if an entry fee is charged, should be. Last year I entered Get Your Stiletto in the Door, an annual writing competition organised by Chick Lit Writers of the World, an online chapter of the Romance Writers of America. They had many categories including paranormal, inspirational and young adult, and every entry would receive four detailed feedback forms, with the top three from each category also receiving feedback from an industry-appropriate agent and editor.
I was fortunate enough to have the experience of being a judge at the early stages, which meant I peer-reviewed five manuscripts in categories which were not my own. This was a very interesting experience and I got a real insight into the difficulties and even agonies of trying to judge fairly five very difficult pieces of writing. My main impression was that the quality of writing was very high. There was only one manuscript that I felt was not yet at a standard where it could be submitted to publishers or agents. I had to rate various aspects of the writing such as the setting, major and minor characters, dialogue, pace and typos. The emphasis for judging was on positive criticism, so there was an opportunity to write about the things you liked best about the writing and also the things you felt could be improved. I tried to be as positive as I could, which wasn’t hard as I really enjoyed reading the entries!
My final result was second in the young adult category for my book ‘The Ghost in My House’. I was delighted to get this far and have feedback from a top editor and agent, as well as my peer feedback. Despite some delays in announcing the results, the competition was a great experience which I would recommend to anyone writing women’s fiction, even if you wouldn’t necessarily categorise it as chick lit.
When entering competitions, always read the rules carefully. Look at the price and consider if the benefits of entering justify eating into your writing budget. Will the exposure help your career? Will you get valuable feedback? Is the prize something you want? Is the competition respected within the industry? Who are the judges – are they people you would like to get your work in front of? When you are happy that the competition is suitable for you and worth entering, make sure you meet the criteria, submit in time, and – most of all – enjoy the experience! Good luck!