Friday, January 27, 2012

Aussie Writer on the Journey: What I’ve learned from entering Writing Contests


by Narelle Atkins

In January I sit down and plan my writing goals for the coming year and this process includes thinking about writing contests. I enter writing contests for a number of reasons. I want to receive honest and helpful feedback from experienced judges to assist me in revising and improving my story. I also enter contests in the hope of being a finalist and skipping the slush pile by getting my work in front of editors and agents. I have received valuable feedback on partial manuscripts from final round editor judges and also a full manuscript request from an editor at my target publisher.

The first manuscript I wrote was a finalist in the Faith, Hope & Love Inspirational Chapter of Romance Writers of America’s 2007 Touched By Love contest. This was only the second contest I had ever entered and I was beyond excited by the news. Being a contest finalist gives you validation that you can actually write and also the encouraging knowledge that others can see potential in your manuscript. As well as receiving helpful feedback from the first round judges, I received five excellent critiques from the published author final round judges. I learned an enormous amount about writing craft from the judge’s comments which helped me to revise and strengthen my story.

I’m selective and usually enter contests sponsored by writing organisations and their chapters eg. Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers of Australia, American Christian Fiction Writers. I enter contests to gauge how the quality of my story compares to stories by other aspiring authors. I want to discover what is working and what isn’t working in my story, and ascertain whether or not my manuscript is ready for submission. I look for contests with scoresheets that provide feedback on the various aspects of writing craft as well as numerical scores.

Entering writing contests has helped me to grow a thicker skin and learn how to accept constructive criticism of my work. It’s good preparation for the inevitable rejections from editors and agents. Writing is subjective and I have come across judges who don’t like my story or my writing style. If two or three judges comment on the same problem in my story then it’s probably an issue I need to address. I ignore feedback that doesn’t resonate with me, or put it aside to review later when I’m not feeling so emotionally attached to my story.

I tend to focus more on the comments than numerical scores. A numerical score provides an indication of the quality of my story. But it’s the comments that are gold because they can help me understand why a judge didn’t think a particular aspect of my story worked and provide ideas on how to fix the problem. I try not to let low scores or critical comments discourage me and instead view them as an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer.

Have you entered many writing contests? I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences.




Narelle Atkins writes contemporary inspirational romance. She resides in Canberra, Australia with her husband and children. She can also be found at the International Christian Fiction Writers blog. To learn more about Narelle, please visit her website.

17 comments:

  1. I've entered quite a few competitions, but I've never met one that offered to provide any feedback. The fine print in all of the comps I've seen says that they won't do that (unless that's what the prize is). Perhaps this is more prevalent in some genres than others.

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    1. Hi Peter, the romance genre has an extensive range of unpublished contests and I'm not sure what is offered in other genres. ACFW Genesis contest covers all genres of Christian fiction.

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  2. I've entered a few contests, but like Peter, never any with the kind of feedback that is very useful. All the best with your contests this year, Narelle. :)

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    1. Thanks Amanda :) It sounds like there's a need for contests that provide quality feedback.

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  3. I entered a competition once, but like Peter didn't get any feedback. Perhaps feedback is more a US competition feature? I find limited time a constraint for me, but maybe that's just an excuse. I have applied for various grants and mentorships though. I find that these days I'm more careful about what I apply for because (and maybe this is just me) I tend to take ages writing up the applications, and that time could be used doing more actual writing.

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    1. Hi Penny, the US contests are great for feedback :) Romance Writers of Australia contests provide scoresheets with feedback, and I believe The CALEB unpublished contest entrants also receive feedback from the judges.

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  4. Great post, Narelle. I've entered many contests and found the feedback invaluable, especially in the romance genre and in particular the American contests. If you want to write for the American market I believe entering these contests are a necessary part of the journey. I hope this year will be a year that puts you in front of your chosen publisher. Blessings.

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    1. Thanks Laura :) I agree it's really important to enter US contests if you're looking to publish in the US market.

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  5. This is my first year entering competitions. At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to. But I can see that it is a great way to get your work 'out there'. Thank you for your post, Narelle.

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  6. Hi Rose, good luck with your contest entries :) Published author contests are a great way for authors to get their books into the hands of new readers, especially the contests that are judged by readers. And they're good promo for authors who final in these contests :)

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  7. Hi Narelle,
    Many thanks for your interesting post. I have entered a few competitions in the past few years but have not got any feedback to date. I was impressed as to how much you have learnt from these competitions. All the best in your entries this year. It sounds like you are doing well with your writing. Blessings and well done!
    Anusha

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    1. Thanks Anusha :) I hope the contests you enter will provide great feedback.

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  8. Good advice Narelle. If you got a request from the publisher to see a full manuscript, that was exceptional. It must have encouraged you. I like what you said about developing thicker skin, because at times you begin scratching your head over what they're actually looking for! You know how it goes...they want the same as other authors in their genre...but different. Huh?
    I entered quite a few several years ago, and the ACFW contest was very helpful their comments. I rewrote my first book because of that. So yes, it's very worthwhile.

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    1. Hi Rita, yes, I know what you mean about the seemingly elusive x-factor that editors are looking for in our mss :) And foreign settings are a much harder sell in the US market.

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  9. I've entered some. The Genesis competition through ACFW provided excellent feedback. Very worth the $35 I paid to enter. Three judges scored and commented on my chapters, and their feedback was instrumental in helping me stick with and move on with that story.

    The FaithWriters weekly competitions are fun. While there is not as much feedback on the nuts and bolts of the piece, the discipline to craft something to a word limit, topic and deadline is great motivation. Actually, FaithWriters weekly comps were highly addictive when I entered!

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  10. Hi Dotti, I've also learned a lot from the Genesis contest feedback :) I highly recommend the Genesis contest, especially if you're writing Christian fiction and targeting the US market.

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  11. Competitions are good. I entered the Caleb Prize for Unpublished Fiction last year, and got some great feedback on how to improve my manuscript to get it ready for publication.

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