Friday, May 31, 2019

Enter (Writing Contests) at Your Own Risk!

How to Prepare Your Work for Writing Contests

One of the most effective ways to get your work noticed is to enter contests. Even though you may not win or place, there's nothing to lose! Most writing contests offer helpful feedback on your work by talented, published authors, literary agents, and editors who act as contest judges.

If you do place or win, you're immediately afforded the chance to put the contest details in any query letter you send to literary agents. This increases your chance of representation by an agent and landing your first publishing contract.

Woo hoo!

So, what steps should you take to enter? Keep reading...

Preparations Matter

But before you submit your work and hit "send", there's much to consider. Best-selling author, Gail Gaymer Martin, recently spoke to our Christian Writers of the West group about how to best prepare your manuscript before you hit "send." She ought to know! She's won many prestigious contests, including the Holt Medallion Award, the Golden Quill Award, and the National Readers Choice Award. I'd like to share with you some of the tips she shared with us:

First Steps

Begin by reading the submission requirements on the contest website. If they ask for the first 15 pages, then submit your first 15 pages. You may be tempted to send chapter four instead because you feel that's your strongest chapter, but don't! Instead, ask yourself why chapter four is your strongest chapter. Maybe you should make it chapter one!

Next, make sure your writing is polished to a shine. In other words, hire an editor! After it's edited, ask friends (preferably other writers) to read your work for critique. This means, someone other than grandma who loves everything you've ever written since you were five years old. You'll need someone who cares enough to tell you what works and what doesn't work in your story. Trust me, it's worth the pain of going back and revising.

Read the contest categories carefully. If your story is speculative fiction but the contest wants only romance, then don't enter it. Find the contest that best aligns with your writing style and genre. But don't be afraid to try a new genre. That's what I did recently and I placed third in the contest. It was a stretch for me to go from middle grade fiction to contemporary women's fiction, but I am all about change and improvement. I wrote a women's fiction story, found a contest with that category, and entered. So, give a new genre a try! 

Check your story. The contest judges want to see the main character, the inciting incident, and the possible resolutions in the first few pages of your story. If the contest wants only the first three chapters, but your inciting incident doesn't happen until chapter four, you have some revising to do. Most readers have the attention span of five seconds. If the action, the inciting incident, and the main character don't appear right away, readers will put down your book. Read and re-read your story to make sure these requirements are present right away. Judges will be on the look out for them!

If contest organizers require formatting (and they usually do), be sure to follow those formatting requirements to a tee! If they want your name in the upper left-hand corner, then don't include a fancy cover page. Obey their every command! Otherwise, your manuscript might be sent back for corrections or they may never even read your manuscript at all.

Enter Contests: You Have So Much to Win

Entering contests is about more than just winning. Even placing in the top three is desirable and beneficial. Literary agents and editors participate as judges in contests sometimes because they are on the lookout for the next BIG story and successful writer. That could be YOU. Thoughtful judges will provide you the feedback on your story that will make you a better writer. They will mention what you did right and what needs work. I was so blessed to have received excellent feedback on my work-in-progress when I placed third.

Most contests have reasonable entry fees and turn around times, so you really have nothing to lose by entering. You do, however, have so much to gain!

Our Christian Writers of the West Rattler's Contest opens in August. Please consider entering your work.

You won't regret it!


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing some of the points I made at the workshop. It was a pleasure to be with you all. I enjoy speaking to writing groups, and yes I have been very blessed over the many years I've been writing and winning many contests. This can be you. Just follow the rules and write an amazing book.