Hello, and welcome to the final section in our three-part “Now What?” series looking at options for publication. So far we’ve covered both indie and traditional publishing, and today we’re going to look at something that’s a little different: writing contests. There are many contests out there year-round that offer publication, publicity and money as rewards, and often ushering unheard-of writers to the center of literary attention. Though the chances of winning contests are slim and entries often cost a substantial amount, those who do win live every writer’s dream come true.
So–are contests worth the effort? I change my mind frequently on this one, to be honest. There have been times when I spent long hours on and offline looking to participate in any writing contest I could. I never won anything, though, and there are several reasons why I didn’t back then and why I don’t think I ever will.
First, there’s a lot of competition. Actually, you’d have a much higher chance of success by just sending your works off to a bunch of old-fashioned publishing companies than entering a contest. Considering the cost to even enter many contests, you should think twice before submitting.
The second, and more serious issue I have with writing contests is something that too many people don’t even take into account when entering: the judges are looking for something. That can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. If you know what they want and know you can deliver it, you might have a shot. But you can’t play by your own rules. If you do enter a contest, you will need to be prepared to do everything perfectly according to the rules of conventionality. You can’t afford to twist anything, because for every instance in which you bend a rule, fifty other writers are sticking with it and earning that much more respect before the judges.
Yes, the best fiction is that which breaks the rules, but if you don’t break them in the right places and according to someone else’s tastes, you can’t expect to make it very far in contests.
My current take on writing contests? Unless they’re free to enter (in which case I say “Go for it!”), it’s probably better to hold back and focus on more conventional publication. Your chances of getting out there are higher, and you will have much more control over your writing than you otherwise would.
I hope this mini-series has been helpful for any of you looking at what to do with your current finished book, and I wish you luck in all your writing endeavors. If you want, feel free to read part one on self-publishing and part two on the publishing house, and stay tuned for more goodies on the way!