Friday, July 30, 2021

Thoughts on Writing Contests

One of the things I do with Greyhaus is to offer my services to writing chapters when they run their contests. The final rounds roll around and I get those manuscripts to judges and hopefully find some great writing along the way. For writers, editors and publishers this can be a great opportunity to get manuscripts, get exposure and get feedback. It can also be a complete let down. 

Let me first say, the biggest reason to enter contests is giving back to your community. Contests are a way for writing chapters to make a little money along the way, other than in dues. That money goes to workshops, flying in editors and agents and running conferences. This alone is why you need to enter contests.

Now, think about what you might get along the way. If the prelim and final judges provide feedback, you get some potential beta readers. In most cases, you won't get this until you reach the finals, but there is still a chance you get some comments back that can guide you along the way. I really do recommend you find those contests out there that give you a little of that feedback.

If you do make it to finals, there is also a great chance an editor or agent is reading your work. If it is great, you now have a foot in the door with your writing. You potentially did something great with that partial and now an editor or agent will come back and request to see more of your writing. I know I have found writers in contests and I know of some other editors and agents who have done the same thing. Who knows, this might be "the call" you have been waiting for!

But let's talk about the reality of contests. These things are real crap shoots. Let me say, this is not a reason to simply skip out on contests, but these are gambles.

First of all, like everything else in publishing, this is all subjective. If the contest does not have a clear and objective judging rubric, or if the judges are people who still have not figured out the writing process yet, who knows what will happen. I will say, even the bigger contests, such as the RWA Vivian is still subjective. (SIDE NOTE: I have been arguing for a clear rubric for years and have offered by services to the RWA to help with this process... but have still not heard. BTW... the offer still stands!) Contests without rubrics simply leave it up to someone to just say they liked it or didn't like it. 

Let's also talk about the scoring. If you have worked with statistics or done any thing in education with grading, you will probably understand this a bit more. 

If you have me judge your writing on a 5 point scale for different categories, if I read something and think it is not quite there, but close, I will give it a 4 out of 5. Sure that sounds good, but remember, this is an 80%. You get a judge who gives you a 3 and that alone is enough to ruin any chance of getting to the finals. Even increasing scores to a range up to 10 can run into this problem, but the damage is not so bad. Still, if you think the writing is OK, the odds are you start giving 7's and 8's and, once again, your chance is ruined. The solution here is simple. Use decimals such as a 9.8 or 8.9 and you get a better reflection of what the reader was thinking. 

I keep talking about those rubrics too. These are SO important and can be used with any type of writing. Look at character development, grammar, narration, dialogue and so forth. By creating a well rounded rubric, the authors get a better chance, and the judges, even those who are still learning will have something to go on. Unfortunately, this is one of those drawbacks. Too often, the only people willing to judge those prelims are the newer authors who are so enthusiastic to help out. The authors who have made it and know their genres are now "too busy" to help out. We're back to crap shoots again.

I know, as an agent, I love judging contests, but there have been far too many times, when I read a final round and ask myself, "are you telling me these really are the best of the best?" Ugh! It is even more frustrating because I feel the pressure to ask for partials of these stories, even if there is no way I would ever want to read the full project.

So, what are my big take-aways?
  • Enter those contests to support your local writing chapters. Know that if anything, you are being generous
  • Enter contest that have clear rubrics.
  • Judge contests for your local chapter to give back
  • Contest coordinator, PLEASE!!!!!! Create clear rubrics
  • Judges need to score manuscripts based on the quality of the writing and not just if they like the project or they know the authors. Along the same lines, if the story is just different, independently/self-published or has the current social cause in it does not make it better. See the prior comment about clear rubrics.
  • Writing chapters and national organizations (PNWA, RWA, RNA, etc.), if you are unclear how to create an objective rubric, reach out to me. Let's create something that is fair for all authors. 

No comments:

Post a Comment