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Friday, May 13, 2011

Why and How to Contest

Why and How to Contest©



Why:
If you read your RWR every month, you know there are a lot of contest out there. But before you enter a contest, you might want to think about what you’ll get out of the experience.

If you have a manuscript or synopsis that you’ve gone over and over (along with your critique group), it’s a good idea to get ‘fresh eyes’ to look at it. Here’s where a contest can help. Make sure you choose a contest that will give you written feed back from multiple judges. Today most contests will have a copy of the judging sheet in advance so you can see what type of comments to expect. Read the score sheet. Carefully.


Some contests only allow unpublished authors. Some contests allow published authors if they haven’t published in a number of years, usually three to five. Some contests allow published authors enter only ms. in sub-genera in which they weren’t previously published. Some contests allow on ms. that haven’t been entered previously.


So be sure to check and double check all the rules and regulations of the contest.

Choose a contest that has a category for your type ms. Check the entry form and rules for every contest that seems likely, then choose the best contest for your needs.

The contest’s ‘fresh eyes’ can find holes in your story that you (or your critique group) might overlook because you are so familiar with the work. If money is no object, you might try out two different opening/hooks to see if one was better received.


I really like synopsis contests, as they generally cost lest money and are shorter. I found this to be a great help with synopsis, as it can help you decide what information to cut (if too long) or punch up the motivation that you know, but the reader didn’t see in the synopsis. I always wanted to make sure my story would hang together before I spent my time and effort to write the complete ms.

If you think your manuscript is pretty good and you have a good chance to win, enter it in a contest where the top judges are editors of the line you are targeting. Just finaling in such a contest gets your ms. to the editor. Then when you write your thank you notes, you can ask if they’d like to see the ms. And even if they don’t buy it, when you thank them for looking, ask if they want to see something else. If they aren't buying now, they will in the future, and they've seen your name and your work. You can always query later.

If you win or place in a national contest, then be sure to mention it in your cover letter to editors and agents.

If you’re already published, there are now plenty of contest for published works.
If your previously published work placed/won in a contest, this might look good if you want to ask for a larger advance, are trying to change lines or houses. And again, if nothing else, placing or winning shows the quality of your work.

How:
Choose a contest that suits your needs. Send for the entry form and rules. Read the rules carefully. Read them again. Make sure you enter your ms. in the correct category.

Check the scores sheet and make any adjustments in your ms. Let me repeat that, check the score sheet and make any adjustment in your ms. If there are scores for the hero, and in your 25 page submission, the hero appears on page 20 -- you're probably not going to get max points for the hero.


For example, in my ms. which has finaled in several contests, I cut out the paragraphs where the Hero finds a cat in the barn - this is important as it foreshadowing and the cat plays in important part later -- however, by cutting this section from the contest entry, it allowed me to fit more page time between the Hero and Heroine in the contest page count.

Make sure you send exactly the material requested, and with the proper postage/envelope for return. And many contest today are on-line, so there is no postage. If it’s an on-line contest, make sure you send your entry to the correct address/category coordinator.

When you get your entry back, be sure to write thank you notes to the judges and contest coordinator. It’s a lot of work, and they deserve your ‘thank you’. You can address you thank you to Judge #whatever and send it to the contest coordinator to be forwarded. Don’t forget the contest coordinator, they deserve a big thank you.


In your thank you note, be sure to mention the title of your entry, so the judge/coordinator can know who said thanks.

Read over all the judges’s comments. Read them again. Did they point out the same problem/areas of concern?

If they liked your ms. - then celebrate. It’s always nice to hear good things about your writing.

If you got negative comments - put them away and do the following steps:


1) Sulk for one day and eat two chocolate bars.


2) Write.


3) A week or so later, get out the comment and read them over again.

See if maybe there are some comments that will help you better your ms. After all, you paid money for their opinion.


I once got back a score of 168 and 68 from two judges, but their comments were almost identical. But that's the way it goes.


My ms. that became Kentucky Green won a contest for unpublished ms. And later in a contest for published books, finaled in Best Historical and Best First Book - winning Best First Book. So contests can be a big help in your writing.

Remember, contest judges are subjective – but then so are agents and editors. This is worth repeating - Remember, contest judges are subjective - but then so are the agents and editors.

Take any comments you think will help your writing and ignore the rest.

Good luck and keep writing.

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