If you look around the internet these days it seems more frequently than ever new writing contests are popping up. They used to be sporadic throughout the year and now it feels like there’s a contest at least once every month.
If you’re a writer, these contests offer a unique opportunity to hone your query, pitch, and even sometimes your first 250 words or an entire page. In addition, it can get your work in front of some amazing agents who you would otherwise have to query normally via their agency websites (aka “the slush”).
Personally, I have benefited from some of these contests. When I was still querying it gave me the unique opportunity to polish my work and make great contacts/friends in the writing community. In fact, I’ve been so blessed by these contests that I even host one now with Michelle Hauck every January/February. And this brings me to my point…
When Michelle and I did our contest this year we had everything buttoned-up. Almost every agent we asked to participate said “yes.” We were both blown away and grateful. Then when it came time, we opened our submission window and “BOOM” within six minutes all 200 spaces were filled. To say we were both shocked is putting it mildly.
Once all the entries were in, our contest got underway. Our mentors did their jobs (beautifully!) and the posts went up. And then a very sad thing happened. We discovered another person on the internet had started a contest at the same time (a contest that we had never seen advertised – although Michelle and I blew out the doors publicizing ours just to make sure there wasn’t ANY crossover).
Several of our selections also appeared in the other contest. Agents were not happy about the double entries. We smoothed things over and everything worked out.
So Amy, where are you going with all this you may be asking? Here’s the deal: there are a lot of contests out there. Each offering a unique opportunity to share your work. What I caution is you choose wisely. Agents are beginning to see many of the same entries over and over and are tiring of it. This causes them to stop participating in contests.
I get it. Contests cause a frenzy. When you’re proud of your work it makes sense you would want to get it out there. But what I recommend is you take your time and look at what contests can do for you in the broadest scope possible:
1) Help you improve your submission materials
2) Connect you with agents/editors
3) Introduce you to possible critique partners
All these are critical to your process, but they are not the end all be all. If you don’t get selected, don’t let it stop you. Move forward. Improve your craft. Polish up your work as best you can and then send your unsolicited queries. Many times “the slush” gets a bad rap. But I can tell you from personal experience the slush can pay off.
Yes contests are important, but you can’t get caught up in them. Focus on your goals and your writing. Once you’re ready, polish up that query. Get those submission materials required by the agency ready (because you’ve done your research and YOU ARE following the guidelines) and then send them.
At that point, the future is out of your hands. Work on something new. Be confident in your writing and know that if this manuscript isn’t the one, the next one might be. Remember to keep improving. Your “yes” could be right around the corner. It could come from a contest or from the slush. The most important thing to remember is that if you want it bad enough you can NEVER GIVE UP.
Have you entered a writing contest? Did you find it helpful? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.