Contesting the Contests

Thanks to @katiebabs for the picture today – after writing about the daily adventures of an underwear-rolling unicorn, it just felt really, really appropriate.

Anyway, the main point today was the fact that I got into a bit of a mailing list tiff over which writing contests were “worthy” of being entered. And I had argued that it depended a bit on what your goals are for entering the contest. Some people want the feedback. Some want the chance of getting the manuscript in front of an agent or an editor. Sometimes it’s all about winning the award – and there are several that do come with more prestige, or actual prize money or the cover of a convention fee.

One line of argument was the fact that, in the case of RWA contests in particular, they cost quite a bit – sometimes upwards of $20….so does that mean that by entering, I’m essentially paying an agent to look at my work? Does this mean I’ve got  lower standards by entering something like that, as opposed to a more pure literary contest? At least one person decided this was a very predatory thing to do to aspiring authors.

I have to admit that made me pause for a few minutes, because I hadn’t thought about it that way. I don’t know. Maybe it is. The offshoot is that the agents aren’t actually getting paid to look at it. I’m paying the contest holders for the chance that the ms might final and then *maybe* the agent will look at it. By that rational, I think you could argue that it’s exactly the same if you pay to go to a convention where there are pitch sessions. And in theory, the money should be going to the group to help pay for things – web hosting, workshops, membership, etc.

And like I said before, I guess it really depends on why you’re entering.  Obviously different genres have different styles of contests. Personally, my goal was to get pubbed. Will I lose sleep over the fact that I dropped $100 two summers ago on contests? No. For me it was the cost of doing business and a tax write-off. I saw it as a chance to vault over the slush pile and you know what? It obviously worked (albeit in a slightly roundabout way)..

Will it work for everyone? No. It depends on the contest. (It also depends on your writing and the judges. It’s a crapshoot as to who you’ll get as a judge and not everyone is going to “get” what you write. Much like an actual agent.) I did terribly on the shorter ones – the 5 pages, the 10 pages, and particularly contests that were rule heavy. Anything around the 30 page mark I did much better on. Your choice there is to either write to the contest or to find the contest you’re good at.  I’m not sure writing to win a specific contest is always that great either, particularly if you have to change your voice or your story over much to do it. Besides, there are plenty of contest winners out there who are not pubbed and may never be.

I guess for me, it’s the end that matters. With so many people trying to get pubbed and fewer agents and editors acquiring, I couldn’t see the harm in trying.  At the very least I’d get a critique of my work. At most? A chance at glory.

And who doesn’t want that?

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