Somehow in the hub-bub of the release madness and upcoming revisions and blog-tour-o-rama…I signed up to be a judge for an upcoming writing contest.
It’s actually been a while for me, but the standard stuff still applies. Most RWA sorts of contests give you a sheet of points you’re supposed to look for. And these entries are the first 5 pages only, so for a time constraint that shouldn’t be too bad, though somehow I ended up with 8 of them…in the Contemporary Romance category. Not that I tend to read contemporary anything for fun, but for contests it’s fine – good writing is good writing, no matter what genre it’s in.
Each contest is different of course – usually judges are looking for the basic things like grammar and sentence structure, but then there’s often a series of specific items – Hooks, Voice, Plot. (Sometimes it’s *really* specific – i.e is the Goal/Motivation/Conflict of the Hero/Heroine/Dashing Sidekick evident and easy to spot/believable/etc.)
That’s a lot to ask for in five pages…but if you’re serious about getting published, it is something to consider. Often an agent or an editor only requests that much to start with – maybe a few chapters if you’re lucky – so you have a limited amount of time to make an impression. Contests aren’t a bad way to get your feet wet, plus they can give you some good feedback from people who have no direct bias toward or against you. (Although so much of contest judging is subjective – analyze your scores and take from it what you can, but don’t let it pull you into a depression if you don’t win.)
On the other hand, I’m not a fan of pigeonholing stories into neat little categories. And for me, it really sucks if I have to mark someone down on a point that I don’t care about, simply because of the way the contest is set up.
Also consider that winning or finaling contests is great, but it’s not always indicative of being publishable. I know plenty of serial contest winners…that have yet to publish anything. That may be just due to lousy luck or timing, but when you write to win contests, sometimes people have a tendency to fall into the trap of writing *to* the contest. There’s a fine line between writing to formula and spoon-feeding your writing to fit a certain mold for the sake of getting points. Be careful that it doesn’t come back to bite you in the ass.
So you have to determine what your goals are for entering. Do you want peer feedback? A chance at getting an editor or an agent to see it and maybe ask for more? Acclaim?
For me personally – I did final in a number of contests several years ago and won some, and yes – some of those wins get me offers of representation – but I also did terribly in others. (Usually the five page sorts. Contests that gave me a full chapter or two tended to be scored much higher, but again, it depended on the contest.)
YMMV, as they say.
Unrelated note – I’m also blogging over at Urban Fantasy Investigations today, talking a little bit about mixing in some Asian mythology into my world building. 🙂