Sunday, May 2, 2010

Are Writing Contests Worth the Effort? by Nancy Famolari

Today, Nancy Famolari is my VBT guest on Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap as I finish attending the OWFI writing conference. Nancy is the author of Summer's Story - available from Amazon and, coming soon, Murder in Montville. She was kind enough to provide the following article for this post:


Are Writing Contests Worth the Effort?


I don't usually enter writing contests, particularly the ones you have to pay for. There's enough rejection in this business without having to pay for it. I was once told by a judge for the Writer's Digest contest that it was a good idea to enter. There were so many dreadful entries if you had a half reasonable piece, you stood a good chance of getting at least an honorable mention. But it is worth it to get an honorable mention?


Getting a prize, no matter how small, gives you a lift. It makes you feel that you can write. But what have you gained besides the good feeling? There are many, many reasons why you won't be a finalist: the judge doesn't like your style; your selection doesn't meet the criteria they're looking for; and, of course, it's just poorly done. How do you know where you fall in this continuum?


Unless I get something more than a pat on the back, I don't think it's worthwhile to enter a contest. A prize doesn't do it for me. I want to know why I wasn't chosen, or what the judges liked, or didn't, about my work. Judges are usually chosen because they have credentials in the industry: published authors, agents, and publishers. If they like your work and the feedback is positive, you know you're on the right track even if you didn't win. If they don't, you have work to do.


How do you deal with negative feedback is key. I recently read a chat session where people were complaining about the feedback they received in the Amazon Breakout Novel Contest. Negative feedback, while not pleasant, can tell you what other people think of the story line, characters, and style. It should be taken very seriously. You may not agree and certainly judges can be wrong. The judge may be the wrong person to appreciate your work, but at least you have some idea of why your story, or novel didn't fly. Sometimes we get too comfortable with our critique groups and beta readers. Getting outside feedback from a few strangers can be valuable.


If you may get positive feedback and don't win, what does that mean? We live in a culture that respects winning, and you didn't measure up, but think about it. Someone likes your work. They may not like it as much as some other piece, but if someone in the industry likes it, you do have a market. Perhaps not this publisher or editor, but another one will see the potential in what you've written. Positive feedback should have you charging ahead feeling great even if you aren't the winner.


So, I'll spend the time to enter a contest, but only if I get something for it, and for me, the feedback is more important than winning.


Thank you, Nancy, for sharing this post with us. Last night I received the results of the entries I had in the OWFI competition. The lack of any type of feedback on two entries and the loss of another were disappointing. However, I'll search through the other entries to find helpful comments. Usually I do learn from the feedback on my entries, even if I don't place (I didn't get even a honorable mention this year *sigh*).


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27 comments:

Janet said...

Yes, I think feedback is very important. I didn't win the Erma Bombeck Contest, but was pleasantly surprised to get an email from them after the contest was over. She told me a comment a judge had made about my entry. I thought it was great that she had took the time to do that. I enter contests if I know them to be a legit one and the fee is not too high. A placement does boost your morale :)

Sun Singer said...

All writers can benefit from feedback, but that would not be my motive for entering a contest. At some point, I think, a writer has to develop the confidence to say, this is who I am, this is how I write, these are the subjects that I focus on. The feedback from a contest judge doesn't "trump" that or change that for me because I feel the judge and I are both professionals without unique ways of focusing on the world and how to write about it.

If the monetary amount of the prize is large, then it helps pay the rent--so to speak. More importantly, it gives the writer something to talk about on social networks and to put on his web site. Lacking the high-buzz, old-media-style marketing campaigns, the writer is looking for legitimate promotional pegs. That is, I can say on Facebook or Twitter that I won a contest and that reminds people that I'm out here. But if I say, here's my book and it's for sale at Amazon, that's considered SPAM.

Book signings and contest wins give a writer the means to stay "out there" in a world where true promotional events are often hard to find.

Malcolm

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I don’t enter as many contests as I used to because they can be so time consuming and the fees add up quickly. I do agree that usually the feedback is more valuable than the prize - though winning sure does feel good!)

Nancy Famolari said...

Vivian, thanks for inviting me today. Great comments so far. Certainly a win can be a terrific morale boost. However, it's nice to get something, if only feedback like the judge providing a good comment!

Stephen Tremp said...

I agree that the feedback is the most important thing you can take away from a writing contest. I have yet to enter one. But its on my ToDo While I'm Still Alive list.

Ste[hen Tremp

Martha said...

I agree with your comment. "Getting outside feedback from a few strangers can be valuable."
It's hard to swalow sometimes but can be useful
Martha Swirzinski
www.movementplus.com

Deb Hockenberry said...

Hi Vivian & Nancy,
This was a great post! I agree with Nancy & everybody else that feedback is the most important thing you can get out of a contest (if they bother to give you feedback). I haven't entered a contest for years since the fees are generally high. Also, as you said, why pay someone to reject you when that happens to writers regularly for free?

Mari said...

I haven't entered any contests. I keep thinking, "What are the chances of winning and will I now why I didn't?" I agree, if feeback isn't provided, I would think it would be frustating especially if money was spent.

Vivian Zabel said...

I am home!

I no longer enter contests if the entry fees are very high. I'd rather spend my money putting out good books. However, if the entry fee is reasonable (the Heartland New Day BookFest entry fee was like $15; the OWFI entry was $20 for any entries from a OWFI member from one entry to 33), I'll enter, especially IF there is feedback.

Katie Hines said...

I received a review of Guardian where the reviewer was so critical he criticized the front cover of the book, which is beautiful. Then he ripped apart one part of the book. BUT, after that, he gave me 5 stars out of 5 stars. Go figure.

So, yes, feedback is important, but we must take it with a grain of salt, too.

Magdalena Ball said...

Good points Vivian, and not all writing comps are kosher either, but the good ones, however much of a long shot a win is, are always worth a try. For an emerging writer, winning a comp may be the only way to get noticed, and often a high quality prize can open doors the way nothing else can. Being able to use the term "prizewinning author" is priceless.

Janet Ann Collins said...

Nancy, thanks for sharing your experience. I hope you and Vivian both win prizes next time you enter a contest.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Great post, Nancy. Thanks. I like comments on my entries, letting me know what worked and what didn't work for the judges. I also try to remember that everyone has different tastes in reading, so mine just might not be a particular judges cup of tea. (Or coffee.)

Enjoyed your thoughts.

Vivian Zabel said...

I guess technically I could put Award Winning Author in front of my name. Midnight Hours won the unpublished mystery/suspense honors about two-three years ago and received 1st place in competition since being published.

Case of the Missing Coach received 2nd place in another contest.

Then Prairie Dog Cowboy took 1st place.

However, we'll see what happens from now on.

Nancy Famolari said...

Thanks for all the great comments. Good luck to everyone in your next contest! Hope you all win -- or at least get a few comments!!

Mayra Calvani said...

I agree!

Unless it's a well known, well-respected contest, I wouldn't advise authors to bother with it.

Accountant, Author & Freelance Writer said...

I have not participated in any writing contests, but understand the value of the feedback.

Susanne Drazic said...

Great blog post and lots of interesting comments. Thanks to all who shared them. I haven't entered very many writing contests in the past, but would like to try and enter in a few this year. Feedback can be a valuable learning tool.

Margaret Fieland said...

Nancy, thanks for the interesting post. I don't enter very many contests for several reasons, one of which is sheer laziness -- just can't quite manage to keep up. How do you decide if a contest is worth-while or not?

Karen Cioffi said...

Great article. I agree, feedback is more important than winning. And, most contests charge to enter so that's another factor.

For one reason or another I rarely enter contests. I probably should, but usually don't.

kathy stemke said...

Great points. I think winning a contest is great for your resume and exposure. Low fees would be a must for me. I plan to enter one soon???

Marvin D Wilson said...

Good feature article, thank you both. I've never entered one, the timing has never beem right for me yet. But this informative post is helpful for that first time. :)

The Old Silly

Dana Donovan said...

I find that contests are often for short stories only, usually 5k words or less. I don't do short stories per se. And I, too, have a big problem with entry fees. Makes me think that the only ones getting anything out of the deal are the promoters. Just my suspicious nature I guess. Anyway, nice post.Thanks for sharing it.

Dallas said...

Thanks for this great post, Nancy. Contests can be a nice boost and learning experience if feedback is provided. They also can help when researching markets for your stories or essays. For example, sometimes literary magazines hold contests with high entry fees so I will decide not to enter, but reading the winners gives me a better idea of what type of work the editors are looking for. That way, when I submit during their regular submission period, I have an even better idea of their magazine.

Vivian Zabel said...

High entry fees for contests keep me from entering. One reason I like the OWFI competition (other than the fact they have 33 different categories) is $20 entry covers all entries from 1 - 33.

Usually there is feedback, too.

Nancy Famolari said...

Wow!! What great comments, thank you all so much for sharing.

Margaret, my two cents on which contests to enter are low or zero entry fees. (By the way, for those of you writing novels, Amazon's yearly contest for unpublished or self-published novels and novellas, is free and you do get feed back if you make the first cut.

My other criterion is that I get something for my entry, like feedback. Dana, I agree and have heard it said by others that many contests are money making schemes for the promoters. This isn't necessarily bad since they use the money to keep their magazines afloat, but it keeps a lot of us out of that particular game. I rap with everyone who worried about the expense of entering contests. Vivian, the OWFI sounds like an interesting contest. Thanks for the info.

Rena said...

I haven't entered any that require a fee. Having a daughter in college is hard.