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*).