My name is Masha and I’m a contest stalker. Instead of night vision goggles and restraining orders, I use RWA as my match.com. I peruse the “personals” looking for those three magical words: no synopsis needed. Or better yet: low entries. Actually, that’s my favorite one. Somehow, it makes me think, erroneously, no doubt, that I have a better chance of winning. Fat chance.
So why do I enter them? Contest for me are like that elusive mirage. Just within my grasp, but oh so far out of reach. I look at the list of agents and editors and think, what if? And so I go, where so many others go with me. Scouring the rules, making sure my name isn’t anywhere on the pages. Filling out the forms. Sending in my money. And why? For the chance to get my stuff out there for that agent who is going to change my life. But as usual, reality is a different beast.
I’ve entered a number of contests and so far, my experience has been mixed. A number of years back, in one contest, three judges had three different opinions. One said my work was fabulous and I was going to be published in the next year. The second one said what I submitted was garbage (her exact words. she must not have taken her Prozac that day). And the third one was somewhere in between. Confused, I stared at their comments, unsure how I felt or what it meant. I wanted, really wanted, to believe the fairy godmother who said I should already be published. I desperately wished I could boo and hiss at the one who trashed my work. But then, there was that middle one. The one who didn’t make any promises nor take a weedwacker to my confidence, was the one I didn’t pay attention to.. and the one I should have. The judge was a published writer and took great pains to point out issues with my work. There were a few congratulatory comments, but most was a critique. At the time, I wanted to ignore her suggestions because to be honest, of course what I really wanted was my work to be editor-ready and for that editor to be handed to me on a silver platter. Or better yet. Two editors, fighting over my manuscript. But alas, that was not to be. Back then, my work really needed a lot of work. I know that now. I didn’t know that then. When I look at the state of my manuscript, I realize I have come a long way baby. But I’m not there yet. I wonder if any writer ever gets “there.” I think writers become more proficient with greater experience, but the quest to improve the craft should always be there.
And that’s why now, when I enter a contest, or two, I don’t see it as my end-all be-all. Sure, it would be great to win. But that doesn’t mean I’ve arrived. At least as my work is concerned. I realize others are different and I have been a judge once where I saw firsthand, the difference between good and outstanding. That’s where I want to be. Outstanding. But for me, that won’t come naturally. I will need to keep working on it. And maybe one day soon, that editor will be handed to me on a silver platter.
9 thoughts on “Serial Contest Stalker”
Hi Masha. Great observations and perspective on contests. I too feel that spring of hope whenever I enter them. But in the end, I think my feelings are too mixed to share much more than this. For anyone who has entered contests and not done so great, I give you Sherrilyn Kenyon as inspiration. I believe I heard her say in a keynote speech this year that her books have not won the RWA writing contests. So take the feedback but don’t be too discouraged. I try not to be!
You’re right, Carlene-Mermaid! Sherrilyn did say she has never won a Golden Heart or a Rita. Can you imagine!?!?
Wonderful post! Fairy God-Husband was our chapter’s contest whore for a year or two, and racked up multiple finals and a number of wins. Finally, at the urging of his mentor (hi, Kristan!), he started querying instead of scouting contests.
So, what did he learn in those years? That critiques are uneven, but some are excellent. How to evaluate the criticisms and use them to improve his writing. And that winning half a dozen contests does not equal a sale. He values the experience, and has used to to become a better writer himself and a valued mentor within the CTRWA group.
Good work, Masha! Your silver platter will arrive someday, I’m sure.
I understand your post completely, Masha! I too, struggle constantly with the highs/low scores in contests entered. A good friend of mine, a publised author (hi Cindy) now, shared her trials of many contests and finally decided to go for it.
I think we learn from a contest in what works and what doesn’t. I learned a lot of the mechanics from my earlier contests. I’ve finaled in a few but still get the mixed reviews that drive me insane. I even entered one contest in which the judge said ‘she doesn’t read the genre she was judging’. How can you make an objective rule when vampires biting don’t impress you? (Yes I had entered paranormal and the judge wasn’t into paranormal.)
Onward and upwards!
Hugs to you!
Masha, I completely agree. The most important thing, for me, is to make sure I improve from one manuscript to the next. My current manuscript is better than my last one, and my last one was better than the one before that. It’s funny that the more you learn, the more you realize how much more there is to learn. So in a way, I feel more like a novice now than I did five years ago.
If you’re entering contests because you need the feedback, that’s fine, but be careful with doing that. Sometimes you’ll get three very different perspectives (exactly like you did), and trying to please everyone will only end up hurting your manuscript. Just like in real life, the advice you listen to the most is the advice you WANT to hear. If someone tells you that you need a “secret baby” (Hello, Robin) in a book that has nothing to do with that, nod and move along. Don’t put in a secret baby. LOL.
I haven’t entered a contest in a long time because of these very discrepancies. One judge gave me a 98% where another one gave me a 62%. That was the last contest I entered. 🙂 If you’re looking for feedback, I think critique groups are better for that. If you’re looking to get your manuscript in front of agents/editors, conferences are great for that.
Don’t let contests get you down. Just keep writing. If you spend all your time trying to format and reformat for different contests and deleting scenes so that the first kiss gets into the first 25 pages of a manuscript, you’ll make yourself crazy. Believe me, I know. I did crazy long ago.
Good luck, Masha!
Thank you for sharing Masha. I agree with you wholeheartedly, contest feedback can be somewhat confusing and sometimes make you second guess yourself. I think contests are wonderful, and positive in their own way but you should always ask yourself what you are looking to get out of the experience. I have had far better luck getting constructive feedback from critique groups. If your ultimate goal is to get your ms in front of agents and editors I would strongly recommend pitching at the next conference you attend.
I’m right there with you!!! I had to laugh at this: I peruse the “personals” looking for those three magical words: no synopsis needed.
Hells yeah – no synopsis needed pretty much guarantees they have my interest. 😉
Hey everyone! Thanks for your comments. I’m glad I’m not the only one confused and hopelessly devoted (although trying not to be) to contests. I think I also see them as some kind of “milestone” or achievement. Writing can be a solitary experience, especially for us unpublished souls. No deadlines from editors. No push for a final product by the publicist. A contest is another way to have an external clock pushing for a deliverable. Or at least it is for me, the constant procrastinator. And yes, of course, it is feedback as well. Something is better than nothing, right? Oh, and I forgot. The fact that it’s anonymous is good too.
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