Contest Counsel

 

“(&^%%$$ contest judges! What do they know? May immortal elephant-size cockroaches invade their house! May their swimming pools fill with indelible green slime! May dogs eat their birthday presents!

Ever found yourself saying something like this? Fess up! I bet you have. I sure did!

You know what? It’s perfectly natural! But having got your justifiable resentment (well, mine was ALWAYS justifiable 😀 ) out of your system, what’s your next step?

OK, here’s the lowdown on contests from a bona fide contest sl*t.

Firstly, contests are great preparation for submitting material to agents and editors and then when you’re published, putting your work before the general public. Judging is completely subjective and nothing will ever change that. Get used to it – submissions are completely subjective too! Judges have likes and dislikes and odd quirks of tastes. Believe me, so do the people who eventually buy the book from a shop. So contests are a great way to grow the thick skin you’ll need when you send your work out into the big, wide, CRUEL world.

Secondly, sometimes judges are wrong and sometimes judges are right. A good strategy is instead of scrunching up that critique and stamping on it and throwing it into the nearest bin, put it aside for a few days. Then come back to it. You may find once emotions have cooled, there’s something in those critiques that can improve your work. Remember, people saying you’re wonderful is lovely but it doesn’t give you anything to help you reach publication standard.

At this stage, remind yourself it’s YOUR story. If you don’t agree with a judge, just move on. These people offer advice and an opinion. You don’t have to take it as gospel if it’s inappropriate to your story. I would however say that if more than one judge singles out the same problem, revisit that. You may decide to stick to your guns or you may decide they have a point. Again, totally up to you! You’re steering this particular ship! You get your name on the front cover as author!

Did you get wildly disparate scores? Again, just a sign that the world contains millions of readers with different ideas about what makes a good story. I used to get a ridiculous range in scores, rarely anything in the middle. Sometimes that can be a good sign – you have a strong voice that elicits an equally strong reaction from readers. This is a great quality when you submit work to publishers wanting something fresh and new.

What if the judge is just plain wrong? Well, it happens. Someone didn’t get your stuff. No big deal. Again, move on!

Be gracious. I always sent thank you notes even to people who clearly hated my work. Judges give up valuable writing time to read your contest entry. They’re sincere in trying to help, whether you as the end user find their comments helpful or not. Even just a “thank you for taking the time to judge my contest entry. I appreciate your comments” letter makes you look professional.

And keep entering! Contests are a great way to get a wide range of feedback and advice. If you final, they’re a fantastic shortcut to landing on an editor’s or an agent’s desk with a gold star. Good luck!

 

This article first appeared in HeartsTalk, the newsletter for Romance Writers of Australia, in February, 2009