How to Win a Novel Writing Contest
I’ve got contests on the brain. There’s no point in entering unless you are in it to win it . . . except when you enter for feedback like I did. I wanted some uncensored examination of my work before I submit this book to agents.
I’ve always wondered what the judges were looking for in novel writing contests and I had the opportunity recently to volunteer as a judge. The coordinator provided a score sheet and directions. I had not done a great deal of research into writing contests, but I have discovered many of the contests have their score sheets published.
It’s a good idea to look at the score sheets before you enter to see if your novel is a good fit and fulfills the requirements to score high. Score sheets are also useful for doing a self check of your manuscript before you submit it anywhere.
Pick the Best Contest to Enter
Aside from choosing a contest that fits your novel, here are a few other things I’ve learned along the way.
If there is a fee, make sure the contest are entering has a good track record. Even then, you may not get the feedback you desire. I was discouraged by the first writing contest I entered because the judges did not provide a great deal of feedback, and the comments I did get directly contradicted each other on two of the three evaluations! The third person gave minimal feedback.
The second contest I entered was not well known, but the entry fee was either nonexistent or negligible. I received valuable feedback from three different judges. Many contests keep the judges anonymous, but this one did not. in that contest I tied for third place. It was shocked to find myself in good company among the winners.
The contest should have multiple judges. Both of the contests I entered had three judges look over every manuscript. I prefer a contest that allows the participant to have information about the judges’ qualifications. This might help an inexperienced writer to know how much weight to give an opinion that feels off.
Best advice for choosing a contest to enter? Ask around.
Follow the rules
Whatever contest you choose to enter make sure you meticulously pay attention to the rules. If you choose to enter a contest without checking out all the boxes, you probably won’t place well.
Edit your work
Even if you’re entering a contest for feedback only, edit your work. Make sure you’re presenting the best manuscript you can. Use a spellchecker and a grammar checker.
Have a critique partner look over your work. If you’re going to shell out your hard earned money for a chance at the golden ring, it makes sense to enter the best version of your work you can. Critique partners can help you polish that manuscript.
Learn From Feedback
Keep in mind that all the judges have their own particular areas of expertise and opinions. Even if you get contradicting advice as I did, chalk it up as a learning experience. Try to find the commonalities and take the information you can use to apply to your work. The judges spent time and effort trying to help the participants improve their writing. In every contest I entered, the judges have been volunteers. I appreciate the time and energy they give to the writing community.
Contests are about more than the big prize. Uncensored feedback is good. Perhaps painful, but good.
Don’t Take a Loss to Heart
Contests are funny things. There are a plethora of variables. Who you get as a judge is the luck of the draw. The score sheets may be slanted towards a criteria your novel does not fit into. An individual judge may determine that your novel does not fit into a specific standard while another judge may find it perfectly acceptable.
You can’t take negative feedback to personally. For both of the contests I entered I submitted the identical manuscript but received vastly different evaluations. Which brings me to my last point.
It’s All a Matter of Opinion
There are certain parameters and requirements if you want to have your novel traditionally published, but in the end, follow your heart. If you have a story to tell, tell it.
You only fail if you stop trying.
Do you have any advice about entering a writing contests?