When Should You Enter Writing Contests?

Participating in writing contests can offer 6 key benefits

When Should You Enter Writing Contests?I used to enter writing contests, but I haven’t done so lately. Writing contests are fun when you win, and I had a few wins early on. Interestingly, as I’ve improved as a writer, my success rate has dropped to zero. Hence I’m now less motivated. Plus, I’m now a lot busier writing other things.

Nevertheless, don’t automatically dismiss writing contests. Here are six reasons you should consider submitting content to a writing contest:

1) If Deadlines Help You Write: I always write with more intention when I have a due date. However, I’m also a disciplined writer and would be writing anyway, just perhaps not with as much purpose. However, other writers need a deadline to produce content. If submitting to a contest helps you write, then that presents a sufficient reason to do so.

2) If Your Submission Can be Repurposed: Everything I write nowadays can work in multiple situations. That way if the first contest or publication falls through, I have a second source to consider. That way none of my work is ever wasted.

3) If There is No Submission Fee: Some contests carry submission fees; others, don’t. Sometimes the fee is small; other times, not so small. I have submitted to both kinds. Going forward I will never pay to enter a contest unless it meets the next criteria.

4) If the Pay-to-Play Contest Provides Value: I understand that some contests will give you feedback on your work. I’ve never encountered those contests, but I hear they exist. Receiving professional feedback may be worth the cost of submission, even if you don’t win. But you might be better off to skip the contest and just pay someone for his or her opinion.

5) If You Want to Expand Your Bio: Being able to say you won a contest looks impressive in your author bio. However, most people have never heard of that particular writing contest so winning it carries little prestige, even to people in the industry.

6) If You Need to Learn How to Deal with Rejection: Face it. Most people who enter writing contests don’t win. It hurts to hear “No,” but it’s a reality of being a writer. Each time we hear a “no” toughens us up a bit more and prepares us to do this writing thing for the long haul. Plus, as they say in sales, “Each ‘no’ brings you one step closer to ‘yes.’”

Writing contests have value, but only pursue them if they make sense for you and your situation.

Was 2016 Your Best Year Ever or an Epic Fail?

We need a realistic view of our history to plan a reasonable vision for our future

Was 2016 Your Best Year Ever or an Epic Fail?My wife sometimes says I view things as though my glass is only half-full, that I’m pessimistic. I counter that I’m simply being a realist, but the truth is I’m not sure who’s right. Perhaps a bit of reality resides in both perspectives. So it is in viewing my past year as a writer.

As such, I share two perspectives:

Best Year Ever:

  • After years of talk, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time. What a great experience.
  • I wrote two novels, the second one in about three weeks. (I’m still editing them both.)
  • My work as a commercial freelance writer really took off this year, with more clients, more work, and more income—all new records.
  • I grew my Twitter followers from 2,400 to 11,500, surpassing my year-end goal of 10,000. I’m enjoying good connections and engagement there.
  • I took LinkedIn seriously and made 100 posts to a growing audience of 2,300, which more than doubled in 2016.

Epic Fail:

  • I didn’t publish a book this year.
  • I didn’t win any writing contests.
  • I wasn’t published in any anthologies.
  • I didn’t accomplish my number one goal for 2016. (Which is now my number one goal for 2017.)
  • Work/life balance continues to elude me. (It’s even harder to achieve when you work at home.)

I could reasonably adopt either of these two perspectives as my primary view of 2016. While it’s easy to dwell on disappointments, missed goals, and wasted opportunities, a better outlook is to focus on what went great this year. Though I might need to reread this post to remind myself, I can truly say that 2016 was my best year ever, and I look forward to 2017 being even better.

As you review 2016, I encourage you to celebrate the mountains and not allow yourself to wallow in the valleys. Though everyone is at a different place as a writer, no one had a flawless year and everyone has something to celebrate. Focus on these things as you move into 2017.

May it be your best year ever.

Save

Seven Steps to Deal With the Sting of Rejection

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve received very little rejection with the articles I’ve written. In fact, aside from contests I haven’t won and a few editors who never responded, I can’t recall a single time I’ve heard “No!” But that’s just for articles.

For books, my results are different. Half the time, I hear “no.” And the times when I hear “maybe,” it eventually turns into a “no.” Given my success with articles, I wasn’t prepared for a lack of success with books. Rejection stings.

The first time someone said “no” to one of my books, I went into a tailspin. It lasted several weeks. I stopped writing for three, and when I resumed, my heart wasn’t in it. It took too long for me to bounce back, to reclaim my joy for writing, and write with zeal.

Since then I’ve gotten better at dealing with rejection. Here are my thoughts:

1) Be Realistic: We will hear “no” much more often than we will hear “yes.” Accept this; it’s the reality of being a writer.

2) Be Positive: As they say in sales, each “no” gets us one step closer to “yes.” It’s a numbers game, so don’t stop too soon. Our next submission may be the one that’s accepted.

3) Listen to What Is Said: Consider why our book or proposal was rejected, but don’t make false assumptions. If they say, “This isn’t the right book for us at this time,” they’re not saying our book is bad, we can’t write, or we should quit. They’re simply saying the timing is off.

4) It’s Not a Reflection of Who We Are: Although our work is rejected, we aren’t. Reflection of our work is not rejection of us; it may not even reflect our skill as a writer. Maybe our idea wasn’t good or our type of book isn’t selling at this time. But none of this means we are a bad person.

5) It’s Just One Person’s Opinion: In my critique group I’m amazed at how many times one person doesn’t like something and the next person really does. The same is true for books. Everyone has an opinion, but that’s all it is.

6) Allow Time to Grieve: I give myself time to grouse. Sometimes I only need a few minutes, while other times I take the rest of the day. What I don’t do (anymore) is to ignore the pain; I acknowledge it – but only for a time.

7) Start Again: Then it’s back to writing as usual – even if I don’t feel like it. That’s what the pros do; that’s what I’ll do.

Rejection stings, but it’s not the end.

Writing Contests: Should You Pay to Play?

Last week I talked about writing contests. These competitions come in two flavors: free and fee. I generally don’t enter any fee-based contests, though last week I made an exception. Here are the pros and cons of both.

Free Contests: Free writing competitions are egalitarian; they are fair and open. This appeals to my sense of right and even more so to my checking account. Of course with no barriers to entry, submissions abound, lessening the chance of winning. Some of the contests I enter have hundreds or even a thousand submissions. The odds of winning are not encouraging.

Fee-Based Contests: Entry fees limit participation, thereby increasing the chance for recognition. Often the fees go to prize money or to pay professionals to judge submissions. Fee-based contests have a greater likelihood of offering feedback as well. As a bonus, you may catch the attention of a judge, who could later benefit your career. Therefore, in theory, fee-based writing contests have less competition and offer better prizes and more benefits.

However, before submitting to a fee-based contest, check them out. Not all are legit, with the only real rewards going to the person who collects the fees. Investigate them, delve into their history, consider the caliber of the judges, and talk with past winners. Also, contact online writing groups and social media hangouts for input. Then you can proceed as appropriate.

As I mentioned last week, I see much value in participating in writing contests and will continue to do so as time allows, for both the free and fee versions.

Do you prefer free or fee-based contests? What’s your experience with them?

What’s the Value of Writing Contests?

I sometimes submit my work to writing contests. And I sometimes wonder why. Though I want to win, I don’t really expect to. This isn’t self-deprecating; it’s realistic: I write nonfiction and most of the contests I enter are for fiction. So why do I do it?

To Stretch Myself: Many of the contests I enter are through Writer’s Digest. Their challenges are fiction focused. Though I only dabble in fiction, I want to one day pursue it. Stretching myself now will pay off later. Plus memoirs (my present focus) borrow from fiction techniques, so that’s another bonus.

To Try Different Genres: The first contest I entered was for poetry. I don’t write poetry – or at least I hadn’t since my teenage years. The opportunity to dip my toe into this genre appealed to me. Even though I didn’t win, my work made it to the finals. This encouraged me to pen more poetry and I did publish a subsequent piece. I’ll never be a poet, but poetry is a nice diversion.

To Learn: Each submission is a learning opportunity. In some cases, judges offer feedback on your work. This is a great opportunity to grow as a writer. The contests I’ve entered so far, do not provide comments, but comparing my submissions to the finalists and winners show me how I can improve.

To Celebrate: If you win (or are even a finalist), this is cause for celebration. And if it’s put on by a prestigious group, winning is an impressive addition to your resume. Plus, for all the aspiring writers who talk about submitting but never do, mere participation is a reason to cheer.

To Win: For some contests the payoff is bragging rights, others award prizes, and some include publication in a magazine or book. The tangible rewards are compelling, but for me they simply represent an added bonus.

Have you ever entered a writing contest? What were your motives and expectations?

My First Poetry Contest

A couple of weeks ago, I did something I never expected I would do. I impulsively entered a poetry contest. Yep, that’s correct. A decidedly non-poet entered a poetry contest.

One of the blogs I follow (and highly recommend for all writers) is Rachelle Gardner‘s.

On March 16 Rachelle posted a quick haiku writing contest for her readers. In case you need a refresher, haiku is a 3 line poem that has a pattern of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, and 5 syllables.

I was about to dismiss it, when I thought I’d give it a shot. After all, how hard could it be to pen 17 syllables? I quickly came up with something that I felt was passable and posted it so I could be part of the process. The haiku I submitted was:

March seventeen green
not a color I don, yet
clover four doth seek

A few days later, to my complete shock, I learned that my haiku was selected as one of six finalists! Readers of Rachelle’s blog were invited to help select the winner.

Though I never expected to win, I was dismayed at coming in dead last with only 1% deeming my haiku to be the best. I only garnered six votes — and one of the votes was mine.

It was fun to participate, but I’m not so sure about coming in dead last.

A Logline Writing Contest

A logline is a brief summary of a story that is designed to hook the reader. Ideally, it is one sentence long.

I recently entered another writing contest, where the challenge was to write a logline. Not just any logline, but a really bad logline. The rules were it had to be one sentence and under 60 words long. We were allowed two submissions. Interestingly, my two entries came to me rather quickly and with minimal effort.

My two bad loglines are:

  • In this fast-paced action thriller, protagonist Peter Piper is shocked to realize that his thumbnail needs to be trimmed, but lacking the appropriate tool to do so, he is left in a quandary as to how to proceed, all the while suspecting that the fate of mankind must surely rest in the balance.
  • Ladd, half-wonder dog, half mutt, is a caped super hero at night and a lovable, albeit lazy pet during the day, but when a sudden disaster strikes in the daylight hours, Ladd must choose between revealing his true identity and… “Squirrel! Did someone say, ‘squirrel’?”

How did I do? Do you have a bad logline to share?

Ten Writing Contest Finalists

Last month I mentioned that I entered a writing contest, my first one. I opted to enter this particular contest simply because it would not require a great deal of time or effort.

It’s not that I’m lazy. It’s that if it required writing a short story or essay, I would be hard pressed to invest several hours needed to craft the ideal submission. However, in this case, the requirement was a mere 25 words. Yeah, that’s right, 25 words, slightly longer than one of my weekly tweets.

For this contest, we were provided a photo and tasked with producing the opening sentence for a story based on it. I, along with a thousand or so others, did so. Not surprising, I was not picked as one of the top ten entries.

Check out the photo and the top ten submissions. I must admit that many of these submissions are much more creative than mine, but there are also a few that I don’t think are as good. Of course, I’m not a fiction writer, either, so what do I know?

After you’ve checked out the top ten, here is my submission:

Bored with the leisurely drive and desperate to capture Michael’s attention, Jessica thrust her arms upward and screamed loudly as if riding a plunging rollercoaster.

In retrospect, I think I creatively captured the photo, but failed at penning a compelling opening for a short story.

By the way, I just entered another contest. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Why Writing Contests Are Valuable

I’ve mentioned writing contests a few times, but until recently, I’ve never entered one. Though it would be a nice bonus to win, my goal is to grow as a writer and share my work with others.

In general, there are several benefits of writing contests:

  • It gives us an opportunity to experiment with different writing styles, genres, and techniques.
  • Following the rules of the contest is good preparation for following the specific guidelines (rules) of submitting our work to an agent or publisher. In either case, if we don’t follow the rules, our work will be summarily rejected.
  • Preparing our entry provides a creative break from what we are currently writing.
  • Contests are a relatively safe way to share our work with others and put our art in the public eye. Again, this is preparation to what it is like to submit our writing or see it in print.

Other possible outcomes:

  • We may get some feedback. This is not normally the case, and we should not expect it, but if we do, the comments are invaluable.
  • Our submission may be posted online. For some contests, the top entries are posted online so people can vote for the best one.
  • If we win, our work will likely be published, be it online or on paper. This is both affirming and credential building. We need to enjoy it, relish it, and tell others about it. If it is online, we should be sure to link to it.
  • A few contests award prize money or some other reward.

Some contests require an entry fee. This compensates judges and helps cover prize money. Contests awarding the better prizes or using in-demand judges often have a submission fee. However, before you pay an entry fee, make sure the contest is legit and not a scam.