Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Words of Wisdom About Writing Contests

I did an interview recently where I was asked about contests, ergo this post. I figured since I'm so old and wise *g*, I'd share some of the things I learned about writing contests during the time when I was entering them left, right and centre. In no particular order, here they are:

1. Know what you want from a contest before you enter it. Are you doing it to get feedback? Are you aiming to get your work in front of an acquiring editor? Or are you just wanting to force yourself to get some work out there in the world?

2. After you know why you've decided to enter, then get choosy. If, for example, you're entering to get feedback, then it's no use entering those contests that simply give you a number score with no breakdown of those scores. Find contests that give detailed score sheets, especially those where the judges have room to write comments.

Or if you're just doing it to motivate yourself, maybe you can look for contests that cost little or are free to enter. There are often small contests like this online. As always, buyer beware - check out the contests beforehand, especially if you're sending money. For example, is it affiliated with a respected romance writing group or review site?

The other thing you need to be careful of is the entry form - is it, for example, asking you to give up rights to the work even if you don't win? That recently happened with one contest though I can't find the link right now. But the point is, be careful. And don't enter if anything seems 'off'.

3. Get a thick skin. Any time your book goes out into the world, some people are going to love it and some are going to hate it. If you don't believe me, go look up some Amazon reviews for any bestselling author - nobody gets all positive reviews.

Learn to let the really cruel comments run off your back, because unfortunately, some people do cross the line from constructive criticism to being mean. Train yourself to pick these out immediately and forget about them. Yes, it's hard, and yes it hurts but you have to get over it if you're going to move on.

Focus instead on the ones which have come in with specific (constructive) criticisms about the book, especially if those same criticisms have been repeated by more than one judge. Consider those criticisms with an open mind, and decide whether or not you need to make changes to the manuscript.

And don't forget the nice comments. Read them over and over if you have to, to cushion yourself against the critical ones. Don't be blinded by them, but no one's saying you can't wallow in them until you're ready to tackle the harsher ones. Here's a tip - organize the score sheets so you always have the nice comments on top. That way, every time you go through them, you go in feeling good.

4. Be true to your work. While judges' comments are useful and often help you improve the manuscript, in the end you are the one who has to make the decision as to whether something works or not. Listen, but don't follow suggestions slavishly.

5. Don't get sucked into contest circuit fever. Make sure you're still submitting the old-fashioned way, whether to agents or to editors. Contests are a very useful tool, not only for getting published but for developing your writing, but do you want to be relying only on that one?

6. And most importantly - don't ever let a contest result/comment make you stop writing. Everyone knows a writer who was so broken-hearted by a comment or bad result that she threw in the towel. Don't. Sulk, cry, break things if you have to, but then go back and write.

Contest war stories, recommendations, further words of wisdom and warnings welcome. Post away!


Josie said...

Thanks for what you said about developing a thick skin! One of my contest entries just got torn to pieces and savaged in a contest. I cried for thirty minutes and now I can look at things in a constructive way (I hope...)

Nalini Singh said...

Josie - hugs on the savaging, but I'm so glad to see that you've got the ability to bounce back. I reckon one of the marks of every good writer is having the ability to get back up after a blow, whether that blow comes from contest comments, editorial rejection or bad reviews. Good luck with the book.

(p.s. You have great taste in men!)

Anonymous said...

Great advice!

Nalini Singh said...

Thanks, Kendra. :)