Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Purpose of Contests

Why do you enter contests? What do you hope to get out of them?

So a dear writer friend was telling me how any fixit comments will sting. Well, yes, I suppose. I'm a musician. Criticism is all we hear for the first twenty years of our life. *grins*

I always do stuff like this FOR the comments. And being a typical woman, I only "hear" the negative ones and don't believe the good ones. But over at Agent Kristin's blog, there was a lively debate in the comment section on the purpose of a contest.

One passionate and anonymous fellow/gal said that the only purpose of entering a writing contest is to win, and that "any other nonsense spoke of getting picked last on a team."

I'm laughing ... I don't know what that last bit had to do with anything.

Along those lines, some people enter contests to build up a resume to catch an agent's/editor's attention in their query letter. I've also heard agents say that they notice these, but they don't carry much weight unless they're the Golden Heart.

Some want to get their work in front of an editor/agent. That's a plus. I've always been confused, though. It takes about three to six months for a contest entry to get in front of an editor or agent, and it takes two weeks to six months to hear from an editor or agent. Considering most agents have said that they only requested material from a contest once or twice in their lifetime, that's not a specatacular reason to enter a contest, IMO. (This is my blog. None of my opinions are humble here. They may be wrong, just not humble.)

Why not just mail the work to an agent/editor directly?

Some people use contests to test ideas before they commit to writing the whole thing. They are paying to enter, so they can use them for anything they want. That seems like a logical reason if any, especially since writing a whole novel takes time. Kristin mentioned that an agent's enthusiasm wanes if she does request (again, once in her life so far) a full from a contest, and no full manuscript exists. Also, I wonder if the trends haven't passed you by, by the time you get your entry back, finish the thing, and start sending it to agents.

Then some people enter contests to learn from the comments. If/when I enter a contest again, this would be the reason I'd enter. The drawback is that most semi-finalist judges aren't trained. Like me. My only training is years of critiquing music performances and my years of writing. And a few workshops on how to critique and word things constructively.

I've got one entry that I keep erasing my comments. I want them to be strong enough that she'll fix the issues--because I'd love to see it published--but not too strong that she'll get discouraged.

The last reason to enter a contest is just for fun. I always thought about stories and writing, but never in a serious way. I wrote little bits, outlined a few books while I was in bed sick, but for some strange reason, it never occured to me to really write. And yet, in a strange way, I always knew I would write.

Then there was a contest and I thought, Hey! A little money, why not? Just for fun! And I had a total blast writing it (it was terrible). I didn't win first place, but I ended up selling it and writing for that publisher for years. So if competition will spark your enthusiasm and motivation to finish the book; there's another great reason to enter a contest!

So, in the end, I'm going to pretend I'm judging a kid. Positive suggestions, and any blunt words or truth carefully hugged by compliments. The scores have to be outright fair and honest, nothing I can do about that.

2 bonus scribbles:

StarvingWriteNow 9/26/2006 07:15:00 AM  

I enter contests to win, win, win!!!!!!!!!!!!

Seriously, though winning a writing contest would thrill me, I guess I do it mostly to get my work out there, to have an unbiased eye look at what I've done. Some of the comments sting, but hey--if they were all hearts and flowers I'd be suspicious.

Bernita 9/27/2006 09:07:00 AM  

That win-win-competition-is-all comment on the Agent's blog boggled me a bit.