It’s that time in the publishing year. Conference season is definitely upon us. Everywhere we turn on social media is an announcement of yet another conference and the attending contests that surround it. Sometimes the contests even appear without a conference, put on by groups and organizations.
But you can feel the excitement in the air. Writers everywhere are honing manuscripts, blurbs, synopsis, and even one sheets in the hope that this is their chance to shine. There’s stress underlying the excitement. Each contest has an entry fee to consider, along with what happens to the winner’s manuscript.
We’re all researching those that judge the contests and asking for feedback on the amount and type of feed back received from past entrants. And although we’re all assuring each other—and ourselves—that our goal is good feedback and visibility. Secretly we want to do well.
After years in the publishing industry, on both sides of the contest door, I have a couple of theories about contests. I’m interested to see if you agree or disagree, or have other thoughts as well, so I’m hoping we’ll get a rousing discussion going.
- First, no matter how hard the creators try, a writing contest will always be subjective. It’s just not like a footrace, there’s no camera at the finish line to capture who comes in first. Our industry—the craft of writing—is subjective. No matter how well something is written technically, if that innate spark of magical something isn’t there, it falls flat. AND every single person’s definition of that certain something is different.
- Second, the fact that a writing contest is subjective is a perfect representation of the publishing industry as a whole. Every time we send off a submission, it’s judged through several filters. It’s judged through the filter of what the publisher/editor/agent thinks will sell. It’s judged through their personal likes and dislikes, and it’s judged against other manuscripts available. These judgments rarely rely on things like misplaced commas or dangling participles, although bad grammar can wreck a manuscripts chance at times, it’s that gut reaction by the reader to what’s being read.
- Three, contests that are subjective are actually fair, because they expose us to real life as a working writer. It would be grossly unfair for a contest to be so set up to be nothing at all like the publishing industry. It would lead to false hopes and expectations, and ultimately shatter dreams. Working as a writer means learning to accept the good with the bad. It’s tough, but it’s the truth.
At this point I will confess that I’ve spent more than a few hours verbally abusing that certain judge who was wholly unreasonable in the feedback on one of my manuscripts. And it’s happened more than once—actually it’s happened the majority of times I’ve entered a manuscript. I’ve come to realize I really am a poor loser.
But the issue lies in these contests trying to be more fair by using a panel of judges instead of just one. Frequently there are three. And invariably, I’d get two high marks and one incredibly low one.
Finally one day my husband stopped me in my tracks. “You just got dumped on by the Russian judge,” he said. When I asked him to explain he reminded me of the years we spent watching the Olympics. Especially in the more creative sports like gymnastics, diving, and ice skating, the judging was done in the fairest possible way—with a panel of judges from the participating countries. Invariably, the one low score for my favorite US competitor would come from the cranky Russian judge.
It wasn’t fair, but it was just the way life worked.
So what is my point to all this? Contests are great. I love to enter them, and I especially love to win. But beyond that, my contest experience has prepared me for a publishing career in ways I never imagined.
- I learned how to move on when my work was unfairly judged.
- I learned that winning was based on subjective criteria.
- And most of all…
- I learned that ultimately winning, like publishing, is up to God. He chooses whom He will, when He will. My job is to keep writing and keep submitting—yet to contests and to publications and publishers both. I’m sowing the seeds, but God brings about the harvest.
Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on writing contests? Be sure to share them in the comments section below.
Don’t forget to join the conversation!
Edie Melson is the author of numerous books, as well as a freelance writer and editor. Her blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains ChristianWriters Conference and the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy. She’s also the Military Family Blogger at Guideposts. Com, Social Media Director for SouthernWriters Magazine and the Senior Editor for NovelRocket.com. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook. Don't miss her new book from Worthy Inspired, WHILE MY SOLDIER SERVES.