Welcome Cassandra, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest Finalist. Learn some entering contest secrets! :) thanks again, Cassandra!
As a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest Finalist (that’s a mouthful), I know a thing or two about entering writing competitions. Out of 10,000 entries, only two could win. The stakes were high, and the chances were low, but I was one of six finalists. Did I have an amazing time? Yes. Would I do it again? Maybe.
Contests aren’t for everyone. There’s much to consider when deciding if it’s right for you. But if you do decide to enter a contest, make sure you do it with your eyes wide open, and use these tips:
Polish Your MS
This might seem obvious, but don’t enter a contest before your work is ready. You’re just wasting time, and if you’ve paid an entry fee, you’re wasting money. This is especially true if any portion of your story is posted online. If you try to get published or even self-publish in the future, then your rushed, mediocre work can haunt you from cyberspace.
Do Your Research
Don’t enter contests lightly. There are many pros and cons to entering writing contests, which I go into more detail about here, but assuming you’ve decided that the contest route is right for you, remember, not all contests are created equal.
Start your search
Google widely for contests. Many websites and writing magazines have lists of current and future contests. Once you’ve found one that you would like to enter, read comments on forums about them, check out their website, past winners, contest rules, etc.
Choose one that’s right for you
If you’re going to enter, pick one that you have a chance of winning. For example, don’t enter a literary contest with a mystery thriller. If you only have one piece to submit, give yourself a better chance, because most contest rules will prevent you from entering it into other competitions simultaneously. Make sure it’s the best one for your story.
Compare your options
Consider who the judges are, the prizes, the fees, the total number of entries allowed, your odds of wining, and if you do win, what your rights are. Form a chart with this information for all your top contest choices.
Is winning a good thing?
Do the rules prevent you from seeking publication for weeks or months? Will you be sitting on a novel that could be making the rounds faster and more effectively than if it’s held up in a contest? And then if you do win, is the payout worth waiting for? The money? The bragging rights? Maybe publication is the prize. Or are you better off going the traditional route and searching for an agent?
Read the fine print
There are a lot of articles about identifying scams, so I won’t go into great detail. But just make sure you’re reading the rules twice. The reason scams work so often is because people get sucked in with big promises. Just make sure they will actually follow through with them.
Follow The Instructions
If the rules say to omit your name from anywhere on your MS (including headers), then do so! It’s amazing how many people will get disqualified because they didn’t follow instructions. Don’t lose because of a silly mistake. Read everything twice.
My biggest ABNA regret: not marketing myself! I never thought I’d even come close to the finals, so when I got THE CALL, I was shocked. I was also doomed. I knew nothing about building a platform, having a website, or tweeting. What the heck was tweeting, anyway? So I scrambled to call family, reached out to friends on my personal facebook page, and hoped for the magic of word of mouth.
When the votes were tallied, and I rubbed my lucky earrings and crossed my fingers in a posh venue in Seattle, I lost. I didn’t get enough votes. And I was left with the lingering fear that I sabotaged my own chances of winning. Don’t let the same thing happen to you.
It’s never too early to build your platform. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out as a writer. The earlier you start promoting yourself, the better. This is especially important if you’ve entered a contest that relies on public votes to determine the winner. If you already have loyal followers visiting your blog every week, or following you on twitter or facebook, well guess what? They’re probably going to care if you’ve entered a contest and will vote for you.
If you haven’t started building your platform as a writer, then start now. Social media is a place to be social, not to shamelessly bombard people with tweets about your work. However, if you take the time to connect with people first, they’re not going to ignore you when you say, ‘Hey, I’m in a contest. Check it out!’
Look, if you don’t like marketing or social media, then you’re in for a big letdown. That’s just part of the writing biz nowadays (Yes, I said biz. Don’t judge me :P). Marketing is unavoidable. You have a story to tell, your own original voice. Make sure it’s heard over the multitude of other voices shouting their own stories.
Even through our weak knees, sweaty palms, and heart palpitations, us 2012 ABNA finalists still had a great time getting to know each other over dinner and nerve-calming drinks. We all still speak, visit, and root for each other to this day.
Contests are a great way to meet writers such as yourself, with shared interests and goals. Don’t view the other contestants as your competition. You’re all in the same boat together. So support and encourage each other. Who knows? You might end up finding yourself a great critique partner. Or better yet, a friend.
Not Winning Isn’t Losing
Just because you didn’t win, doesn’t mean you didn’t gain anything. Often you will get helpful feedback and comments from voters and judges that you can use to improve your story or future writing. If agents are involved in the judging, you might even get an offer of representation (it does happen). If the contest is prestigious enough, and you placed in the finals, this looks great on your writing resume. Agents and editors will take note.
If nothing else, you had the guts to show others your work and put it out there to be judged and criticized by complete strangers, which will always be part of the publishing process. At least you’ve come away with some experience, hopefully a little stronger, a little braver, and more confident.
Becoming a writer doesn’t happen overnight like winning the lottery. It comes with time, with experience, with both winning and losing. It’s all part of the learning process. But hopefully after reading this article, you’ll be one step closer to winning.
Have you ever entered a writing contest? If so, how did it go? What did you learn? Have any tips or secrets to share?
Cassandra H Griffin is a YA fiction author represented by Pooja Menon from Kimberley Cameron and Associates. She was a finalist in the 2012 ABNA contest for her novel Dreamcatchers. A true geek at heart, she enjoys anything from Star Trek expos to comic conventions on her days off from driving 400 ton dump trucks in Northern Alberta. As a jack of all trades with a resume boasting registered nurse, English teacher, and photographer, writing is the one thing that is here to stay. Check out her blog here.