Entering a writing contest
ONLINE COLUMN: Writing for Children
Published: May 7, 2009
|Question: Should I enter a writing contest? |
Answer: Sure! Go ahead! Contests are fun! They're also great practice for jumping into the world of writing. You have to finish your manuscript for the contest deadline, which is similar to writing for the deadline on a signed contract. Most contests focus on a specific topic or genre. This is also good exercise because most published writers learn to write manuscripts based on an editor's or publisher's current market needs.
Just one word of caution, though. Try to stay away from contests that charge a hefty entrance fee and don't offer a valid prize. Those contests are just out to make money, not to benefit writers. A good rule of thumb is to write a manuscript for a contest that is put on by a reputable name in the industry. If you're unsure, ask for advice from your critique group members or your local advisor of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators).
A contest can be fun to enter, but it can also be discouraging to you as a writer. Simply because your manuscript doesn't win a contest doesn't mean it's not publishable. A contest generally doesn't offer feedback on the losing manuscripts, so it's difficult to determine why yours wasn't chosen as a winner. On the other hand, just because your manuscript wins numerous contests doesn't mean a particular publisher will accept it. It might not quite fit their projected marketing plans for the upcoming publishing season.
Not all contests are the same. Learn to pick your contest carefully. Look for a contest whose prize is a potential contract with a specific publisher. An even nicer perk is if the judges are editors. Study that publisher's product line and read those editors' blogs before you write a new manuscript to submit for the contest. Not only will this give you good practice at learning how to target a publisher, it also puts your manuscript in very good hands. Sometimes even if a manuscript doesn't win a contest, it catches the interest of the editor who read it and a contract might be the result.
One thing you might consider is to offer to be a judge for a writing contest. I've judged various contests over the years and each time I've come away learning many things about the craft of writing that I'd never known before. For one thing, I learned what it feels like to be an editor wading through a slush pile. So many manuscripts look and sound the same. Same theme. Same story. Same heroine. Same plot. When I'd come across one manuscript that included a fresh new twist, it stood out heads and shoulders above the rest even if the writing wasn't as strong.
If you have your doubts about whether you qualify to be a judge, start by offering to judge a children's writing contest at your neighborhood school. From there, volunteer to help judge a contest at a local writers conference. You'll be amazed at how your own writing will improve as a result.
--Posted May 7, 2009
Nancy I. Sanders is the author of over 75 books and has been published by such houses as Scholastic, Reader's Digest, Tyndale and Sleeping Bear Press. Visit her Web site at www.nancyisanders.com to learn more.