Friday, June 5, 2015

Fiction Friday: Making the Most of Your Contest Dollars

Entering your romance novel into contests is a great way to get feedback. If you're polished enough and lucky enough to become a finalist, contests can also get you in front of industry professionals who might be interested in representing or publishing your book.  So far, from the five contests I entered, I've received three requests for full manuscripts. I've also learned that several of the judges wouldn't read my book if I paid them, but that's another story....

Many of the local RWA chapters around the country sponsor contests as fundraisers. I counted 11 upcoming contests on the RWA website in June alone. Most have entry fees in the $25 range.

Since most of us don't have unlimited funds, how do you choose a good one for your work? Here are some questions to ask:

1) Does the contest guarantee feedback, or just a score sheet? Learning that, on a scale of 1-5, an anonymous judge thought your conflict was a 3 may not be all that helpful. Hearing that it wasn't clear that your protagonist had a goal, or that there was no sense of urgency to that goal, is much more useful.

2) Who are the first round judges? Does the chapter set any baseline requirements to qualify as a judge? Are they published authors or romance readers? Either one can provide useful feedback, but it may be different kinds of feedback. Readers can tell you if they love your book or not. Published authors are more likely to be able to tell you why they love your book--or why they don't.

3) Who are the final round judges? In many contests, final round judges are industry professionals. Some contests provide specific names. Others only specify a role--"agent" or "editor." Final round judges may also be librarians, book clubs and booksellers--all lovely people to hear from, but not a step toward getting your manuscript published.

4) If the final round judges are identified industry professionals, do they work for organizations you're interested in partnering with? A lot of us, as we take our first steps toward publication, believe that we'd work with the devil himself to get published, but even if that's true, he's probably not our first choice. It's worth taking time to figure out who your dream agent and editor are. You may not get the partner of your wildest dreams, but if you know what you want, your chances increase.


  1. Lots of good information for writers thinking about entering a contest.

  2. I've been entering RWA contests this year -- another contest whore! -- and I've been seriously impressed with the level of detail in the feedback. There's the occasional cranky judge, and it's true some contests don't provide detailed feedback (which is too bad), but most judges have been quite thoughtful in their comments. I think my early pages have improved from the process. So I'd encourage people to submit. You can see what readers like and don't like, what agents and editors like and don't like.... And all of it can be measured against what you, the writer, now like and don't like about those pages....

    Thanks for posting these ideas.


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