Friday, September 27, 2013
Getting Down To Business: To Contest or Not To Contest
It's September. The next few months are what I like to call "Contest Season". There are tons of contests open - for unpublished authors, for published authors, as well as writing contests like Harlequin's So You Think You Can Write (SYTYCW). Should you enter? There are lots of factors to consider, so let's break them down a bit.
1. The Golden Heart. This is RWA's biggie for unpublished authors. Pros: If I were unpublished, I'd give this one a shot. It's prestigious. There's publicity attached if you final, and at the RWA conference you're treated to some nice perks like first shot at agent and editor appointments, networking opportunities, not to mention each year's finalists tend to form a very supportive group. It also gets a lot of attention from agents and editors, and I've seen a lot of those manuscripts go on to sell. Cons: it's one of the more expensive contests, and the deadline is definitely firm. It's also pretty big, so there's some stiff competition. Recommendation: Yes
2. Chapter Contests. A lot of RWA chapters hold contests for unpublished authors. Pros: These are great because it's generally a smaller field, there's often feedback attached, and the final judges are generally agents or editors. A final or win also gives you a little something-something to add to your query letter. Cons: There are still entry fees and deadlines to be met. Recommendations: Yes, with a caution to pick and choose within your budget. How do you decide? Look at the final judge. If it's an editor or agent that you'd normally target with this particular story, that's a strong argument for the Pro side.
3. Writing Contests. Pros: Writing contests like SYTYCW or online pitches are great for getting your work in front of editors and getting fairly fast feedback. There are generally no entry fees so they cost nothing more than your time and work (which has value, but at least your wallet doesn't get any thinner). Cons: Sometimes the "short" format of what you're submitting doesn't do your story justice. The number of entries can be very high as well, making the field very tough. Also, a lot of people enter with incomplete manuscripts, and then either rush to finish or abandon that story and start something else. I know lots of people who have tons of started stories and very few finished ones. Recommendation: Yes, but put some thought into the format and the prize at the end. And also realize that THIS IS NOT THE ONLY PATH to publication. An awful lot of people still sell by going the write/submit/revise/acceptance route through normal submission channels.
4. The RITA. Pros: This is the big daddy for our industry. It's like... our Oscars. Your book has been judged by your peers as being the best of the best. There are perks at Conference, it definitely puts you in your publisher's good graces, and while you're at RWA you are treated like a Princess. Cons: Your book is sent to five random judges, so the results can be arbitrary (I often think there's a lot of luck involved with the judges you draw). It also, to my knowledge, may up your profile a bit but really doesn't translate into mega sales. It can be expensive: $50 to enter and the cost of postage for shipping books. If you enter, you're also obligated to judge, which is time consuming (that being said, there's always a chance you'll discover a new fantastic author). Recommendation: Up to You. The RITA is more about the prestige, but being a finalist is hugely fun and rewarding and validating, and that's never a bad thing.
5. Chapter Contests for Published Authors. Pros: The field is often smaller than for the RITA, and some of the contests are fairly prestigious. Both the Bookseller's Best (Detroit RWA) and National Reader's Choice (OKRWA) awards are handed out at RWA conference with a bit of hoopla. There's publicity value in finaling and yes, that validation thing again. Other contests include The Holt, The Golden Quill, The Bookbuyer's Best (and more). Also, sometimes librarians and booksellers are the final judges, and it's never a bad idea to make a good impression on those two groups of people! Cons: entering several contests can be costly, especially when you factor in shipping books to each one.
So, my overall opinion? Contests are fun, but their value can be a very personal thing depending on what you consider important. They are not the only way to success or to get your books in front of editors, agents or readers. Look at the options, decide what fits best for you, and relax.
You can catch up with Donna at her website at www.donnaalward.com.