Awards

Why it’s Okay to Lose a Contest

Any author who’s entered contests knows that they are difficult to win. The competition is more fierce than ever. For example, I just judged an ACFW competition and would have been happy to represent most of the authors whose work I reviewed. Entries get better every year. This is good news for readers while encouraging authors to fine tune their work. In the case of prestigious contests such as those sponsored by ACFW, there are no losers. I had the privilege of attending the Christy Award dinner on several occasions. Again, there are no losers in any group of Christy finalists.

There are other reasons not to be depressed if you lose a contest:

1.) Judges have subjective opinions. Their views are valuable and feedback — even if it’s just a perfect score — is worthwhile. But as with any other sentiments, it’s up to the author to decide which comments to take to heart.

2.) Not all contests are created equal. Some coordinators have a pool of more appropriate judges than others. I’ve been asked to judge contests where my credentials made sense. I’ve also been asked to rank submissions where the poor coordinator plainly reached out to me in desperation. What does this mean for authors? Consider all opinions, but don’t stress.

3.) Contest wins don’t always lead to more money. While the author’s prestige grows with each success and a sticker on a cover may help a reader gravitate to a book, an award may or may not translate into sales. If you doubt this, consider the many books, television shows, and movies that bomb despite raves from critics.

4.) Contest wins for unpublished authors don’t always lead to a book contract. Judges review submissions from the pool they receive and choose a winner. They may be looking at your entry versus three, six, or ten. Since most competitions for unpublished authors are wide open, authors with varying levels of skill may enter. By contrast, a busy editor may receive three, six, ten, or many more submissions in a single day. Literary agents rigorously vetted most of those proposals, so competition is likely to be much more stiff on an editor’s desk than in a contest. So while a contest win may urge an editor to take a closer look, that rivalry may mean your story doesn’t rise to the top of a publisher’s stack.

If you enter a contest and don’t final or win, don’t despair. At the very least, the contest gives you a chance to see where your work ranks among other current authors’. And you may gain valuable written feedback. Please note that many, if not most, works that eventually are published by a traditional publisher never win a contest for unpublished authors. Most books, including many bestsellers, never win an award.

My advice? Keep entering contests, but also keep the results in perspective.

Your turn:

Have you entered contests?

What did you learn from entering contests?

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