If you are looking to be published, yes, DO enter contests.
But a contest win may not result in your book’s publication by a traditional publisher. Today I hope to help you become less frustrated and more understanding regarding some reasons why.
First of all, contests’ criteria don’t reflect all the requirements of publishers, nor should they. Most contests judge on such factors as grammar, compelling hook, character development, and story. This world exists outside of the constraints of a traditional publisher.
However, since agents and editors seek excellence in these areas, competitions are relevant and can be a great way to receive helpful feedback. A book can win a contest, but then editors and agents have other factors to consider, such as:
- Word Count. Most contests don’t focus on word count. Yes, there can be calls for “long” or “short” entries, but these are usually for published books. An author can win an award, but an editor needing a 90,000-word book will not contract for a 40,000-word story. Authors revise and resubmit every day; but when you’re looking to be published, why not start with a book that fits the publisher’s guidelines for word count?
- Judges Don’t Consider Category. Most contests allow the author to select the category to enter, which makes sense and should not change. However, many authors mislabel their genres. I’ve judged many an entry that didn’t fit the category, but still gave the entry high marks based on the contest’s criteria. However, when an author submits to agents and editors, a mislabeled manuscript shows shaky knowledge of the market. Please know that I won’t turn down a fantastic romantic suspense novel mislabeled as a contemporary romance, but why not be accurate from the start?
- The winning entry may be a standout among a bunch of duds. I don’t mean to be harsh, but no contest boasts the same number of stellar entries each year. To cite another example, a horse that wins the Kentucky Derby one year might have won fifth place the previous year among faster horses. In any match, the pool of entries is a factor. Yes, the winning entry has been judged best out of that batch that year, and that’s always great. But there’s more.…
- The world outside of the contest is colossal. You may be the hometown beauty queen; but regional level comes next, then state level, then national, and international. Small contests are like the hometown pageant. Yes, you want to tell everyone about your success; but know that traditional publishers seek to crown Miss Universe.
Have you ever been a contest judge? What did you learn?
What do you do when feedback from a contest seems harsh?
What have you learned from entering contests?
Which contests do you plan to enter this year? How did you choose?