I was one of three final judges in a memoir contest this week. That was an eye-opener. As I understand it, there were several dozen entries which were evaluated by a large group of volunteers. The final judging involved the ten best manuscripts.
Now I’ve judged several writing contests and I know a lot of writers who enter (and some who win) writing contests. But I have to say that, for the most part, I’m not impressed by the writing I have seen in most of the contests I’ve judged. Often, there are two entries that far outshine everything else. And there might be three manuscripts that vie for third place—the judges’ job, then, is to eliminate the worst of them.
While some judges focus mainly on the entertainment value and/or organization of the entries, others give points for continuity and flow. Still others take points away for misspelled and misused words. One judge I worked with recently, knocked off quite a few points for poor endings. Another one would not even read two of the manuscripts because she couldn’t get into the story in the first paragraph.
Why am I telling you this? Why would I want to burst your bubble when it comes to entering contests? Actually, I don’t want to discourage you from entering contests, if that’s what you enjoy doing. Writing contests are definitely plentiful. We publish dozens and dozens of contest announcements every year in SPAWNews http://www.spawn.org. And there are numerous directories of contests for writers, artists, poets, photographers, etc.
There are definite benefits to entering writing contests. Many writers become published only after they have spent many years practicing, studying and entering contests. Each win or honorable mention adds to their level of confidence. Some writers enter contests for the accolades—they want the recognition for their resumes. When you visit their websites or you study their bios, you might read, “Award Winning Writer,” or “Award Winning Author.”
This serves to give writers and authors added credibility. Heck, we can use all of the help we can get to stand out, right? You’ll notice on the home page of the SPAWN website that we brag about our Writer’s Digest designation as one of the top 101 websites for writers in 2006 and 2009. (It should also say 2003 and 2004 as we have had the designation for all four of these years. I’ll have to talk to our webmaster.)
Yes, recognition is good. But for you writers who enter contests in order to get some measure of validity for your work, I have a warning. You need to know that your manuscript may not be judged against others of any real quality. Your win might not be as prestigious as you would like to think. And it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with feeling really great about winning a contest, enjoying the awards dinner, getting the pats on the back, etc. What I want to warn you about is getting too comfortable with your level of writing expertise.
Enter contests, sure. But still participate in a critique group. Continue to work with a mentor or an editor. Read works by excellent writers. And most of all continue to write.
There are some good books on writing. Especially, if you are interested in publishing what you write, be sure to read my book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book. http://www.matilijapress.com/rightway.html
Contact me for a free evaluation of your work. PLFry620@yahoo.com