Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It Isn't Whether You Win or Lose . . .

How you “play the game” becomes very important when you’re entering a writing contest. I’ve put together this list of tips to help you get the most out of your contest experience.

* Do your research. Treat your contest preparation much like you would your submission process. Find out who the final-round judges will be. Target agent/editor judges you know are actively acquiring in the area that you’re writing in. The biggest benefit of these contests is that they can get your work under the noses of the right people.

* Only submit entries for completed projects. If you’re serious about getting published, don’t enter a work in progress. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve requested a full from a contest and then never heard from that author again. As I mentioned before, the best reason for doing these contests is to expose your work to publishing professionals, and hopefully get them excited about your writing. Unfortunately, with all of the material we receive every day, we agents can have the attention spans of six-year-olds. If we want to see your work, we want it now! Three months, nine months, two years later . . . it’s quite likely we won’t care anymore.

* Keep it all in perspective. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, everything’s subjective. You may get contradictory advice from one judge to the next. If that’s the case, it’s always best to go with your gut. I’ve noticed with most of my clients that when I send them revisions, they almost always see how my points will make the book stronger (or that I may be off-base). I think when you get a good piece of advice for your book, you often know it. If the feedback just doesn’t connect for you, then don’t feel you HAVE to incorporate it.

* Don’t let a win go to your head. While first place can be a great confidence booster, don’t read too much into it. A win doesn’t mean you’ll be published within the next six months. If you’ve spoken to a lot of contest winners, you’ll find that many of them are still looking to break into publishing. There’s a lot of reasons for this. First off, there’s a gazillion contests out there. The odds just aren’t in your favor. Second, you’re only as good as your competition. Just because an editor/agent thought you wrote better than the other finalists doesn’t necessarily mean they LOVED your work. If the judge doesn’t explicitly request to see the manuscript/proposal, don’t assume they want to see it because they gave you first place. They’ll ask for it if they want it. If they wrote some particularly glowing comments and you are just convinced that the request slipped their mind, then write the judge a letter thanking them for their kind words and add “If you’re ever interested in looking at the complete manuscript, please contact me at ______.”

* Don’t become a contest junkie. Some writers end up relying too heavily on the contest circuit and use the feedback to “workshop” the book to death. There comes a time when you just have to get out there and start submitting. It’s like surfing match.com, but never going out on a date. It’s not going to get you anywhere.

Do you have any contest tips that have worked for you?