Wednesday, April 10

Writing Contests are still viable

By Ava Cuvay

Blame it on Spring Break or the lovely weather we’re (finally!) having in Indiana, but I missed getting my post up yesterday. Which makes me a Dunderhead, right? In keeping with the recent trend of favorite words, I’ll throw that fun one out there... especially since most of my favorite words lean toward the 4-letter variety.

Wait, I take that back. “Moist” is five letters. ;-) Lol! I just had to “go there” because I’m feeling impish this week. I’ll blame that on the weather as well. (Ooooo, “impish.” I’ll have to use that one on a character!)

Unrelated, there’s recently been some scuttlebutt about a big author contest. “Scuttlebutt” is in truth an exceedingly poor word to describe what’s been going on with regards to this contest, and I don’t bring it up to delve into the complex and emotionally-charged details. But it makes me think of my local chapter’s upcoming contest for unpublished authors—the Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest—and what trickle-down effect the aforementioned scuttlebutt-on-steroids might have. What does the future hold for contests in general? Which ones will thrive, which ones will evolve, and which ones will wither away? (Hint: our IGO contest is nearly thirty years old, and has evolved... I'm pretty certain it will be one that survives :-)

Contests like ours, for unpublished authors, have a particularly uphill battle to fight, because it’s so darn easy to upload a document to Amazon, click a button, and—voila!—be a published author. So what is the selling point of contests for the seemingly-dwindling numbers that haven’t yet published? Potential for getting your work in front of an editor is a big draw. Our IGO contest has acquiring editors from both traditional and epub publishers for the finalists of each category.

Receiving a free critique with this chance to be seen by an editor is also a draw. And in my opinion, the best part about contests such as our IGO. I don’t know a single author who doesn’t dread getting their edits back or a critique partner’s comments… or worse, a one-star review! We have to develop thick skins, pull our big girl panties up and sally forth even when our baby requires drastic changes, and the strength to take everything with a grain of salt (preferably around the rim of a margarita). While hitting the “publish” button is relatively easy, the aftermath can be brutal. A contest with a critique included is a great litmus test for a potential author (and, hey, it’s not all bad… you’ll learn where your strengths lie as well!).

Promotion. I abhor contests that seem like popularity contests and “vote for my cover or whatever”… When a contest win is based on how many friends and fans I can rally to my side, I walk away. That’s a personal preference, but there is always an upside to ANY contest: self-promotion. Even if it’s a simple Facebook post asking for people to cross their fingers for you as you wait for the results, you have an opportunity to promote your author self. And if you final/win, the contest usually shouts that from the rooftops of their platforms as well (hey, more promotion for you!). And I’ll be honest… if you do well in a contest and then go on to great things, those contest people claim that victory as well by boasting about how well you’ve done thanks in part to the contest (okay… not those exact words. But also look at it this way: more promotion for you!).

So to anyone considering entering a writing contest, I urge to you take that step! It’s like winning the lottery; you can’t win if you don’t play. And who knows, that winner might very well be you! Unpublished authors, I especially urge you to try contests. I am the first to admit that I entered the Indiana’s IGO contest before I had ever considered joining an RWA chapter. I didn’t win. The critiques I received were a mix of great and omigawd-who-let-me-pretend-I-could-write. But it was the first real step I took toward my dream of publishing and I would absolutely not be here if I hadn’t entered.

So don’t let a little or even an enormous scuttlebutt keep you from entering writing contests. And if you’re an unpublished author looking for a pretty fabulous contest, give our IGO a try! (P.S. It opens up May 1st!)


  1. I can tell you that winning, or even finaling in a contest gives a tremendous boost to a writer's spirits. We work away, often in isolation, and to be given recognition helps to make it all worthwhile.

    I agree with you about the popularity contest type of contests, though I confess to having been involved in some myself. I much prefer the kind that involve unbiased judges.

    My writing group used to hold a contest that gave critiques. Finalists were judged by an agent or editor. But if you're going to enter a contest, be prepared for the critique. I coordinated our contest for a few years, and it frustrated me to no end when someone submitted the exact same entry as the previous year, with no changes whatsoever. Why bother entering if you don't plan to change a thing? I know every critique should be taken with a grain of salt, but you should at least consider suggestions, especially when more than one person offers them to you!

  2. I have mixed feelings about contests. I think the Big One in romance has lost its sparkle for various reasons, but I do believe chapter ones that provide feedback are as valuable and viable as they always were, the IGO being a great example. Good post, Ava!

  3. Great post and great insights, Ava! The IGO is good contest in that it does give feedback to up-and-coming authors. I entered the RITA this year and was sad to see all the "scuttlebutt" (great word!) around it. I felt bad about the issues, but also for the finalists, whose first moment of excitement got kind of rained on amidst what are legitimate questions about the contest itself. Hopefully RWA will get things ironed out.

  4. I definitely think contests are a great way to improve our writing game..assuming we're listening to that feedback with an open mind. And it never hurts to have a contest final/win in your pocket when talking with editors and agents! Great post, Ava!

  5. I think the feedback from a reputable contest can be great. And the winning high is awesome! I still brag about placing in WD contest in the Screenwriting category---a spec script for Ally Mcbeal--yes, it was that long ago. LOL. But, man placing 82 out of 945 entries, was amazing.