No Contest

- by Charlotte Hubbard

How do you feel about writing contests? Recently, a new member of a writers org I belong to lost her contest virginity and came away feeling, well—traumatized. Several other members consoled her on the email loop, about the vagaries of scores and the obvious incompetence of (or at least the lack of consistency among) judges and scoring, so I chimed in.

I refuse to enter writing contests. I entered one years ago, and got such a scatter-gun array of comments—including some that upset me or just plain ticked me off (this after I had published several books) that I said, “Ya know, I really don’t need this negativity.” It was just one more of those Things That Go Bump in Our Writing Psyches, and I can create plenty of those little devils without help from anyone else!

I also dislike the time/effort it takes to tweak an entry so it matches contest qualifications. I know authors who keep notebooks and lists of the contest entries they have out for consideration, and I’m thinking that for the same investment of time I could’ve written several chapters of a book instead of revising the same opening pages or chapters to make it fit each contest I entered. <shrug>

Maybe this sounds really dense or egotistical to you, but the only people I allow to critique my work are my agent and my editors–because they sign my checks. Their opinions matter. If I’m not feeling brutalized enough by an editor’s revision letters or my agents um, gentle suggestions about why he doesn’t like my proposal, I can always look up reviews of my books that readers have posted on Amazon or BN.com.

Has a lack of contest winnings affected my career? Well, it’s true I can’t put “Winner of the XYZ Award” on my book covers or on my website. I’ve never entered the Rita, so I stand no chance of ever earning that recognition among my peer romance writers. Here again, I might sound weird or egotistical, but I don’t participate in the Rita or other prestigious contests because I feel funny about submitting my own work for recognition. If I win awards, I want it to be because someone else was so blown away by my story that they entered it in a contest, or held it up for recognition. I enjoyed being nominated for RT’s Readers’ Choice Awards because I didn’t wave my books in readers’ faces saying, “Pick me! I’m the most wonderful!”

So, the only award I have ever won was when A PATCHWORK FAMILY was selected as the Inspirational Book of the Year by a review site…and I see now that the award button got lost in the shuffle when I had a new website designed, so in the Grand Scheme of Things, this award is history. I feel extremely gratified, however: years after this book is out of print, readers still contact me to tell me how much they love this story and the rest of the Angels of Mercy series.

Does my anti-contest mindset seem strange to you? Do you suspect I’m over-sensitive to criticism or just plain stupid, in this era where we writers are supposed to promote our work in every arena we can?

Well, think what you want! After more than 20 years of being published, with three websites up and running, I’m now writing books back-to-back for two different publishers and am busier than I care to be! I just thought I’d reassure writers who don’t enjoy contest criticism that, hey–so what? It’s not the end of your career if you don’t enter writing contests. It may well increase your writing confidence and sanity, and in today’s publishing climate, that’s worth quite a lot.

3 comments

  1. Great article! Contest results can be brutal. And expensive!

  2. Contests are a crap shoot. Losing one doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer and winning one doesn’t mean you’re a good writer, it just means the judges responded either negatively or positively to your writing.

    Before I was published I entered a few contests, even finalled in a couple, but now I’m with you, the only comments I listen to are from agents, editors and most importantly of all – READERS! :-)

    Elysa

  3. I have mixed feelings about contests. I’ve judged a few and tried to be kind but honest (although I probably came across to the authors as just plain brutal) and give helpful suggestions. Patting an author on the head and saying “everything you did was great” is NOT helpful, unless, of course, it’s true. I think contest feedback helps an author develop the thick skin they’ll need to continue in this business. Contests may also weed out some of the lesser talent whose sensitivities can’t take the criticism. Unless you’re prepared for some good and some not so good reactions, don’t enter a writing contest!