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Thursday, April 04, 2013

What next, you winner?

It’s an unfortunate truth—if there are writing contests, there will be people who do not win them and most of the time those people will be you and me.

The American Christian Fiction Writer’s First Impressions contest recently announced 2012 winners—out of almost 600 entries, five people won (one in each genre category). The organization’s Genesis contest had 438 entries this year and will announce nine winners in September.

So know going into it that, when it comes to writing contests, the odds are against you winning. Does that mean you shouldn’t enter? Not at all! But what it does mean is you need to enter contests for the right reason—getting that invaluable feedback. If you win, great! In fact, stupendous! But if you don’t, what can you learn from your contest scores?

If you were one of the 595 or so who didn’t win First Impressions—or if you find yourself among the 429 who don’t win in the Genesis contest—give yourself a half hour to mourn, but remember, putting your work out there for review in any contest is brave. Here’s the truth: Even if you don’t win the certificate, you are not a loser. You still win!

Obedience pays off

It’s true. In a real sense, you win—regardless of what writing contest you enter. You took a critical step—you submitted your writing for review. You poured out the story God laid on your heart and invited experts to judge it. You were obedient.

But you also won because you will receive your judging score sheet with those invaluable comments from publishing professionals on the details of writing, such as Characterization, Plot, Conflict, Dialogue, Setting, Mechanics, and Overall Writing Quality.

If you apply the suggestions you receive to your manuscript, you could be a finalist—or even a winner (again)—next year.

Male winnner image courtesy of imagerymajestic; Female winner image courtesy David Castillo Dominici/

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor at, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.


  1. As a writer just about to enter her first contest, these were words of Godincidence for me today!

    Thank you.

    Peace, Julie

    1. So glad to hear that, Julie. Write on--and enter on!

  2. Agh! It is daunting, for sure, when you look at those numbers. Contests are a good chance for feedback, but just like any critique feedback, discernment is needed when you decide what to implement. Wishing all the best to the First Impressions winners and future congrats to the winners of Genesis. If nothing else, entering contests is a step forward in your writing career!

    1. Heather, you are correct. Discernment is always a good thing--in critique and elsewhere.

  3. As one who's entered just a few contests, I will attest that the feedback from the judges is invaluable. Winning was just the icing.

    1. What an inspirational attitude, Laura!

  4. You are so right, Michael. I've been entering contests for several years now, and until this year, I kept getting close without finaling or winning. But each time, I'd "grieve" my loss a while, and then pull out the comments and see what the judges said needed improvement. I prayed over the suggestions, then worked to implement the ones that made sense. Even a year later, I was still re-looking at things in the score sheets to be sure my work was the best I could make it. It's paid off. Since January of this year, I've won FOUR contests (including the First Impressions) and landed an agent.

    1. You are a great example of how to work the contest circuit. It is so critical to keep the scoresheets and look at the over and over through the year. I've found judges' comments 'change' when I look at them 2-, 3-, or more months later.


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