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Monday, February 16, 2015

Writing Contests - What's In It For You?

by Pamela S. Meyers

Wanda Writer signed on to the ACFW eloop and scanned the list of posts. She kept her finger poised over the delete key, clicking on it every so often, picking and choosing which posts to keep and which ones to banish. She paused at a reminder from the Genesis Head Coordinator that there was still time to enter the Genesis Writing Contest.

A nudge to click on the message kept her transfixed for a moment, but why bother? She’d entered the writing contest a couple years ago, and what did she have to show for her time but a lost entry fee and a judge’s comment that all but said she didn’t know how to write and should find another way to pass her time. It had taken her almost a year to get over that and start writing again. Her finger hit delete and the reminder disappeared from her computer screen and from her thoughts.

But, the next time Wanda opened her WIP to work on it, the nudge returned. She had taken those workshops at conference last year and joined a good critique group since the last contest. Maybe it was time to enter Genesis again. But what if that same judge or another like him or her got her entry? She never wanted to go through that again. She pushed all thoughts of entering out of her head and never considered entering the contest again. Weeks later, when one of her crit partners shared how a contest judge's hard criticism woke her up to a weakness in her writing and how grateful she was for receiving the judge's input, Wanda questioned if she'd been too hasty in deciding not to enter the contest.

Does that scenario sound remotely similar to your experience with writing contests? Or perhaps you’ve never entered a contest before and get a case of jitters just thinking about it?

This is the time of year that writing contests for unpublished writers seem to be everywhere. Currently, ACFW’s Genesis (of which I am head coordinator) is in the middle of its first round. There are other contests also going on for unpublished writers you may want to look into by Googling.
Here are three great reasons that you should consider entering a contest or two this year.
  1. Experience—no matter how many contests you enter, each one gives you more experience in preparing a manuscript for submission, following guidelines, and becoming more comfortable with strangers seeing and evaluating your work.
  1. Feedback from Judges—Contest judges can vary from veteran writers or published authors to editors and agents (usually in the later rounds). Yes, some judges can be blunt, and judging is always subjective. But, entrants can often times learn more from a candid judge than from a gentle judge. I experienced this when a Genesis judge gave me a low score for POV when my story was in first person. Of course, I wondered how she could give me such a low score when there was no POV shift or head hopping? I later learned the reason was that I hadn’t made my POV deep enough. That is where I first learned about deep POV and have incorporated it in my writing ever since.
  1. A Chance of Winning—Most contests don’t hold a promise of a book contract for the first place winner or even a monetary award. But, winning does give you bragging rights and something great to add to your writing resume. Placing in a contest shows you can follow writer’s guidelines and your writing is good enough to win. It says a lot about your character traits that appeal to publishers and agents.

You may be saying, “Okay this all sounds good on paper, but I never want to experience the hurt I felt when that judge said . . . ”  
Yes, it does hurt. But if you decide ahead of time that you are going to put on your rhino skin and not fall apart if you do receive a few bad comments, you’ll be better able to ignore them.

The best way I’ve found to deal with disappointing judge remarks is to put the score sheets away for a while and not look at them for at least a week or maybe a month. I then go to the Lord and pray through my bad feelings. It's especially therapeutic to journal about my feelings and get them out on paper. Sometimes it has taken many pages of notepaper to get them all out, but it really does help.

I always save any positive remarks I’ve received from my crit partners that I can go back to and read during my moments of despair over a bad judge remark. And you can be assured that such experiences don’t end once you’re published. One bad review can send an author into a tailspin. That’s when many will go to the positive reviews and fan letters they’ve received and reread them.
I hope by now, if you’ve been on the fence about entering a writing contest this year, I’ve convinced you to take the plunge. For more information about the ACFW Genesis contest you can go to

Just remember that no matter where you place in the contest, all entrants are winners in one form or another. So what are you waiting for? 

A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats. She’s an hour's drive away from her Wisconsin hometown, which she visits often. Her novels include Thyme for Love, and Love Will Find a Way, contemporary romantic mysteries, and her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Wisconsin and other Midwestern spots for new story ideas.


  1. I've entered many contests, both before and after I've published. I trained myself to learn from what the judges say. If I have gotten a judge who gave me a bad score, Like you, I've tried to learn from it. And I nearly always did.

    We'd all love to have everyone love our work and think we're brilliant. But it isn't going to happen in this business. If one can't don rhino skin, then maybe that person needs to look for another outlet for their creativity.

  2. Sometimes rhino skin is not enough. I think back on some of the things people said to me in contests and pitch meetings (and that I wrote on other's MSs as a judge), and I think "what are we doing and why are we doing it?"

    I know that won't be popular, and I can't deny I learned a lot of valuable stuff from contests, but I'm still not writing because of those and other experiences.

    Just being honest about my personal experience. Your experience will vary.


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