December marks the beginning of the end of 2016. The year brought a mixed bag, but writers should look at these final weeks a different way: the prep-period before contests.

Contests give you an opportunity to get a sample of your work in the hands of multiple judges who may provide feedback on critical areas of your work. You could end up a finalist, which guarantees a VIP judge (usually an agent or an editor) reads your project.

Contests exist in every genre you can imagine. One of the best ways to find some is to visit a reputable organization for your genre. For example, Romance Writers of America has dozens of chapters, most with a contest non-members can enter. The larger organization has its own contests that can launch careers in spectacular ways.

December is often the last time you’ll have to polish your manuscript to meet contest guidelines. Since a lot of contests ask for the first 5, 10, or 20 pages, use this month to revise the first 50 pages. You should do an Internet search for judging criteria sample sheets. That way, you see exactly what judges will focus on, and make sure your work will hit the big points.

When January rolls in, and the deadlines loom, your manuscript will be the strongest possible, boosting your chances to get in that finalist ring.

And now, my shameless contest plug.

The San Francisco Writers Conference is accepting entries for the 2017 San Francisco Writing Contest. The contest is open to all writers everywhere, including those attending the 2017 San Francisco Writers Conference. The entry fee is $35 per item.

Your entry must fit into one of the following categories:
* Adult Fiction
* Adult Nonfiction (including memoir)
* Children’s/YA Books

Entries may have been self-published or not-yet published, but not traditionally published. Entries can be up to 1500 words in length (or less, but not more).

Please use the contest registration form on this web site SFWriters.org/contest-registration to upload your entry/entries and pay. It’s easy! If you prefer to send your fee by check, mail both the entry and check to SF Writing Contest, PO Box 326, Oakley, CA 94561.

All fees and entries must be received by 5:00 pm Pacific Time on January 13, 2017.

Finalists will be announced on the website on February 3, 2017.

Winners will be announced during lunch on Friday, February 17, 2017, at the Conference.

The Grand Prize winner will receive $250 and a 15-minute in-person meeting at the conference or a 15-minute scheduled telephone call with a literary agent who represents work like yours. First place winners in each category will receive checks for $100.

Questions? Problems? Contact Contest Coordinator Tricia Skinner at SFWritingContest@gmail.com.