Every writer knows that winning a writing contest gives you something to put in the “About Me” paragraph of your query letters. But there are more benefits than that to these creative competitions. Writing contests offer the following boosts to your writing career:
- Deadlines. We all have to deal with them and they are an important part of an author’s career. Proposal deadlines. Manuscript deadlines. Editing deadlines. Marketing deadlines. So entering contests on time is good practice with these dreaded dates.
- Editing/Polishing. Making your work better is what writers should be spending most of their time doing. Not only writing that first draft, but polishing it through multiple rounds of editing. Edit for dialogue. Edit for grammar and spelling. Edit for pacing. The list is nearly endless. Editing your entry before emailing it to a contest is good practice for what’s to come.
- Criticism. You’ll hear criticism of your work throughout your career, and writing is no different. Criticism helps you grow as a writer, and contests that offer critiques and/or score sheets as part of your entry fee can be worth their weight in gold to help you zero in on problems in your craft. Of course take them all with a grain of salt. This is your book, after all, not some anonymous judge’s. But learning to take criticism and grow from it is a valuable writing lesson.
- Cost. Some writing contests are free and some cost money ranging from a few dollars to hundreds. Dedicating a portion of your hard earned day job money to the task of advancing your writing prowess should be planned for and actually paid. Contests are a way to dip your toe into the lifelong process of paying for writing advice, services and experience.
- Agent or Editor Acquisition. The most recent client I agreed to represent was a writer whose entries I had judged in a writing contest. She won the San Francisco Writing Contest in the children’s category two years in a row. We met up at the February conference just to touch base and I asked to read her entire manuscript. I fell in love with it and became her agent this summer. It doesn’t always happen, but for me this is the second client who I’ve met through a writing contest.
So, before you let others dissuade you from entering a contest because it is “just a waste of money”, think of these benefits and it might change your mind. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention many more advantages of contests. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and maybe share some of your writing contest successes!