This week I entered my novel, Motherless Child, in three contests. Each one awards prizes to independent book publishers. Entering the book into those contests was quite scary for me.
It’s scary because I’ve entered lots of contests and not so much as placed in any of them - songwriting contests, short story contests, poetry contests. The most painful was when I entered the Creative Loafing short story contest for the last time. I submitted a story that not only tied in well to their requested theme (math) but which I felt was among one of the best stories I had ever written.
I didn’t win, I didn’t place, and I didn’t like the stories that did win. I remain baffled by the results. I did eventually publish the story in Left Bank Magazine, which restored my faith in the quality of my work at least.
In honor of my recent brave attempt to win another contest, I want to review, for myself and for others, what contests are all about. There are ways to think about them that will make you a contender. There are other ways to think about them that will make you miserable.
First, remember that it’s a contest about criteria, not about quality. The judges are looking for the thing that best fits the criteria they are judging you on. You may have written a beautiful book, but if you entered it into the category of “science fiction” and the judges don’t think it’s “science fiction” they won’t give it another glance.
Second, remember the odds. Everyone is trying to win that contest, and everyone thinks they’re awesome. You can better the odds by being sure your entry is exactly what the contest asks for, down to the serif on the letter F, so that you at least get your work looked at.
Third, remember that judges are freakishly overwhelmed and make decisions during a contest that they wouldn’t necessarily make in a regular situation. They often have to make decisions about too many things with too little time, and they probably inadvertently pass over entries because of any number of dumb reasons like what they had for breakfast, their last argument with their spouse, or the fact that your name is the same as that teacher they had in third grade who made them miss recess. While winning a contest means your work has merit, losing it does not mean your work is necessarily lacking in merit.
I think some people are really good at winning contests. They work hard at creating things that are designed to win, that check off all the boxes, that catch judges’ eyes. It also may be that these contest winning efforts aren’t worth a lot when the contest is over.
Contests are good exercises in preparation, self-assurance and fun. If you can play by the rules and you don’t need the winnings to pay the rent, you’re golden. If you want more than that, you should probably read some of my earlier blogs.
Do you have experience with contests? Won, lost, judged? Can you share with us what you know?
News from a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books
This week I did a wonderful interview with Elizabeth Dunne for her podcast, Freelancer and Other Words That Start With F. I talked all about publishing, self-publishing and freelance writing. I'll be able to share that with you in about a month!
Two new articles with yours truly somewhere within them:
Adam Cole is a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books. Fantasy author, music educator and performer, Adam chats weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and living your best life. To get a free book on marketing tips for passing out fliers, getting on your own radio show, and writing a blog people will read, please go to www.mymusicfriend.net and subscribe.