Friday, July 25, 2008

Win, Lose or Draw

Keep in mind all you’re about to hear is coming from a reverted contest slut. I’ve entered over 50, finalled in a few and placed in a couple. So did my money pay off? For the most part. I got feedback on things I was testing out, and got the chance to get in front of a couple agents and editors. However, I will share a few things I’ve learned. And no, it’s not a 12 step program to quit.

Pay attention to what the contest asks for. Does it want the first chapter, the first three chapters or even the last chapter? Or perhaps you have to enter the first meet, the first kiss or even an emotional scene. Make sure what you’re sending meets the guidelines and can end on a hook. If that manuscript makes it to a final judge you want that person to want more. Trust me!

Make sure you can afford to spend the money. Even with the lull in the economy contest prices haven’t dropped. Most are still around $20 a pop, except the Golden Heart which remains at $50. So choose wisely, instead of emptying your bank account for a longshot that isn’t a sure thing.

Do you really want the final judge to read your work? If the judge isn’t on your hit list, why not choose another contest where they are the final judge. If the judge isn’t an agent or editor, then go in knowing that. If it’s a published author, make sure that you know their work.

Check the grading sheets. If you know your submission will grade low in a category or categories, choose another submission or another contest. Because of problems with grading sheets, some chapters have actually just started letting judges make good/bad comments about entries.

Follow the guidelines. Every contest has them, those rules for how to make your manuscript just so. The right margins, headers, footers, point size, etc. Do not think you’ll get lucky and no one will notice. Chances are high that your entry will be returned, but your entry fee will not.

Be sure you’re ready. Some judges don’t pull punches and others like me try to give the author good with the bad. Some of the comments can make you cry, but others will make you laugh out loud. I still smile when thinking about all the smiley faces I got marked-up on LOVEMAKER. But don’t let fear stop you. If you need to jump the hurdle of sending out that manuscript you’ve been slaving over, then use the judges as a sounding board. That way you can fix your prose and send them to that editor/agent you’ve been eyeing.

Be prepared to throw out half of the comments. Some judges’ reactions are on the money, but some aren’t. Make sure to review all of what they say before you start reworking. It’s also good to give the info a day or more to sink in so you can process everything. In my experience I seem to split everyone. Usually one person hates it and one person loves it (and occasionally one is in the middle on the fence). I’ve heard this is a good sign because it made the judges feel passionately. However, a better way to look the situation is to determine is the judges made similar comments. If so, the issue likely is a problem.

Find the time to judge a contest. After you judge peers work you will see what else other writers in your genre have to offer. Plus you’ll have a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes. I’ve judged several contests, and actually was sorry that I couldn’t judge the Maggies this year because I’m not PAN. If you judge, don’t be afraid to sign your name. I got two fabulous cards from people I judged last year.


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1 comment:

Savanna Kougar said...

Actually I enjoy judging. And wish I had more time to devote to it.
So true about letting comments sink in before doing any major changes. I think the first reading of comments can be out of proportion to what's really being suggested sometimes.