Are you thinking about entering The Colorado Gold Contest for unpublished writers? Let me ask you something first, before sharing my thoughts. It sounds as if you’re trying to find an excuse to avoid entering. Why? What’s the problem?
What?! You’re afraid you won’t win? Well, pull up a chair and let 's talk about winning. To be honest though, I’m also anxious to talk about losing.
Yes, I’ve won my share of contests and it’s exciting. First you receive word that you’re one of the finalists in your category. At the big banquet, all spiffed in your fancy pants, your heart pounds when your name is called. You bolt to the podium amidst waves of applause. And then, the moment of truth. Who won? You did? Applause! The editor picked your entry and now she’s shaking your hand!
Shhhh… Here’s what you’ll do later, right? You’ll find her in the bar or hospitality suite and thank her for selecting your manuscript. Then, at the perfect moment, she’ll undoubtedly lean close and slip you a three-book contract.
Ahem. You really do write fiction, don’t you?
What will really happen is that you'll have an edge, and the final judge in your category might just request a full. Regardless, you’ll have increased confidence as well as additional credentials to boost your resume, which is very helpful in this profession of ours. But wait, there's more.
Cut to scene at pitch meeting: ME, many years ago: “Hi, Big $$ Agent! I’ve had several articles published as well as one short story, and I just won first place in the Colorado Gold Contest for my time-travel, Soliloquy... Yes, it’s complete, about 80,000 words. Sure, I have a few pages with me. Here.”
BIG $$ AGENT (flipping through the first three pages): “Well, at least you can write. Here’s my card, send me the manuscript next week. I'll take a look.”
Happy dance! Was it because I’d polished and honed and studied and fussed and fumed and listened to my friends in critique regarding those first 20 pages, which helped me win the contest? Most likely. But I didn't win first place the first time I entered.
Speaking of not winning, I want to talk about losing a writing contest and why that’s not a bad thing. Yes, I know it’s not politically correct to say “you lost,” but if you didn’t win that means you lost. Or does it?
Alone, in the dark (and sometimes stormy) night, I’d written my first book. Then I attended a class on How to Get Published. At the class I joined fellow attendees to form a critique group (Uff Da!). During that class I also learned about writing organizations, conferences, and contests. I learned about RMFW. I wasn’t alone anymore.
Entering my first Colorado Gold contest was scary-fun. I remember being chew-on-your-elbows nervous when preparing my entry, to the point that I probably had the rules memorized from double-checking them. I already mentioned I didn't win first place in that first contest I entered. But in retrospect I did win, BIG time.
The RMFW conference and contest were my first real foray into the big, bad world of publishing. When I didn’t win first place I was flattened. Think fresh asphalt on a hot day. I was so certain that I would be the next Zenna Henderson or Julian May. The world of fantasy would be mine for the taking… and it wasn’t. But the writers and editors and agents at the conference welcomed me to their panels and luncheons and dinners, and we talked, talked, talked about writing and publication. I doubt that I’ve ever learned so much in so few days. But I was still sad about not winning first place.
At some point I hitched up my britches, grabbed a cup of tea, and carefully arranged my score sheets on the dining room table so I could study them on a warm, optimistic morning. Oh no, look at this, where I keep shifting POV! Oh no, look at that passive text! Deep breath. Oh wait, here’s a nice comment. This judge liked my synopsis, said the overall story holds together. And this judge said my voice is INCREDIBLE. All in caps! Wow! Then she said if I’d tighten my pacing, address a few mechanical issues such as POV and passive text, that she would have purchased my book if flipping through it at a bookstore!
I’d already sent out at least a half-dozen queries before entering that contest. I should dig them out and send apologies to each of those editors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my first manuscript, my very first try at novel-length fiction, but I now recognize how poorly it’s crafted, that it lacks pacing, subplots, and world-building. The comments from the contest helped me recognize what I needed to study to improve my next effort. And manuscript number two was better. I kept entering contests, reading, attending critique, learning, and most importantly, writing new words. Then, with manuscript number three I finally landed my first publication contract.
But let’s talk rejection for a moment. There could be an analogy made between losing a contest and that loss preparing you for a glimpse of the future, when query after query might trigger rejection after rejection. In other words, the contest is kind of an apprenticeship for the world of publishing. You want to win the contest and you want to win a publication contract. To win either there are lessons to be learned, words to write, worlds to conquer.
When an agent sends comments with a rejection this is a compliment, even though they're attached to a rejection. Just like in the contest, there are lessons to be learned from those comments. Yes, you do have to filter all comments, decide if you agree or disagree. But your writing will improve and someday you will win! First you’ll land an agent or you’ll meet an editor and pitch to them. They’ll love your story idea and request a partial, then a full. You’ll receive an offer and then… a contract!
So when it comes to writing contests, it seems as if losing might just be winning. Of course winning is winning as well. Guess that means you can’t lose, doesn’t it?
RMFW's 2013 Colorado Gold Contest is now open! See submission guidelines at http://www.rmfw.org/contest/ for full contest information!