Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Conned at a Conference: Contests

Isn’t this business a contest enough?

In the last contest I entered, there was a moment where I stood in a flock of writers all chatting loudly at the seminar (it’s paradoxical to see writers bloom boisterously at these get-togethers because they’re otherwise quiet loners) and I tracked down Joanne, one of the coordinators. She handed me my scored entries then said, “Hold on while I find your critique sheets.”
I let her know, “I didn’t sign up for those. Just needed to find out if I won or not.” My first ten pages came back with something like a 92 which ranked pretty well, but didn’t get me finalist.

Jaw nearly unhinging in her surprise, Joanne asked, “You don’t want to see what the evaluators had to say?”
“Do you think if I changed it to whatever they suggested someone will accept my manuscript?”

She gave me a smile mingled with scolding and mischief. “It’s not as simple as that you know it.”
“Plus, why would I pay extra for their feedback when I’ve spent months in critique groups getting critiqued to death for free?”

She didn’t have an answer. And apparently, I’m the only scribe in history who opted out of these hell-of-a-deal critiques, rebel that I am.
If my whimsical logic in the above situation resonates with you, the rest of this posting will be down your alley. Otherwise, you’ll more than likely deem me as a cheapskate and a crabapple. Rest assured, I’m not grumpy, but cheap…you betcha.

So, in said case, my manuscript didn’t even reach the finals which are judged by a panel of editors and agents. I graciously accepted that. By all means, it’s good exposure if you make it to the finals. Now…keep in mind that comprising the team of evaluators in a typical conference contest is a mixed bag, a lot of non-published authors, newbies—some who may not even stick with the pursuit to publication once they find out how hard it is, and usually a few who have gotten some independent deals. Maybe…maybe… a couple of writers who have New York pubs join the cast, but this is rare because they’re taxed enough with trying to stay in that status by marketing and meeting deadlines. In other words, if you’re a member of that organization hosting the cook off, the evaluators are people in your same league. It is ludicrous to pay for feedback from your peers yet again. Everybody’s got an opinion and the most polished pages read by fresh eyes will continue to gather ‘suggestions for change’ if you let it snowball.
As for the contest itself, bang-for-the-buck evaluation, I would suggest that every writer enter at least one or two, then evaluate whether to do them anymore. Contests are a lot of work for those who run them and, provided that the entry fee is around $30, they’re a reasonable service. I don’t recommend entry because it will get you a book deal. Rather, you try it out for education.

An NYT Bestselling author I know confided to me once, “Winning contests will get you good at winning contests.”
Take that as you wish, but I have indeed noticed that a lot of acquaintances who are pretty sharp writers and recent contest winners are doing just that, winning, but not much else. Professional contacts are being made I’m sure, but I’m still crossing my fingers for them that something significant will break through. Maybe it’s because the industry is changing so drastically. 10 years ago, winning competitions appeared to open doors a little better. I have a couple of author pals who scored NY book deals back in the day after claiming a blue ribbon, but again, recently, I haven’t heard any ground-shaking news. Please feel free to share if you know of anyone snagging a contract with the big houses directly from taking first prize.

Of course, to each their own. There are people out there who adore a friendly challenge and just take this sort of thing in stride with the business. However, if you’re fairly new to the mission of publication, and think contests in some way are a fast track, cool your jets. Writing world is plenty competitive in every path. Enter one of these and you’ll experience it up close.
Above all, make sure that you are also sending your work to agents and publishers with open door submission policies. Believe it or not, that’s how most of my entourage with book deals made it.

Next and final installment : The Big Wrap Up - The Best Advice I Ever Got at a Conference


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree, Gusto! Well written!

Everyone has an opinion, but not all opinions belong in your work. Sure, some will most likely write in and take issue with what you've said, and point out all the positives to contests, and that's fine, but in my experience, no, haven't seen any earth-shattering results, either. The way I look at it, you can either write for/toward contest entry or write to publish--nothing "wrong" with either, but understand what you're doing. Contests don't guarantee you publication, and in today's New Indie World, there are definitely other options!

And I love your statement about " Plus, why would I pay extra for their feedback when I’ve spent months in critique groups getting critiqued to death for free?" if you belong to critique groups, and gaining such a "look" from that person tells me much about the "traditional mindset" of that person...and "traditional" is not what I'm (and I'm sure many others) about. I love breaking rules and simply don't like being told what to do, what's acceptable. I've found critique groups and contests too "set in their ways" too traditional about "what must be and must not be" in mss and their execution. What must be done up front, in the middle, at the end. To me, if a story "works," who cares how it's constructed...if the construction didn't work, then the story didn't work. Flashbacks have always bugged my groups, now, everyone's doing them.