When I entered my first writing contest I had low expectations. After all, I’d been writing for less than a year. How could I possibly hope for anything beyond good, solid feedback? But hope I did—not for winning or even landing in one of the top three spots, but for a word of encouragement. I wanted (read craved) affirmation of some kind. Did I have potential, even a drop of talent I could develop through blood, sweat and tears? Or was I wasting my time scribbling when I should be doing something productive like getting a day job?
Still, my expectations were greater than I wanted to admit. Then I received the news I placed 9th out of 10, I knew there must be a mistake. No way could I be that bad. (And I thought my ego was fragile as an eggshell!) But after I read the low and mediocre scores, I realized I had a long way to go before my work was polished enough to final in a contest.
Did that devastate me? No it didn’t. I swallowed a big lump of disappointment and read the judges’ comments. No GMC. What’s that? No scene in the hero’s POV. Oh, wasn’t the heroine’s POV enough? Guess not. I learned I added too much back story and ignored emotion. But one of the judges actually liked my work and thought it had POTENTIAL! Bless her heart! That was sufficient praise to keep me at my computer.
Were my expectations too great? No. I expected helpful suggestions--positive and negative comments--and I received both. The feedback enabled me to revise my manuscript and eventually polish it enough to final in the first round in the next contest I entered. What a thrilling moment! Although I didn't make it to the second round, Dove chocolate eased my disappointment and kept me motivated.
Will a contest meet your expectations? That depends upon your expectations. If winning is the only result that counts, then you might get upset. If you hope for constructive criticsm, you'll probably be satisfied. Don't overlook the other benefits contests offer--the chance to get your name and work before an editor or agent and the satifaction of advancing one step in your journey toward publication.
In 2005, I decided to try my luck again. I hoped my writing had improved. Much to my delight and surprise I finalled in the next seven contests I entered and won three of them! This gave me the confidence and energy to keep writing and submitting to editors without fearing their rejection would stop me in my tracks.
And most of all, contests gave me friends with the same goals and interests—the Seekers. Are contests worthwhile? You bet they are.