A few months ago I finaled in a contest with a manuscript that hadn’t made the contest rounds in a long time. I sent it to the first contest I ever entered, proving that submitting to contests (and editors and agents) requires faith in your writing ability and a thick skin. My first chapter didn’t fare well against the other entries, but I finished the manuscript and received a rejection before putting the poor thing to bed for a few years. And let it gather dust.
But I liked the hook and the story possibilities, so I decided to revise the plot and work on the characters. Time to take a deep breath and try another contest. I hoped the story showed improvement, but I didn’t really know. The more I read it over, tinkered with words and practically memorized the dialogue, the more I realized I was way past evaluating it myself.
When I finaled, I assumed I’d receive positive feedback and maybe a few strokes for my ego. I did -- along with a detailed explanation of weaknesses. Ouch. First I looked for the comments from the judge who gave me the lowest scores. No comments, just numbers. But fortunately, the other judges remarked on the story’s strengths and flaws offering helpful suggestions. After I revise again I may submit this wip to another contest for additional feedback.
So I want to say: Even if you often final in contests, don’t be discouraged if a new manuscript doesn’t garner top scores. If it’s new to the contest circuit it might be riddled with errors you can’t see on your own. But at least one of the judges will find the most glaring flaws and tell you about them, hopefully in a kind way. And you’ll consider their suggestions and make any changes you agree with. Your manuscript will be stronger and ready for another go-round. Before long it might be ready to send to an editor or agent.
We all need objective opinions from knowledgeable people – probably not from our close friends who want us to succeed or our mother. If you haven’t written another Gone With The Wind, don’t expect the judges to say you have. Be happy when their critiques are honest and useful. Eventually, after enough evaluating and revising, your manuscript may become the latest best seller. But remember the more suggestions you receive from others, the better your chances become.