Did you know that there are a ton of unexpected benefits you get from entering contests? Actually, after several years (and several contests) I knew there was, but when I started making the list, even I was amazed at how many unforeseen benefits I came up with!
Entering contests helps you learn to deal with rejection. Aarrrghh! Who wants to learn to deal with THAT?!? But, really, we’ve all heard how hard it is to find an editor who loves our stuff. Well, it’s just as hard to find 2 or 3 or ten judges who love your stuff. The first few times a manuscript finals in two consecutive contests, then bombs in the next one, you’ll wonder just what you’ve gotten yourself into. But after a few times of this rollercoaster, you’ll be prepared for just about anything. Not that you’ll LIKE it, but at least you can learn to deal with it. And you’ll be that much better prepared to handle those same ups and downs from editors later on.
In the same vein, you know all those rollercoaster scores and critiques? Well, when judge #1 tells you they loved paragraph number three on page ten, but judge #2 tells you to cut the same paragraph … because it’s too flowery, and Judge #3 skims right over it without missing a beat, and your eyes start to cross … .
BTW, I'm not making that up. It really happened in a contest once!
Regardless, this is all good practice for the different comments you’ll get from editors. One editor will love your writing and another won’t. The only difference between them and contest judges is that they can buy your manuscript.
You learn to deal with the divergent scores. How can two different people judge the same ms and come up with a 50 or 60 point difference? The same way that I can read a book and it not do a thing for me, but you can read the same book and think it’s the best thing since Ruthy’s hazelnut Colombian coffee blend. It’s the same with editors. One will love your book, another will … not. It doesn’t mean it’s not any good. It just means it’s not what they (or their house or line) are looking for. Period.
And all those wild contest scores will help you learn to deal with it a little at a time.
And here’s something a little more tangible. You will learn to meet deadlines. If you set your heart on entering the Genesis or the Golden Heart, then you’ve figured out just how much you have to write every day to meet the deadline. You know the exact last day you can mail your entry and get it in on time. You’ve allowed yourself a few days to polish your first chapter, and you’re ready to put it in the mail. You’re learning to meet deadlines.
And hopefully, you’re learning a little about yourself in the process. I know people who polish to perfection, stick their entry in an envelope and mail it off with weeks to spare. I, on the other hand, tend to procrastinate until about two weeks before the big event, then rush around trying to get it all done. I wrote and mailed two proposals for anthologies in one month once, when I should have started a lot earlier and allowed myself more time. It would have been a lot better on my nerves and the proposals could have benefited by being completed earlier.
How are you at following directions? Can you write your way out of a paper bag, as the old saying goes? Can you enter a contest and not get disqualified for not following the rules? Or … better yet, can you send an agent or editor EXACTLY what they want to see without ruffling their feathers? Now, I realize that a lot of contests have sticky little rules that make you scratch your head in dismay, but that’s not the point. The point is to follow the rules of THAT particular contest. I bought a gazillion butterfly clips because that’s what a contest required. I’ve never used butterfly clips. I’ve always used the other ones (whatever they’re called), but for some reason this contest wanted butterfly clips, so that’s what they got.
Agents and editors have guidelines they want you to follow. If they say a one-page query, you’ll figure out how to write a one-page query. If they say email, you’re on it. If they say snail-it, you do it. If they send you a list of things or a sample to go by that makes your head spin, you will do it the way they want it done, or you risk alienating them because you didn’t follow their directions.
I double-check my submissions to my agent and to publishers just as carefully as I’ve always checked my contest submissions. All that practice entering contests has come in handy to keep me from being a complete nervous wreck when I submit to publishers.
What else? You’ll learn how to write a better synopsis by entering contests. One wants 3 pages, another 4. One asks for a 1 page overview, so that helps to encapsulate your story in a nutshell. And that’s not to mention the feedback you’ll get on your synopsis in contests that score them. It’s a win-win situation!
These are just a few of the unexpected benefits of entering contests. Thinking back over your own contest experiences, what were some of the most surprising benefits you received?