What’s a writing contest?
This is what my family and friends asked me when I first entered one in mid-2013. I hardly knew the answer at the time, having just decided to get serious about creative writing for the first time in (mumble, mumble) years.
For the uninitiated, writing contests are run by publishers and writing organisations such as Romance Writers of Australia and offer the opportunity to:
- win a prize, sometimes cash, often a publishing contract
- gain feedback from fellow writers or editors
- develop your writing, working to specific guidelines
- finish something, in time for a contest deadline
- grow your network of writer contacts
- avoid the ‘slush pile’ of unsolicited manuscripts
- get your work ‘out there’ in front of key editors, agents and publishers.
My little problem started in 2013 when I joined Twitter and started following authors I admired, then a few publishers. I stumbled across a little thing called So You Think You Can Write or #sytycw in Twitter hashtag speak. This is a global writing contest run by Harlequin, one of the biggest romance publishers in the world. A publishing contract was on offer for the winner, but not only that, a squad of fifty editors were on hand to provide tips and feedback.
I asked myself, “Could I write a romance novel?” and despite never having tried before, I answered, “Why the hell not?” I started to write, and I loved it. Was it mad to try to write my first novel in three months? Of course it was, but I’m so glad I did it.
This contest taught me so much about writing, it’s not even funny. I participated in online ‘boot camp’ activities such as writing a 100 word pitch and a synopsis, having work critiqued by other aspiring writers. I was also selected for a first page critique by an editor, which was so valuable it should have been sprinkled with gold dust.
I also had barrels of fun interacting with the other entrants on Twitter and Facebook, and made heaps of writer friends. Some of them formed the core of an international online writing group I still hang out with.
Twitter pitch opportunities
Twitter pitch contests such as PitMad (Pitch Madness) or #pitmad hosted by author Brenda Drake, offer writers the chance to pitch their book in 140 characters or less. Try it! It’s really hard and will make you crazy! Editors/publishers and agents watch the tweets over the course of a day and favourite the ones they’re interested in. Then writers can send it manuscripts or queries in the requested format. Warning: this contest can be really fun and addictive!
Also, look out for regular Manuscript Wishlist or #mswl tweets and other specific calls for manuscripts.
Publisher ‘open call’ contests
Publisher contests offer the chance to post a pitch or blurb relevant to a particular call for submissions. Some examples are the Entangled Publishing blog wishlists or the recent Tule Publishing ‘Pillow Talk’ contest for the new Eros imprint.
The Harlequin Community runs regular writing challenges and series contests e.g. the recent ‘Blaze Blitz’. I know several writers who have been fast-tracked their way into book contracts through these types of smaller, more specific contests.
So, follow publishers on Facebook and Twitter, subscribe to their blog pages and keep an eye out for those opportunities. Get to it!
Romance Writers of Australia contests
I was recently chatting to some other emerging authors and realised that the Romance Writers of Australia contests are probably the most helpful thing I’ve done to improve my writing. I started with the First Kiss contest (and was a finalist!) then entered the Valerie Parv Award twice, not making the finals but doing pretty well, also the Emerald Award and Ripping Start were good learning experiences.
I haven’t entered any of the published author contests…yet. I can’t wait until I can.
International romance writing contests
Last year I entered (and came third!) in the Lone Star contest, run by Northwest Houston Romance Writers of America. Most of the US state-based chapters of RWA run contests, many open internationally. The Golden Heart is the big contest for unpublished authors with a full manuscript ready to go.
In return for a small entry fee, you gain feedback from authors more familiar with the US market, your specific sub-genre or simply offer a different perspective. You might not always agree with the feedback but it can be an eye-opener. For example, if that anonymous US judge is reading this, I still don’t agree that ‘British’ English is wrong or distracting…
See the Romance Writers of America website for details or check websites such as Stephie Smith’s writing contest list for contests coming up across multiple genres.
What I’ve learned as a contest junkie
- They’re fun! The online contests especially have a sense of community and excitement.
- They offer great insights into your work. You might have to sit back and mull over some of the feedback for a while, or even rant a little if it’s negative, but it’s all a learning experience.
- They don’t hurt. I was slightly terrified of entering a US contest. I thought, small fish, big pond, they’re going to hate me and I’ll do terribly badly. I was wrong.
- They give you something to shoot for. A deadline, a goal, a reason to think of a new idea, all of these reasons are gold.
- They could raise your profile. If you’re working away in your writing cave, getting ready to submit a manuscript, a writing contest credit on your website or in your query letter may help you get noticed (I’m hoping).
It’s the circle of life for a writing contest junkie.