Contests – and how writers survive them

by | Jan 13, 2011 | Fiction Book Reviews | 11 comments

I started entering writing contests in April 2009 and within the past (almost) 2 years, I’ve filled out about fifteen different contest forms. Some responses were good. Some were not. And some just hurt me like  a kick to the gut.

But like a masochist, I sent out more.

What have a learned through this process?

Becoming a published author is not for the faint of heart!

These critiques build my endurance, toughen my hide, and help prepare me for the tougher critiques (and possibly reviews) ahead. It’s kind of like those Braxton Hicks contractions before labor. Either they help your body prepare for the massive pain of childbirth, or they give you a false sense of security about how little pain you are going to have 🙂

Critiques are a bit of a litmus test to your writing readiness – and the more I expose myself to the instructive critique of others, the more I prepare my heart for the publishing world.

Ciphering out truth is a wonderful teaching tool.

After the initial shock and near-trauma, digging through those critiques for truthful nuggets of insight can make you a better writer. I ‘see’ patterns of bad writing habits, I’d never seen before. One critique said my heroine wasn’t likeable (gasp) – so I broke apart the character to figure out what might bring her more to ‘life’.

Those comments made me reevaulate my story – and make it STRONGER!!

Fact and Opinion are NOT the same thing

Judges are people too. They have a favorite genre they write or read, varying perspectives, and personal opinions. All of those things play a part in the critiques they give. Weeding through the comments to find what areas you might need to work on is a big deal – especially if you want to grow as a writer.

I’ve found that if more than one judge mentions the same thing, then maybe I should take a honest look at that particular piece of my story. But if only one judge makes a comment, which seems more renegade to me, then I’ll read what they have to say – measure it against the other comments and my own understandings, check with a crit partner, then make a decision from there. Some things are fact, but some things are opinion. I am the one (or my editor) who has the final say.

Purpose matters

Why do we enter contests? The answer to that question really  makes a difference on what you’ll get out of them. If it’s to win that cute little pendant…well, that’s certainly something.

If it’s to be published –  that’s a BIG goal, but in all actuality publication through contest entry is not in high percentages. But…

entering contest to get your manuscript in front of editor is still a FABULOUS idea – and gives your name exposure.

 If it’s to learn and grow as a writer- you’ll almost always achieve this goal from contests.

I want to become a better writer. Contests have helped do that in so many ways. I’ve won a few along the way, but the best part has been the process of improvement from my first comments to the ones I’m expecting at the end of this month.

Laughing at myself, or not taking myself too seriously is an important goal

Yes, we send our precious little stories out into a cruel world – but no one forces us to. My granny used to say “Advice not asked for is advice not wanted.” – but when we enter a contest, we’re basically ASKING for advice. It may not always come in the form we expect, but we can learn from many of the comments we receive (not all).

And having a good attitude about it, PLUS placing the whole situation into perspective helps. I had to do this so I wouldn’t keep getting upset about the comments. This is one small piece of your writing in one very small part of your life.  Laughing, learning, and looking ahead help manage the disappointment that negative comments can bring (plus LOADS of good chocolate – NEVER underestimate the power of very good chocolate)

What have you learned from entering contests? How have you grown as a writer?

For fun – here’s a little contest song to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies 🙂

Let’s listen to a story ‘bout a brand new writer’s plot

When the promise of a novel and a dream is all she’s got

So she sends away her ‘precious’ on a crazy contest spree

With the hopes of fame & fortune, and a load of cash money

Blind, she is


Round the bend

Well the first thing ya know, tons of judges have their say

And the dreams she had expected didn’t turn out quite that way

Said her characters were shoddy, and her plot just wouldn’t fit

So the poor deluded writer wants to just rare up and quit.

Mad, she is

Throwing stuff

And burnin’ things.

So when homicidal tendencies have left the author’s head

And  the mention of the contest doesn’t have her seeing red

She can learn from those before her, who have made it into print

That the writer’s journey is a marathon and not a sprint.

Time, it takes


And lots of chocolate


  1. Regina Merrick

    Ah, but could you do it to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island?” 🙂

    I commented over on Seekerville earlier today, about contests. Two years ago, I entered several contests, the Genesis again last year, and none this year. I learned a lot, though, and got medium scores. I think it’s worth it, especially in the beginning, to get those outside opinions.

    Thanks, Pepper. I hope we can have a “zone” meeting someday soon!

    • pepperbasham

      Gilligan’s Island?!?
      Oh dear, I might have to think of a Seekerville song for that one. You know…the whole ‘island’ theme 🙂
      Contests are tough, aren’t they? I entered the Genesis last year with three manuscripts and havent’ made up my mind about this year.
      BUT, I’d LOVE a zone meeting. It would be so fun to see you again.

  2. Mary Connealy

    Contests often inspire people to music.

    Also to madness.

    Lucky you got a song in your heart, girl. 🙂

    • Pepper

      HA! Can they inspire both, Mary?

  3. Aimee

    I actually can’t put into words how much I LOVE that song.

    • Pepper

      So glad to make you smile today!

  4. Keli Gwyn

    Love the song lyrics, Pepper.

    I’m a firm believer in contests. During the five years I’ve been writing, I’ve sent in 46 entries. I received tonz of wonderful feedback and awesome suggestions from my generous first round judges. I also received an offer of representation from one of the final round judges on my 43rd entry–my Dream Agent Rachelle Gardner. I guess that makes it easy to see why I consider contests worth the cost.

    • Pepper

      AMEN, Keli.
      I’ve learned so much from contests – and about 95% of the time, find such useful information to help me grow as I writer. And…you did strike gold with your agent, lady!
      Congrats about that.

  5. Casey

    I love that song… 😀

    Great post!! You are certianly right on all counts. Are you subjecting yourself to the Genesis this year??

  6. Ruthy

    Oh, I’m dying laughing here! That was perfect. Maybe beyond perfect. Super good job, my friend.

    And you are not an aspiring writer. Oh my stars, you’re already a writer. An author. You just lack monetary compensation for your efforts.

    But you’re a first class writer in my book, Peps. And cute. And funny. And weird.


  7. Pepper

    Oh. My. Stars!
    Ruthy – I love you.
    And for stopping by.
    And for all the sweet things you said about me…and my writing – especially the funny and weird parts.
    So me!
    like minds….


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