Here at #RWChat we’re all about hearing other people’s stories, so we’ve invited Laura Brown to tell us why she’s participated in writing contests, as a writer and as a mentor.
I just love writing contests and have been involved on both sides: as an eager entrant and as a judge/mentor. The reason I’m doing the latter is because of how much I learned from the former.
Simply put: I owe everything to contests, directly or indirectly. Contests took me from writing in solitude, to meeting my first critique partners, to learning the basics of the craft. Many contests use twitter hashtags to spread information and knowledge. It’s an excellent way to learn and improve, even if not picked as a finalist.
The first two years I entered contests, I didn’t get chosen. Came close once, and made it to the semifinals another time. I learned a ton in the process. Then I entered a different novel and made it to the final agent round three times. Contests are great fun, but can be a letdown if you don’t get in. If you do, it’s even more fun, unless you don’t get any requests (been there).
But, here’s the thing: most contests are just a way to get ahead of the slush. The real benefit is what can be learned and the connections made. I made it through in three contests, but I still got my agent through the slush. And yet I feel I owe so much to the contests, for getting me where I needed to be to snag my agent.
Those of us who help out behind the scenes put a lot of work into the contest. Our work starts weeks or months ahead of time, putting hours in, and then a lot more hours once the contest goes live. There’s a lot of reading, and keeping perspective. We need to be aware of the market, of the tastes of the agents involved, in order to make the best matches possible.
And it’s worth it. Writing is a community, and contests are one way to give back. I had an amazing year last year, landing both an agent and a publisher. This is my way of thanking all the little parts of contests that helped me get to where I am today.
One thing I notice when I’m judging a contest is a lot of entries that have great promise, but aren’t quite there yet. That’s where mentoring comes in handy. In mentor contests there’s the chance to pass on knowledge to someone who is close, but needs that extra step to make a manuscript truly shine. It’s a chance to match up the right author with the right mentor. I’ve been a mentor once so far, and love this manuscript so much, I can’t wait to see what happens! And I’m about to mentor again for PitchWars.
At the end of the day: this is your community. In a business where rejection is plentiful, contests are a way to liven up the querying process. They infuse fun and excitement, as well as giving writers goals on when to finish a project. And win or lose, one walks away with friends.