In the past few months, I have entered two different writing contests. Though, of course, I hoped to win (or at least be a finalist), I mostly entered these contests in order to receive feedback from those in the industry (other writers, publishers, editors, etc.) Well, I got my feedback.
I did not win. I did not place. I did not even impress.
When I received my scores, I already knew I was not a finalist, but it was still painful. Looking at the first judge’s scores, I saw 4’s and 5’s and hoped that meant the scores were from “1” to “5”. Since the next judge had some 7’s and 8’s, I knew it must be out of 10.
In both contests, I received comments from three different judges (anonymous so as to protect them from irate and sensitive writers). In both contests, the first judge dislikes my story and has little (if anything) good to say. In the first contest, the second judge was a bit more middle of the road with her/his comments, and the third had at least a few good things to say. In the second contest, both the second and third judges had encouraging things to say, even though they weren’t totally sold. I had to wonder if they were doing a bad judge/good judge routine.
My first thoughts upon reading the comments was to want to throw my beloved “work in progress” into the deepest sea. But, from following a recent online discussion among members of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), I know that receiving such a wide range of comments is not unusual, and that I am not the only one that might feel a bit confused by the seemingly inconsistencies of the judges. (One person said they had received a 67 and a 98 from two different judges in the same contest). None of us enjoy receiving criticism, but it would seem to be more helpful if the comments were more consistent across the board. But, judges are human and they do not all like the same kind of stories.
Takeaway: Though I have struggled at accepting the comments, I have been able to go back through them and find what is helpful and what is just one person’s opinion. After I sent in my last entry, I changed a few things and have a few other areas marked to be either omitted or rewritten. So, if I had been a judge myself, I have to admit, I would have been of the same opinion in several ways. Will I enter more contests? Yes; definitely. Overall, it has been helpful and has made me work harder to perfect my writing before sending it to an agent.
Are you wondering about the shells? All are olive shells found on the same beach (Myrtle Beach, S.C.), but none of them are the same. Basically the same shape, but different colors and sizes. I picked up the shells that attracted me and wanted to keep. So are our stories and those works in progress. Not everyone will be interested enough in what I write to even desire to pick it up. Some may be interested (even when I finally get it right), but maybe not enough to read it through. But, I will work at polishing my stories and finding the readers who will be interested for their enjoyment.
Any writers out there that have been entering contests? Have you found them helpful? Worth the submission fee or not? Not every contest is for every writer, so it’s important to find some that will benefit you and will be worth that entry fee.