There are so many contests these days if you look! Everything from PitchWars to Sun Vs. Snow. I entered my own fair share before finding my current agent and publisher, and since joining AYAP, this is the fourth contest I've run (not counting the times I've judged in the past).
So with all this experience, what have I learned? That there are three main things you should ask yourself before entering anything.
- Is this contest worth my time?
- Do a little research. Who are the judges? Are they published authors who you respect? Agents you can verify with a site like QueryTracker or from established and known agencies? Editors for established publishers with a good track record? I entered a contest and won a partial and full! But guess what? My second book comes out in September and I still never received a response from either one. 0.o
- What are the prizes? Is it something you can use like a critique from someone relevant to your work or ten dollars at the bookstore? Not that I'm knocking the ten dollars. I'd take it! But one would be more valuable to me than the other. What are the rules? Are you allowed to enter other contests at the same time? Are you being charged money? Personally I am wary of anyone asking for money, though I know some are legit, some are not. Weigh that carefully.
- What kind of commitment are you looking at? Is it something that takes away writing and query time that you really should be focusing on? Or is it something that helps work out the piece you're having issues with or about to query?
- Am I ready?
- It's exciting sometimes to want to get your work seen by agents and authors! But don't forget you always want your best out there. If you haven't had any eyes on it but your own you may want to hold off until the next "season" of contests is upon us. Believe me it will come soon enough.
- Are you prepared to receive criticism? We always strive to make sure that the feedback is respectful, but you can't control everyone and even with a positive intention it can be difficult to hear that something you've worked so hard on could stand some changes. Are you ready and willing to hear that? Because if the truthful answer is no then you should think twice.
- Is the manuscript finished? If not, what happens if you win and an agent requests the material? That puts both of you in a difficult position.
- Why am I entering?
- Feedback may not be a glamorous reason, but it is probably the most important. There is nothing more valuable than a fresh set of eyes on your work, especially if those eyes belong to amazing authors, agents, or editors! Just be sure to check the above question and make sure you're ready for it.
- Prestige may or may not come from these contests, depending on which one and who you're telling about it. If it's well known or respected it may be worth mentioning in a query letter.
- Connections are important especially when genuine. So when you have a positive connection with other writers and get to know them through contests like this, that's a plus you can't measure. It may also make you feel more comfortable sending out your work when you've been through a contest or two.