The first year I started writing romance, I entered shed-loads of writing contests. The next year, I was more selective and had learned that not all writing contests are equal.
This weekend I spent some time looking through dozens of romance writing contests that have their deadlines over the next few months, and I found myself judging the contests themselves based on several criteria.
For those of you thinking about entering romance writing contests, my best advice would be this: First decide what you want out of the contest.
That will help you select the best contests for you.
Here are some of the criteria I use to decide which contests to enter. I’ll also mention a couple of contests that I think are good examples of meeting these criteria, but please note that that doesn’t mean that I have personal experience of or endorse those particular contests. Also, some of these contest deadlines have passed for 2012, but you may want to know about them for the future.
You can find a really helpful list of upcoming romance writing contests on Stephie Smith’s website.
1. How much first-round feedback do they give you?
Some contests are judged by two readers in the first round. Some are judged by three or four.
Some contests will make sure that at least one first-round judge is published (though you might want to ask what their definition of published is, as it may differ from yours). Many will say that their first-round judges are “trained”. I’ve been a first-round judge for several contests, and none of them have offered me training (I only mention that so you don’t put too much stock in having “trained” judges).
Take a look at the sample score sheets that most contests include on their site. Does it guide the judge in giving you very specific feedback, or does it just ask for general thoughts on what works and what could be improved?
If you’re just starting out as a writer, or you don’t have a regular critique group giving you feedback, the first-round judging is probably the most valuable thing a writing contest can give you. At this point in your career, you might not be entering to win but to get an honest opinion from readers who don’t know you. But be warned – not all judges are very caring or diplomatic in the way they deliver feedback.
2. Who are the final judges?
For me, this is the most important criterion. The first thing I look at when deciding to enter a contest is which agents/editors will read my entry if I final.
If it’s not an agent or publishing house I think would be a good fit for me, then I won’t waste my money. For me, the real prize of these contests is getting sample chapters in front of the people I’d like to represent my work.
Some contests have more than one final judge, giving you an even better chance of discovering someone who will love your work. For example:
- Put Your Heart in a Book (final judges are an agent, and editor, and a multi-published author)
- Get Your Stiletto in the Door (final judges are an agent, an editor and an e-publisher)
- Orange Rose contest (finalists are read by three acquiring agents or editors)
3. What kind of scene do you want feedback on?
Many contests ask for the first 15-50 pages of your manuscript, but what if you want specific feedback on the first meet, or first kiss? What if you’re eager to improve your sex scene?
There are contests that focus on these specific scenes. For example:
- Ignite the Flame (the first meet)
- Reveal Your Inner Vixen (a scene showing sensual tension)
- Break-up contest (your characters’ darkest moment or break-up)
- Between the Sheets (a love scene – sadly, this was canceled this year, but maybe it’ll be back next year?)
4. What’s the value for money?
Entering contests can be addicting – at least, it can be for me – so I always ask myself how valuable a contest is. I judge that not just by how much first-round feedback I get and which professionals might see my entry if I final. I also judge it by how many pages I can enter relative to the cost, and whether there’s the possibility of a cash prize.
For me, it’s not worth it to pay $25 to get feedback on five pages if I can pay $25 and get feedback on 30 pages, or $35 to get feedback on 55 pages.
You’ll have to judge value for money yourself. But here are some contests that judge at least 50 pages of your manuscript and get you feedback before the deadline for the Golden Heart:
- Orange Rose contest (55 pages including synopsis)
- Indiana Golden Opportunity (55 pages including synopsis)
- Golden Pen contest (55 pages including synopsis)
What’s the prize?
For me, the main prize is the possibility of getting in front of an agent or editor I think I’d work well with.
But if I’m on the fence about a contest, a cash prize always helps.
I’ve seen cash prizes up to $100 for romance writing contests.
I won’t try to list them here, but you can find out more about which contests offer a cash prize on Stephie Smith’s website.
Do you enter romance writing contests? What’s your favorite? Do you have any criteria that I didn’t include here?