I was thrilled to hear this week that I was a finalist in the Colorado Gold Writer’s contest, but why should you care? Well, if you are a multi-published author, you probably don’t, and shouldn’t. But if you’re a writer struggling to get your work in front of agents and/or editors, maybe you should.
Colorado Gold, and other contests like it, is a GREAT way for you to get your work exposed to acquiring editors and agents. They are also really good at making you hone your craft. And teach you to be careful with submission guidelines (I lost 2 of 5 points for submitting a DOCx file instead of DOC).
The score sheets and comments on the manuscript are really helpful for seeing if there is a consensus that something may need to be tweaked, and they make you look closer at your writing. I always have to read them, rant just a little, then re-read and determine which comments I have to (sometimes grudgingly) agree with.
I’ve entered several contests over the years, with my scores starting below 50 (out of 100) and gradually, as I improved my craft, rising until I’ve finaled in the last four I entered, with three different manuscripts. So far, always a bridesmaid, never a bride – but I have high hopes for Gold.
I’ve learned that not all judges are great, and some are truly fantastic. One judge became a mentor for me, reviewed my edited submission, and gave me a blurb for my novel (which, alas, hasn’t sold enough to prevent me from qualifying for Gold!). I’ve also learned to thank my judges, if I’m given a method for doing so, and to NEVER dis a judge. Reading is subjective. I can’t always explain why I love or hate a book, scene, or character, while others rave about them. Judges are human, and have likes and dislikes; one judge may give you very low scores, while two others are much higher. Those same judges might be sitting next to you at a conference or workshop. They won’t know whose pages they judged, but if you’re sitting there telling them about your story and how bad the judge was, trust me, they’ll remember. Likewise, if you talk about how much you learned about your writing from the judge’s scores and comments, they might just be willing to open a door that helps your career along.
My biggest challenge now is to make sure I put as much effort into the other 350 pages as I did those first 10 the judges saw. I’ve heard a lot of stories about editors and agents who can tell, to the word, how far into the manuscript the writer had polished for submitting to contests and critiques and then didn’t bother with the rest.
If you didn’t submit, and you do qualify for the contest, consider it, or others, in the future. For the small price of admission you get new sets of eyes on your work, and get a feel for how you fit within your genre in relation to other writers. If you, like me, notice your scores are rising, it’s a great feeling to know that you are improving as a writer – plus the plaques look really pretty on the wall.
So, as always, I urge us all to Write On!