Contests? I'm not sure a contest can take you anywhere, but it can give you an edge. It can get you read when otherwise your manuscript might linger in a slush pile or not be seen by the senior editor with buying power. My advice is to enter only those contests where the final round and/or the winner is read by an editor. Contest wins on your resume may look nice, but editors don't give them a lot of weight. But being read by an editor in the contest itself just might get you a contract.I agree with that but would like to add that when an editor has your work in front of her, she is either interested or she is not. It isn't going to matter to her that you've won a contest and placed well in two others. If your synopsis doesn't grab her, baby, it's over. She's looking for a good story that's right for her line. Maybe yours isn't good or maybe it isn't right for her line, but hey--congratulations on those contest wins. Next!
Of course, there are some good reasons to enter writing contests. Maybe you enjoy the excitement. Sometimes the feedback, win or lose, can be tremendously instructive or encouraging. Maybe your winning entry will be judged by an editor and...bought! But I worry that the sheer number of contests and the constant buzzing about them here on the internet and at writers' workshops has led many to believe something that isn't true: That entering and doing well in contests is a necessary step on the road to publication. It isn't.
Maybe you've never thought about this, but writing contests exist for three reasons:
1. To make money and increase visibility for the writers' groups sponsoring them.
2. To encourage writers.
3. To make money and increase visibility for the writers' groups sponsoring them.
There's nothing wrong, by the way, with Reasons 1 and 3. I'm just trying to put this in perspective. Since "encouraging writers" is not the primary aim of any writing contest, you will find that not every contest provides useful feedback to nonwinning entrants. You can pour a lot of money into postage and entry fees and get nothing in return.
If you can afford to enter contests and you enjoy the challenge, knock yourself out. I don't want to discourage anyone from having fun and maybe getting a nice pat on the back. And sometimes you will pick up helpful tips on improving your work. I just want to reassure those who can't afford to enter contests that it's not a necessary step on the road to publication. Editors will never be as impressed by a contest win as your writing pals are. And plenty of published writers (including this one) have managed to snag an editor's attention with no writing credentials whatsoever.
My monthly(ish) column is up at Romancing the Blog.
Blogger's being weird again. For the past few days, they've been "forgetting" to notify me via e-mail when people respond to these posts. I'm getting some comments, but not all of them, and I can't keep coming over to the blog and clicking on each post from the past week or so to see if there are any new comments. So please don't think I'm snobby if you address a question to me and I don't answer it. (I probably am snobby, but I wouldn't like for you to conclude that based solely on a mistake that's Blogger's and not mine. Okay? Thanks.)