Saturday, May 3, 2008

Pet Peeves from an Infrequent Writing Contest Entrant.

I wasn't sure what to write about for this week's blog entry. I've only been to RWA Nationals last year and haven't been to any other romance conferences or conventions.

In addition, I'm not a frequent writing contest entrant either. What I realized is that even though I don't enter contests regularly, I do have opinions about them. STRONG OPINIONS! :-) contest pet peeves.

The first as you can see...

Postage. I've gotten so if I see that a contest is hard copy only, I won't enter unless the final judge is someone I REALLY want to read my manuscript. I'd love to see a lot of contests loosen up or go green and switch to e-contests. It's expensive to send a package and just as expensive to include a self-addressed return envelope so I can get my entry back to read the possibly snarky comments of judges.

Judges. I've been fortunate to get mostly helpful responses. However, there have been one or two sharp comments that have stung a lot. My feeling on the topic is, what does not kill me makes me stronger. As a writer, I'm supposed to develop a tough skin, but I don't possess rhino hide just yet. Judges, please be nice. Remember, you were a contest entrant once yourself.

Lack of comments to explain scores. Contest organizers - please encourage your judges to comment. If not in the manuscript, at least on the score sheet. Nothing annoys me worse than to spend 25-35 dollars on my entrance fee and get nothing but numbers back in response. Or a one sentence explanation for a low score. Ugh.

Heat level. This is major for me because I write erotic romance. If the contest, or the contest judges, don't like or want erotic romance. State it up front. I'm fine with that. But do NOT say you accept all heat levels in all categories then as an entrant I receive low scores with comments which suggest that the story isn't a romance because the characters are intimate in the first three chapters or they think about one another in a highly sexual way from the start. I end up feeling as though I wasted my money. I'd rather have a contest create a separate erotic romance category. I'm good with that, as are most other writers of erotic romance.

Entry fees. I can accept a 25-35 dollar entry fee if I get to submit 25-35 pages for consideration. If a contest asks for the first chapter only, or a single scene, or 10 pages only, I'd appreciate it if the contest didn't charge that same entry fee. I want bang for my buck. I'm far more likely to enter a contest which accepts 30-35 pages than I am to enter one which will accept only 10-15 pages if both contests require the same entry fee. Just like the next gal, I prefer a "bargain."

Eligibility. I've been considered ineligible for contests for my novel-length work because a short story of mine was published in an anthology in 2005. I'm very proud of my publishing credit, but RWA doesn't view me as "published" so why does an RWA chapter? Also the skill set for writing a short story and a novel length work are very different. It makes sense to judge apples against apples and oranges against oranges.

This is one contest entrant's opinions only. Your mileage may vary.

Yes, I do still enter contests and they have provided valuable feedback for my writing. I commend contest organizers and coordinators. It's a tough job and I didn't realize just how tough until this spring. I volunteered to act as a category coordinator and I've been BUSY. I've worked with a good bunch of ladies (both coordinators and judges) and I'm really proud of the work we've done. After my experience, I will be an even more saavy consumer when I enter contests because I know how much work goes into them.


  1. Francesca,

    Many of the peeves you listed are shared by yours truly. Okay. Not the erotica peeve, you got me there. ;)

    Because these problems are out there, I think it's extremely important for a writer to enter a contest with a clear understanding of what they want to accomplish from entering.

    For me, I enter it's to see if I'm on the right track-- do the characters resonant with readers? Does the story pull them in?Sometimes it is for the editor read (if I final).

    I try very hard to go with my instinct since that's what works for me. Opinions are subjective, after all.



  2. I agree with Talia -- when I did enter, it was usually to see if I was on the right track. Of course explanation-free judge "critiques" certainly didn't help...

    Jody W.

  3. Talia & Jody,
    I agree with you both. When I enter now, it is with the intent of getting a critique to make the work better. Most of the time those responses have been very helpful. It those judges who try to rewrite your story in their voice or whose comments are blunt to the point of tactlessness that get me. Regardless, I learn something from every contest I enter. :-)