9 December 2014

Submissions, competitions and prizes

Writing is not a competitive sport. There doesn't have to be a loser. Writing is a subjective medium, what touches one person may leave someone else cold.
So why are there so many writing competitions?
Before I start, I should tell you about my own competition experience. A couple of years ago I entered the Chorley and District Writer's Circle annual short story competition and won second prize. Despite all my misgivings about competitions, I have to admit that this helped me as a writer one hell of a lot. To be independently judged as having merit is an important milestone in my writing career. And the £50 was nice as well.
So, I received a boost from the first competition I ever entered. Lucky me. Because that really sums it up.
Last year, I wasn't allowed to enter the CAWDC competition as I serve on the committee and have a hand in forming the short list of entrants. This process opened my eyes to the different opinions that a piece can engender. This year I rated one story very highly but it received the comment 'pretentious twaddle' from another judge. There were several stories we agreed about but just as many that provoked argument. Imagine your story in that kind of melting pot. Out of a hundred entries, one winner has to be chosen and it's a matter of personal preference at the end of the day. The winner isn't always the best story and the losers don't necessarily have any less merit.
So, my advice is to enter but also be wary.
There are competitions out there that demand large entry fees and promise publishing contracts to the winner. These competitions are often trawling exercises by publishers who are using your entry fee instead of a reading fee.
Some competitions are designed purely to extract money from writers. So be careful what you enter.
There's only one winner, so what if your many entries don't make the grade? Equally, what if your many submissions to publishers or agents get rejected?
Well, first of all don't give up. Almost nobody gets published in the conventional way any longer. Even established literary agents are turning to self-publishing in order to find a market for their authors in the absence of interest from major publishers.
Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that it's possible that the right person hasn't come along to fully appreciate your work.
But also consider that you may not be at the publishing stage of your writing career. That you might have to write some more stuff before finding your true voice.
This is where an independent opinion is all important. Had I been aware, I might have saved myself a lot of bother and heartache by getting a critique of my early work. Basic flaws that keep getting repeated aren't going to improve what you write.
Consider those entry fees and weigh them up against a professional critique such as www.fictionfeedback.co.uk
Meanwhile make sure you enter your local Writers Circle competition!

photo credit: Montgomery County Planning Commission via photopin cc