Yep. I’ve sent out more entries to chapter contests. Contests that are waiting for my hard earn money, so they can use and abuse me as they wish. Yep. I obviously enjoy S&M. If you don’t know what S&M means, I’ll have to take you to side and explain that later. Just take my word for it. Only sick people like me get into it. Okay enough of my personal life…wait! That’s not what I was referring to. Let’s return to contests.
While at the National conference a couple weeks ago, I heard several presidents and contest coordinators lamenting that entries were down significantly. Some even tried to blame Golden Heart in a round about way or the influx of chapter contests. I seriously thought about raising my hand and giving my two cents. But I felt that people would take my opinion too personal. So I decided I’ll give my puny advice on the blog, then people can ignore it if they wish.
The areas I see that may be causing the low entries are (all personal opinion):
(1) Price/cost. I see more and more contests going to $30 and $35. That’s a lot of money for anyone. Especially if the page count is 25 or less. True, that cost is less than a professional book doctor (or whatever they’re called) would charge. But the majority of judges are not professionals, even if they are published.
Thankfully in our unpublished contest (http://www.southernmagic.org/lhcontest.html) the entry fee is still $20 for members and $25 for non-members.
Then the postage is a big expense and the reason a lot of contests are going electronic. This year, I’ve helped our entries by doing two cost cutting actions: (a) Entries will now send in only three copies instead of the four like last year. My thought is that it’s unlikely an entry will final if it has to go to a discretionary judge. Then again, I may be proved wrong this year. (b) The normal white priority envelope provided by the Post Office is really nice, but cost can get up to $10 to ship domestically. We recently okayed flat rate envelopes. The cost is $4.05 to mail no matter how much is stuffed inside or where it’s going in the U.S. The only stipulation is that you can’t use tape or staples to close it. Don’t forget you have to double those amounts because the entry needs to have a return envelope.
(2) No feedback. Only for Golden Heart would I pay a lot of money and receive only my area of placement. I have recently marked off two chapter contests on my list of preferred contests because of this. No matter how important they think they are, it’s not worth entering for the sake of entering. I want some for my money if I do not final.
(4) Unrealistic score sheets. There’s so much involved in this area, it would take another whole blog to go over. Let me say, except for category, few books have conflict shown clearly in the first three chapters.
(3) Three finalists. Probably some editor or contest coordinator thought this would be a good idea. Save time and postage. Or receiving a low amount of entries prompt this decision. But you just made it harder to become a finalist. I rather enter a contest with five placements.
(4) Editors versus agents. I’ve found I rarely target an agent in a contest. Maybe it’s a wrong perception, but I think of it like this. An agent can only effectively manage a hand full of authors, while an editor can work with numerous authors. Agents have always been harder to obtain but most will accept unsolicited submissions. At the same time, certain highly sought publishers do not accept unsolicited/unagented submissions.
(5) Big house publishers versus small publishers. Everyone certainly has their favorite or dream publisher. This is definitely a personal preference. But don’t we all want to be published by a house that is easily recognized. It’s like making that decision between store brand peanut butter and Jiffy. They both may taste the same (possibly from the same food processor), but we recognize Jiffy’s name and know it’s quality without trial.
(6) Without synopsis or with synopsis. Once again, Southern Magic’s Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest for unpublished writers only asks for a synopsis when you final. I look for contests that don’t require a synopsis in the first round. Too often I start sending out my WIPs before they are fully developed no less completed. Doing a synopsis so soon is a pain, and many people feel the same way. The feedback from the contest will partly determine if I finish the book or not. When you realize that only thirty out of estimated 150 entries will final, that’s a lot of synopses unneeded. Of course, if we decided to score the synopsis, then that would change this whole ball of wax. But sometimes your voice is the clue to getting your book sold. You can fix a story. You can’t fix voice.
Now that I’ve bored you to tears, let me ask what do you look for in a contest that was mentioned above? Anything that wasn’t mentioned?