Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Oh, Please. Not Another Contest!

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Thankfully in our unpublished contest (http://www.southernmagic.org/lhcontest.html) the entry fee is still $20 for members and $25 for non-members.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?


MaryF said...

This was a great rundown! I know our contest was down GREATLY from the past two years, and this year we'd gone electronic. It was a blow.

So I'd add: timing - Not good to have deadlines around holidays

As a former contest junkie, I'd have to say I would prefer sending 4 entries and having 3 judges off the bat. And I like contests that drop the lowest scores. Because, you know, there's always that one judge....

Kelley St. John said...

When I started entering contests, I entered for the feedback. I wanted to learn more about the craft and get my work polished enough for an agent or editor's review.

As I became more confident with my writing, however, I entered contests specifically for the final judge and only entered the ones where the final judge was an agent or editor I was targeting.

I think a lot of why people enter or do not enter contests depends on where they are in their career.

Personally, I like the ones where the lowest score is dropped too, because, like Mary said, there's always that one judge...

Kelley St. John
Real Women Don't Wear Size 2

Deborah Matthews said...

My first consideration was always the final judge. Like Kelley, I wanted an editor or agent I was targeting.

Now, I also look at the first round judges. No disrespect to my fellow writers, but they seem to be more critical. I do better with judges who are readers or booksellers.

Anonymous said...

Big considerations for me our final judge, synopsis not judged and money.

Terry said...

Done contests from all ends. Entrant, judge, coordinator. Have washed out, finaled and won. If I'm gong to enter, what do I consider?

1. Final round judge if my ms isn't in 'first trip out of the hard drive' stage, in which case I just want feedback. If the final round judge has already seen it, or doesn't really deal with my kind of work, I'm not likely to enter it, no matter what the contest.

2. Score sheets! They are NOT one size fits all, and those that expect a kazillion details in the first 20 or so pages get a close look. Do they judge on secondary characters? Mine might not show up until chapter 5. H/H's relationship? In ST, might not happen until chapter 15. I make sure my entry contains that which will be scored, or I don't enter.

3. Length of entry. I prefer those with a simple page-count limit. Chapter breaks are unrealistic. How many pages would James Patterson enter in a 1st chapter limit. I'm sick of changing all those chapter breaks to scene breaks. Give everyone the same playing field. XX PAGES.

4. Ease of entry -- cost, mailing to and from. I'm starting to look at electonic entries more, although I don't think our chapter is ready to deal with setting up accepting them this year.

Also -- we include cost of return postage in our fee, and don't want those big envelopes -- we asked only for a priority LABEL so we can return them flat-rate, although it's amazing how many people don't follow directions.