Pros and Cons of Writing Contests for Authors, from the All The Kissing Community

As you’ve probably already noticed, we’ve been talking a lot lately about writing contests. It’s fun to take a break from the query trenches and try your hand at a different method for finding an agent, and so, we turned to our All The Kissing community and curated a list of some of our favorite writing contests for authors.

But before we dive in, some food for thought: Experiences with writing contests vary. What one person might find helpful might not translate well for someone else. Furthermore, contests are constantly evolving to meet the needs of authors.

While these might be our community’s favorite writing contests at the moment, it’s not in any way, shape, or form an exclusive or exhaustive list. We reserve the right to like new contests as they crop up and shift our perceptions as new needs arise.

Chapter and Page Contests

It comes as no surprise that RWA-sanctioned chapter contests and the Golden Heart are among our list of favorite writing contests for authors (we are romance writers, after all). As Gwynne Jackson explains:

“With the RWA contests, you’re asked to submit a variety of work—anywhere from blurbs to opening chapters to the entire manuscript. With the chapter contests, you receive scores and judging feedback. … For the RITA and the Golden Heart, you only receive scores.”

Pros

The chance for feedback made it a favorite among our community, as well as the opportunity to be nationally recognized for the RITA and Golden Heart. They act as an avenue to get your manuscript in front of industry professionals, and they’re a great starting point for many budding authors. The chance to get outside eyes on your work, through a contest or some other method, is always valuable.

That said, score-based contests weren’t for everyone.

Writing Contests For Authors Scorecard

Photo credit: Jinx! / CC BY-SA

Cons

Because judges are selected on a volunteer basis, there’s no guarantee someone who reads or enjoys your genre will get their hands on your manuscript (which could result in unconscious bias or criticism).

Subjectivity plays a large role—and it’s not something you can circumvent or even prepare for.

What one person deems a 10, another may award a 2. A judge could be in a bad mood during a reading, or base their crits off other entries they’ve read. Heck, they could even bring expectations to the table that simply don’t align with your genre or writing style, but there’s nothing you can do to change that. It’s the nature of the game.

Sometimes, simply receiving a score isn’t worth the cost of the contest. If you’re not guaranteed feedback or find that a number does little for you, then score-based contests might not be in your best interest.

Contests to Consider Entering

With the pros and cons out of the way, here are a list of chapter-based contests that were given the unofficial nod:

Note: Some of these are chapter contests specific to geographical locations. Always be sure to check each contest’s requirements before entering.

Twitter Pitch Contests

Twitter contests are rather prominent in the writing community, so much so that there’s likely one in the coming weeks or months you could easily prepare for (that is, if you have a completed, polished manuscript—a typical requirement).

All you need is a well-crafted pitch and a novel that fits the respective Twitter contest’s requirements. Once you’re sure you’ve got both of those, you’re good to go.

Pros

One of the biggest pros? Twitter contests are free. You get almost immediate feedback (though admittedly not very detailed) on whether or not the pitch for your book works. Got a lot of likes? Congrats! That’s an easy foot in the door for querying the respective agents. In addition, fellow writers typically end up retweeting and championing other pitches, which gives you the opportunity to connect and network with fellow authors.

Cons

Size. Some of the more well-known, behemoth contests have thousands of tweets, which means your pitches could simply be missed. Agents have a finite amount of time to participate in contests, and they likely don’t have extra hours to comb through entries and weigh each one individually. Some will hop in and watch the thread at specific times. Others search by hashtag. The methods vary, so it’s hard to plan if you’re trying to catch the eye of a specific agent or editor.

Hot tip: For the more specialized events, such as our very own #KissPitch, Beth Phelan’s #DVPit or Dan Koboldt’s #SFFpit, many saw an increase in requests.

Contests to Consider Entering

With the pros and cons out of the way, here are a list of Twitter pitching contests that were given the unofficial nod:

Note: Always be sure to check each contest’s requirements before entering.

Mentor Contests

Just about everyone loves a good mentor-based contest. While there are a handful of fantastic options, there seem to be fewer mentor-based contests available, likely given the amount of time and work that goes into both orchestrating and participating in said contests.

Pros

The pros of a mentor-based contest are many. Both seasoned and new writers alike can benefit from the intensive learning experience, and most writers come out of a mentorship with a new close friend and confidant.

Many mentors bring additional insight to the table—such as the business and publishing side of the writing world—that many unpublished mentees simply haven’t experienced yet.

Other benefits include learning how to handle criticism, tackling deadlines, communicating openly during edits, and so much more.

Cons

While calling it a “con” might not be the proper term, there is a ton of work that goes into most mentor-based contests. If you’re not prepared to go back and forth through rounds of edits, the stress of participating could weigh heavily on your mind (especially if there’s a deadline at the end of the contest).

There’s also the chance that you might not mesh with your mentor. While this is something no one wants to experience, it can and does occasionally happen. The best thing you can do if you find yourself in this situation is to remember that these mentors are volunteering their time, which means that even though your opinions differ, you need to still treat them with respect.

And finally, it’s really, really hard to get into most mentor-based contest. There are typically only a select amount of slots available, which means it’s difficult to get that coveted mentor feedback.

Contests to Consider Entering

With the pros and cons out of the way, here are a list of mentor contests that were given the unofficial nod:

Note: Always be sure to check each contest’s requirements before entering. Many mentor contests are super selective.

Query Contests

Rounding out our list of favorite writing contests is the query contest. Typically a mashup of page contests and Twitter contests, these are a great way to get feedback on your words minus the months of intense back-and-forth common in mentor-based contests.

Pros

In these type of contests, entrants usually get both feedback and an opportunity to get their words in front of agents—a double win. Your query (and, depending on the contest, sometimes the first 250 words of your manuscript) will definitely benefit, and extra eyes on your work is almost never a bad thing.

Cons

Like the mentor-based contests, referring to this as a “con” might be the incorrect term, but expect to receive a lot of critiques. Furthermore, you might not have the opportunity to explain or defend your words, so if someone misunderstands, you’ll just have to take their feedback with grace.

As with mentorship contests, there’s an air of exclusivity to most query-based contests. The percentage of those who actually get in can even be lower than the success rate of authors finding agents through the slush pile!

Contests to Consider Entering

With the pros and cons out of the way, here are a list of query-based contests that were given the unofficial nod:

Note: Always be sure to check each contest’s requirements before entering.

Writing Contests for Authors Aren’t the End

While there are a number of writing contests for authors available and they are a great way to take a break from the grind of querying, they aren’t the be-all and end-all for finding yourself an agent or publisher. Querying still reigns supreme (and in most cases, you still need a query to even participate in said contests). If you want a safe space to finesse your words and pick our brains more about writing contests, then come join our Facebook community!


Feature image by Dan Counsell on Unsplash 

Maxym M. Martineau
Maxym M. Martineau is a staff writer and editor by day, and a fantasy romance author by night. When she’s not getting heated over broken hearts, she enjoys playing video games, sipping a well-made margarita, binge-watching television shows, competing in just about any sport, and of course, reading.

Following her passion, Maxym earned her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. From that point on, it was all words, all the time. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, and currently lives in Arizona with her husband and their four dogs. She is represented by Cate Hart of Corvisiero Literary Agency.
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