Writing Contests and Competitions
Do writing contests help you write a good book?
If you’re an emerging writer, you’ve likely been encouraged to submit your shorter stories to writing contests and competitions. This is so you have credentials to include in a query letter when you’re submitting your manuscript to a publisher. But you can submit to hundreds of contests a year, and all could be heartbreaking rejections. Is it worth it?
It’s important to remember that works submitted to writing contests and competitions are read by only one judge. This means you have a single individual looking over your work with their personal biases, experiences, and reading preferences. And they may happen to read your story on a particularly bad day. Although it can be beneficial to have “Winner of So-and-So Writing Competition” on your resume, it by no means defines your storytelling abilities, especially when it comes to writing a novel.
Consider where you want to take your writing before submitting to writing contests. What size audience are you looking for? Do you want to get paid, or simply get published? What genre are you writing in? What’s your timeline? These answers will determine which contests you should or shouldn’t enter.
Why do we compete with others in creative industries?
The most common idea behind healthy competition in any industry is exactly that—it encourages healthy competition by pushing people to produce their best work and increasing creativity. The question of “compete or cooperate” in creative industries has been debated and researched for years. In the writing community, many authors find a balance between both.
The literary community and publishing industry is known for being competitive, especially for emerging writers. Publishers receive anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 manuscripts per year, and only 5 to 10 of those are published. Literary agencies receive even more. Writers are often told or come to realize on their own that they need to grow a thick skin to succeed. Despite more books than ever being published, book industry sales are declining. As a result. competition in the writing community encourages boundary-pushing and more intricate creative writing from authors.
Writing It Sideways wrote a thorough article comparing the pros and cons of entering writing contests and also lists considerations before entering one. Among the pros, there is prize money, prestige, publication, and deadlines that force you to commit to a piece. Among the cons, there are entry fees, exclusive submissions, lack of prestige with lesser-known contests, and lack of feedback.
How does all of this link to hybrid publishing?
Hybrid publishing is a middle ground between traditional publishing and self-publishing. These publishers allow authors to maintain creative control of their work while still receiving the professional knowledge and distribution of traditional publishing.
Because authors receive the support of a publisher without ceding complete control over their work, having a lengthy list of winning contest stories isn’t required when considering hybrid publishing. In fact, instead of waiting for traditional gatekeepers to look over your credentials or “qualifications” as a writer, hybrid publishing allows writers to continue improving, evolving, and completing their books.
The bottom line is that if you have a good story that will sell, it doesn’t matter how many writing contests and competitions you win. While it can give you a slight advantage in querying compared to an author with no credentials, winning contests are not the sole determinant in getting published.
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