Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How To Interpret Contest Results

So a few months ago, you worked your hiney off polishing off that twenty-five to fifty page entry and you sent it along with your brilliant one-page synopsis to a bonifide writing contest. You've sweated out the details of what you included, what you SHOULD have included. Did you pick the right 'hook' sentence? Did you end with a good cliffhanger? Did you...did you...

I've been there myself. 

I've also been a contest judge several times before and I'm here to tell you, even if you didn't place, contests are a great investment for any writer.

As a contest judge, I spent at least two hours minimum, per entrant. I read, re-read, thought about what worked and why, and put all my notes in the comments.  I also included what the writer did well and how they might tighten up certain areas. I have high hopes for a lot of them because many were not only great ideas, but they were executed in unique ways.

But you do need to understand one thing...I had to give it a score that reflected the work in the state that it was in...not its potential.  And that is all the difference.

The Good

Just entering the contest has vaulted you light years ahead of a lot of writers. The discipline to conform to formatting, word count, and synopsis rules alone has taught you a lot about the submission process. Tack onto that the time you spent editing and you've spent some quality time on your work. Great job!

You also are one step closer to perfecting your proposal because all the work you did for the contest, can be cannibalized for submitting to agents.  You had to figure out what category you needed to submit your work under...and now you have a genre to put on your query. You have a one page synopsis and polished three chapters or so...voila!

The "Not So" Bad

Comments criticizing your writing will sting. No doubt, but...BUT...

Take a look at what your scores are and pay close attention to the comments or sentiments that are noted by all the judges.  So what if one judge thinks your story is slow?  
However...if all the judges say things like 'pacing' and 'backstory' then maybe consider reworking that area.  

A consensus will usually point to a true trouble spot.  Contests are opinion, I'll give you that, but they are professional opinions and if they all find fault with a particular aspect of your writing then take note.

Here's the thing. Not placing in the finals is actually a blessing in disguise. Your book wasn't quite ready to be in front of acquisition people and the good thing is...they won't see it until it is ready.  You don't want to burn those bridges before you've had a chance to put your best foot forward.

The Potential

Not placing doesn't mean your story sucks or your writing career is over. It also doesn't mean that they hated your idea or the story was stupid.  It means it needs some work...that's it. Think of it as a practice run for submitting to agents.

Like I said before, the score they give the entry is for the way it looks now, not the way it will be when its ready. Remember that.

Give It Time

Everyone's knee-jerk reaction to criticism is to argue. Its human. Especially when talking about something you've poured your heart into. When you get your scores and comments, read them over, resist the urge to throw your hands up and quit, and walk away.   Give yourself at least two full days to recover from the blow to your ego. I'm serious. Forty-eight hours minimum.

Call your bestie or your crit partner and vent. Eat ice cream. Cry. Then, when you've stopped arguing with the imaginary judge in your head, go back and read the comments as if they were from a mechanic

That's right...a mechanic.  Not some judge on high sentencing you to pre-published purgatory forever...but as someone whose job it is to help you get the kinks out before hitting the road again.

Keep On Trucking!

Your baby may need a few things tightened. You may need to polish a few things here and there. You may even have to replace a panel or chapter, as it were, but that does not mean you should just declare the whole thing totaled.  

And certainly don't believe you will never get where you're going cause you needed to make some tweaks!

You took a step many writers never take. You showed your work to someone. That is huge! Bask in the awesomeness that is you!  And keep in mind that this is a journey...enjoy the ride.

Until next time...Go Write!
Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives