Contests are funny things. Writers differ as to how useful they find them. Personally, I think they’re a good way of getting feedback. It’s a way of testing yourself against other writers and their work. How good am I compared to my competition? Obviously they’re subjective … but then so is reading. You’re never going to write something that everyone loves, so with contests there’s an element of luck of the draw. If I have the good fortune to be matched with judges who like my voice, I’ll do well.
Recently I was a double finalist in the 2017 Romance through the Ages contest. As if that wasn’t thrilling enough, when the preliminary results came back, I found that I was entering the next round with a perfect score. Which meant that at least three people (who are not my mum, husband, or friend) absolutely loved what I’d written. This was prize enough in itself, to be honest.
Unfortunately for me and despite how much the initial judges loved my story, the final round judge liked it least of the three finalists, and I came in third. You would think I’d be disappointed and I was (because who doesn’t enter a contest hoping to win?) but only a little bit. That particular judge had truly loved my first manuscript and so I’d had high hopes she would connect with my second, but them’s the breaks. I reasoned that, even in the case of my absolute favorite author, I don’t love every single thing she’s written.
So I didn’t win and the world didn’t end. The fact is, rejection can be good for you if you use it to help toughen your skin.
Anyway, months prior, I entered the Golden Heart contest. While of course I’d love to win the Golden Heart, the competition is so fierce that I didn’t expect to final. And I didn’t. I shrugged that particular defeat off instantly, but then, a few weeks after the Romance through the Ages results came out, I got my Golden Heart scores back. It’s such a massive contest that it takes them a very long time to get the results back to everyone and I’d honestly forgotten that I was supposed to be waiting for them. I opened them up with only mild curiosity.
Oh my god, you guys. My preliminary round score was 9.166666667. Out of 10. Which put it well into the top quarter. Hats off to the ladies who actually finalled. They must have got perfect 10s or near enough. I was absolutely thrilled. Ironically, the contest I didn’t final in was the one that left me elated in the end.
But I’m glad I entered both.
With the Golden Heart, you don’t get feedback from your judges, but with the Romance through the Ages, I got three critiques which were helpful and also full of some truly lovely compliments, both of which are extra fuel to keep you writing.
Entering a contest is like getting on a roller-coaster. There are highs and lows and there’s a chance you’ll spew. Yet ultimately the experience can toughen you, and help you improve your craft. (Okay, that last bit isn’t true of roller-coasters but I think the metaphor stands.)