Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Thoughts about Writing Contests

I’m happy to host Tiffany Colter, a writer and speaker I met through ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). Tiff has written for a number of print magazines, local papers and e-zines, and is working toward publication of her first book. She also runs the Writing Career Coach, a site devoted to mentoring aspiring writers in the basics of platform development, marketing and craft. Her blog is full of free information as well as a coaching program for those who want one-on-one coaching.

Today Tiff will discuss the importance of entering writing contests to build your career.

MD: There are all kinds of writing contests and several reasons to enter one. Tiff, how would you advise a writer about finding a good contest to enter?

TC: I think the most important thing to look for is what kind of feedback you’re going to get. Whether it’s a smaller contest with only one or two judges in a small local group, or whether it’s a large national writing group, the biggest benefit, especially for writers starting out, is that feedback and developing a thick skin. Once you’ve gotten to the place where you’re starting to get some interest in your writing, where you’re starting to develop in your craft and you’ve gotten requested fulls or partials, then it’s important to see who the final round judges are. That’ll help open the writing door.

MD: Writing contests are not for the faint of heart because writers receive unbiased feedback on their craft and storytelling abilities. I understand you’re judging a contest, 2011 MBT Frasier Contest. Can you tell us about that?

TC: The Frasier Contest is sponsored by My Book Therapy. I’m actually the coordinator of the Frasier contest, which means I oversee the entries and work with the judges. The score sheet alone, oh my goodness. The kind of instructions we give the judges, it’s one that gives feedback. The unique thing about the Frasier is that every judge is asked to find one thing that they really liked and to comment on that, in addition to the other critique comments.

MD: What’s the prize for the contest?

TC: The prize is a $500 scholarship (free tuition) to one of the My Book Therapy Retreats. What’s really great about it is these events are only about twenty writers, maybe. You work back and forth with Susie Warren (of My Book Therapy) for a couple of days, really building your craft and developing your writing.

It gives you the opportunity to get judging feedback, which is very important, but also if you win instead of just getting a plaque (which you do get) you also get the opportunity to work one-on-one and in a small group setting with a bestselling author of more than thirty books. It’s really very cool.

Thank you for letting me talk a little bit about the Frasier. The Frasier closes on March 31st. We’ve got a lot of great prizes for everybody. The awards ceremony will be at the pizza party during the ACFW conference this year. Being a writer myself and seeing the way the score sheet is put together and the way it’s built and the kind of heart that Susie has going into it, it’s a great contest for aspiring writers and I would definitely recommend people enter the contest.

MD: What’s the best reason for a writer to enter a contest?

TC: There’s a couple of reasons to enter. One of the best is practicing what it is to be a writer. Writers have to write on deadlines, writing contests offer deadlines. Writers have to open themselves up to critique and criticism. Writing contests definitely offer that. Writers have to get the eye of editors and agents. When you move into the final rounds of some of the larger contests that’s exactly what you get. Really what a writing contest does is train you for living the writing life.

MD: How will entering a contest boost a writer’s career?

TC: Writing contests can boost your career because you get a better read from the editors and agents. Even if your craft isn’t quite there in the opening pages, the editor and agent are required to read the entire piece. That gives you a few pages to make your sale instead of a few lines. If you’re a slow starter and an agent or editor is reading your piece and on page three the story really starts to grab them, you might have an open door to have them say either I’d really like to see more of this, or to say hey listen, your story starts at this point. Start it here and then see where you go.

MD: What’s the best attitude for a writer entering a contest?

TC: Don’t go in feeling like you’ve only succeeded if you win. The attitude to have is that you’re entering the contest to see what issues you consistently have in your writing, what areas need to improve. Contests give you an opportunity to get feedback from numerous people. While some people like to bemoan the fact that writing contests are subjective, I would like to present the truth of the writing industry. It’s all highly subjective, whether it’s an editor, an agent, or a reader. The feedback you receive is the real benefit. Don’t take on a confrontational or adversarial relationship with the judges. It’s not a competition of judges vs. authors. Keep that in mind when you’re evaluating your score sheet. Envision the score sheet and any comments being said with a loving voice and a smiling eye.

MD: How should a writer evaluate their contest score sheet?

TC: Do not take every single thing that every single judge says and change every single bit of your manuscript. That is a big fat no-no. You have a unique author’s voice. You’re not trying to transform yourself into a variety hodgepodge quilt of judges’ comments. What you are trying to do is see if there are consistent issues that are coming up time and again. Or, look at some of the feedback and see if something they said makes sense.

If anybody has questions for Tiff, you can contact her at Tiffany@WritingCareerCoach.com or through herblog, or via phone.

1 comment:

Jaime Wright said...

Fantastic blog today! Thanks, Tiff, for your insights. I've entered Genesis twice and the feedback I've received from judges is invaluable! A little painful, true, but has honed my story more each time!! Contests are great ... I should go enter one, shouldn't I? :)