I entered my first writing contest (for the first chapter in a novel) in December 2000. Did I win? Nope. Did I even place in the Top Ten? Nope. Did I feel defeated and quit entering contests?
In fact, I entered my next contest two months later in February 2001. Again, terrible scores, but instead of making me want to quit, it made me want to try even harder, so I entered three more contests that year. Place in any of those?
Guess what? I’m a twin to Tenacious D because I was determined I was going to win a contest someday, so I kept submitting my manuscript. I entered little contests, I entered big contests, I entered contests judged by famous editors and authors, I entered contests judged by not so famous writers. Did I win any of those contests?
But I still kept trying. In September of 2010, I entered the San Antonio Writers’ Guild (SAWG) Annual Writing Contest. Did I place in the Top Ten in that one?
Did I place in the Top Three in that one?
How about did I WIN FIRST PLACE and some cold, hard cash for that one?
HECK YEAH, I DID!
Ten years, people! It took a decade of entering writing contests before I finally won! The year span didn’t at all suppress my excitement at winning First Place though!
Winning First Place made me do a Happy Dance like you wouldn’t believe! It also gave me the confidence to enter even more contests, including “biggies” like the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Golden Heart–and more than once–and the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Did I win any of those?
Even though Love, Texas — Population 2 is now published, will I continue to enter all types of contests?
Why? I think entering contests all these years helped sharpen my writing skills. I believe all writers should constantly grow their craft, and I think entering contests is a great way to do this. Most contests cost hardly any money to enter; I’d say entrance fees usually fall in the range of $5-$20. This means most contests are an inexpensive way to help gauge if your writing is improving by going over those score sheets and judges’ comments.
Another exceptional way to hone your craft is to attend writing conferences. Granted, most conferences are super expensive, but they are oh so worth it!
There are multiple workshops to learn about a wide variety of topics pertaining to writing, ranging from how to write an effective emotional scene to how to set up your taxes. Here’s an example of the type and extensive number of workshops that are usually presented at large conferences, such as the National RWA 2017 going on this July in Florida. RWA2017Workshops
Most conferences also provide FREE appointments with an agent and / or editor to pitch your novel. I believe this is a particular big bonus to attending conferences, not only for writers who are interested in traveling the traditional publishing route, but for indie authors as well.
Why bother meeting with an agent or editor if you’re going to self-publish? It allows you to talk about your book with someone who will give you an honest, professional opinion about the pros and cons of your novel idea–opposed to getting feedback only from your best friend or mom or dad. Friends and family no doubt might not tell you 100% what they’re thinking when reviewing your work because they probably fear, just like Jack Nicholson did with Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, that:
“You can’t handle the truth!”
One writing conference that has the main objective to give writers the chance to meet with industry big-wigs is The Agents & Editors Conference sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas. I’ve attended this conference two times in the last 10 years, and found it rewarding and enjoyable each time.
Another positive aspect of attending a conference? It’s a big ol’ Schmooze Fest. Even though the term “schmooze” is often used in a derogatory way, I’m not doing that today — it’s a totally positive term, one that is synonymous with “networking.” (“Schmooze Fest” just sounds like it’s a lot more fun!)
Conferences are a great way to tell both “important” and “little people” about yourself and your writing projects in a supportive, relaxed, atmosphere. You’re also distributing this info to people who are expecting the schmoozing, so they won’t be turned off by your possible “over-exuberant” networking skills. (Just don’t approach people in the bathroom, okay?)
I hope this blog post was informative and it has encouraged you to “get on out there” by submitting your manuscript to writing contests and by attending writing conferences. Just think, if you do those two things, you could be like me–and walk around with a TWO POUND! purple Pendaflex file just full of writing documents!