Today I would like to share with you my tips on entering the myriad forms of RWA sponsored contests. Please keep in mind these are my personal impressions, thoughts, and experiences--your results may vary. :)
First of all when you enter a contest you have to meet the basics. Pay attention to the type of contest. Is it the first chapter, the first line, the first 50 pages? You need to follow the contest guidelines. If you are unsure, contact the contest coordinator for details. Like Lee Duncan, this person can answer your basic questions with kindness, care, and wonderful wit.
Money is always an issue so check the price per page. A 30 dollar entry fee for 15 pages is very high. A 30 dollar entry fee for 55 pages is a bargain if the score sheet is detailed. Remember too that you have to pay postage and this can really add up. Electronically submitted entries can save you a lot in postage, but I’ve discovered most judges make minimal comments on the manuscript because it is more time consuming.
Beside cost, the next thing to look for is at least three judges with the lowest score dropped. This is good because you will inevitably get at least one judge who doesn’t connect with your work. Some contests essentially do the same thing with a discrepancy judge stepping in if there are more than X points between the two scores.
Also, look for contests that post the score sheet they use. That can give you a good idea of the kind of feedback you’ll get.
Another thing to watch: how to format. If a contest says “standard manuscript format” that is usually: 1" margins all around, drop down 1/3 page to start a chapter, 25 lines per page, and a non-proportional font like Courier New. However, you should always follow the contest guidelines. If they say use a certain font, then use it. If you are not sure, contact the contest coordinator--she is there to help you.
The other thing to look at is the final judge. Don’t bother entering if you don’t think that judge is looking for what you write. If you are only entering for feedback, then don’t worry about the final judge.
And now for the feedback. Most people who judge are writers and readers just like us. They genuinely want to help and can offer great advice but beware the snarky judge. It happens to everyone at some point. Nasty comments have a tendency to stick with us far longer than nice ones. Take the comments in stride but if a judge has crossed a line, contact the contest coordinator. No, they won’t change the score but they won’t ask that judge back next year. Abusive judges have no place in an RWA sponsored contest.
One other thing I learned is to have more than one manuscript. Entering can be a lot of fun and it can become addictive (hence the term contest ho or contest diva) but you don’t want to stop working on new stuff.
Feel free to ask any questions about contests or share your own stories.