Ten Tips for Getting the Most out of Writing Competitions by Pamela Ueckerman

Competitions. You've got to be in them to win them, right? Well, yes. But when it comes to writing competitions, there's more to them than just winning. While winning is a great boost to self-esteem (and occasionally the express train to a publisher's desk), there's this precious commodity that is like cake to unpublished authors and if you are willing to pay the small fee for entering a competition, you'll get your fix at a very low price. And that drug-like commodity is feedback.

Most writing competitions (at least the Australian children's book ones) offer feedback to their entrants, some even offer the feedback from two judges. Whether you win, place or come dead last, entering a competition is one way of seeking those precious words of wisdom that will help you polish up your manuscript and get it ready for submitting to publishers.

I've submitted to many competitions over the past few years. I've won some and I've lost many, but most importantly, I've learned a lot along the way. So, if you're starting out as a writer and thinking of entering competitions, you might benefit from my top ten tips for getting the most out of them.

1.   Think carefully about the suitability of your manuscript to the category you are submitting it to. Is there a theme you need to follow? Is your book really a picture book, middle grade novel or is it more YA? Ensure your manuscript is applicable to the theme or category you are submitting to.

2.   Don't submit your first draft. Or your second. Or your third. Give it some rest time and edit again before submitting to a competition so that you can get the most out of the feedback (and more chance of winning).

3.   Competitions are great practice for submitting to publishers so treat them as such: double check everything, follow all submission guidelines to the letter, ensure all files are attached before you submit and check that payment has gone through.

4.   If you are submitting a middle grade or YA novel, usually only the first 50 pages/1000 words/chapter is required. Your submission should sing; it should draw the reader in and make them want more. This won't happen if the action starts on page 51 or chapter 2. If there's one standout thing I've learned from entering competitions, it's that I need to cut off the first ten percent of my stories before submitting them.

5.   Some competitions publish winning entries either on their website or in an anthology. Those manuscripts are then considered published, and few publishers will consider a manuscript that is already published, in any format (though some might). You might think to avoid this, but remember, publishers are never short of submissions. A competition win is a great boost for your CV and you should focus on writing more amazing stories. Publishers favour a strong writing background.

6.   Keep track of which manuscripts you've entered where and when to expect the shortlist or winners announced. The industry moves so slowly that it's easy to lose track of things and you probably want to avoid the embarrassment of submitting the same thing more than once.

7.   Once you've entered your manuscript, put it in the bottom of the proverbial drawer and forget about it. Move on. Avoid the temptation to tinker. Otherwise, when you do receive the feedback, it will be on an earlier version than the latest. Plus, distance from the manuscript will make you a much better critic of your own work and more able to apply the feedback when the time comes.

8.   When you receive the feedback, read it once then leave it for a day or two and then come back to it again. The excitement will have worn off and you will be more able to attack the edits.

9.   Feedback is subjective and it's not always useful. You need to decide what to take on and what to let go – especially if you have conflicting advice. Everybody sees things differently, everybody has their own taste. Don't try to please everyone or your work will suffer for it. Work with the feedback that resonates and don't feel guilty about ignoring the rest.

10.   There are annual writing competitions in the children's book world but there are also sporadic ones that come up from time to time. Literary festivals, conferences, magazines and local councils are some of the sources of writing comps. Keep your eye out.

Creative Kids Tales run two competitions a year. One offers feedback and the other offers publication. Be sure to check them out on the CKT Author Competitions page. 

Pamela is an emerging author and CKT member. She blogs at www.ueckerman.net

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Comments 1

David Lewis on Wednesday, 18 October 2017 15:57

I found your blog very practical and useful...and written to entice me to read on. Thank you. I found feedback I got from a CTK competition very helpful and encouraging. Have fun, and than you.

Pamela I found your blog very practical and useful...and written to entice me to read on. Thank you. I found feedback I got from a CTK competition very helpful and encouraging. Have fun, and than you.
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