Thursday, September 3, 2009

Contest Criteria

Last Thurs, my topic was: Change Your Manuscript to Suit Your Contest. In the comment section, Prairie Chick Karyn asked what I used as criteria for figuring out which contests to enter. I started writing but when my answer reached 400 words, I realized I had to devote a complete post if I wanted to give Karyn an accurate answer. Here’s what she asked: ‘Besides looking at the final judging panel what other criteria do you use to pick contests? By reputation? I know you mentioned contest divas. I've scanned the contests in the RWR, too.

At the beginning of every month, Seekerville publishes the current contests. This is where I learned how to get ‘the best bang for my buck’ as they said in one post. I’ll explain more about this later on. Suffice to say, if Seekerville says it’s one of the best for your money, there’s a good chance I’m entering it.

If you want daily information on what’s going on in the contest world, then you need to subscribe to the Contest Alert yahoo group. And may I suggest you check off the daily digest…if you don’t, you’ll be inundated with emails. But it’s all good info. Here’s what the Contest Alert page says: This group is to inform you of romance writing contests, upcoming deadlines, finalists, winners, anything to do with entering writing contests. Most of the contests are sponsored by Romance Writers of America Chapters, but a few are not…’ I’d like to add one of my favorite alert is when they tell me which contest deadline has been extended due to low entries and which category they need those entries in. You don’t need a calculator to figure out the odds are with you if you enter those ones.

Anita Mae’s Criteria for Entering

1. It must be an electronic contest. I don’t have the time nor the inclination to worry about the postal services.

2. Final Judge –this is why I enter: to get my manuscript (ms) in front on an editor. If the final judge already saw my entry in another contest and didn’t request to see the complete ms, she will judge it but she’s not going to request it this time, either. Granted there are exceptional circumstances, but from what I heard, you’d have to practically rewrite it so it’s unrecognizable before you have a chance of that happening.

3. First Round Judging – Look for these:
A. Type of judging:
- contests that drop the lowest score are my favourite because I usually end up with 2 high scores and a low one.
- my least favorite type of judging is when they take the scores and average them out (like they do in the ACFW’s Genesis contest). My lowest score always drags me down.

B. Number of judges: some contests use 2 or 3 judges and then send the entry to a discrepancy judge if there’s a pre-designated difference, anywhere from 20-75 depending on the total of their final score. I’ve done well with this judging. I don’t enter contests with only 2 first round judges if they don’t have a discrepancy judge.
The Southern Heat contest which I talked about last week is one of a few contests offering 2 final judges, usually an editor and an agent. That’s value for your money.

C. Credentials of judges – most contests ensure at least 1 judge is published. This is not a criteria for me. Just because they’re pubbed doesn’t mean they’re great judges. Instead, I check to ensure their judges have received judges training.

3. Feedback – the contest must give a score sheet and judges comments. The better contests ask the judges to comment/critique right on the entrant’s submission. Last year I entered a contest and only received a scoresheet. When I checked the rules, I realized the contest didn’t promise judge’s comments. I won’t enter that one any more.

4. Here’s where Seekerville’s advice on ‘More bang for your buck’ comes in: Number of pages. Every contest specifies the maximum nbr of pages to enter. The Southern Heat’s limit was 10. For The Golden Rose, Golden Pen and Golden Gateway, the limit is 55. Think about it. That’s feedback on 1/5 of your ms if you have a category book. Just don’t do what I did: For my first contest, I went the exact nbr of pages and ended in the middle of a sentence . I’ve since learned you need to end at least one page before the maximum to allow for differences in formatting. Plus, you should end with a hook. In the contest I entered last night, I was allowed 30 pages but my entry contains 25 because that was the best place to end it.

5. Cost – Each entry costs US $25 to $40 to enter. (Golden Heart excepted) You have to consider all the other criteria to see if it’s worth it. If they’re only asking for 5 pages, offering 2 judges with averaged scores and not giving feedback, they’re not getting my 30 bucks.

6. Is a synopsis required? This could be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. Some contests require a synopsis and they’ll tell you the max nbr of pages they’ll accept. Some contests either don’t want one or it’s optional. And some contests don’t want one unless you final. To get the best value for your money, you’ll want to enter where your synopsis will also be judged. Although this isn’t a deal breaker for me, the process of having my synopses judged have left me with ones I feel confident subbing to an editor.

Have you wondered why so many contests are ‘Golden’? They’re usually RWA sanctioned contests to prepare you for the Golden Hart. When you enter and receive a score from a ‘Golden’ contest, you’ll also receive a number telling where you would stand if it were the Golden Heart. I can honestly say I’ve received a 9 (the highest) from one judge. But I have to admit I’ve also received a 2 from another. Sigh

Do you have any other questions? If there is interest, I’ll do another post of what is entailed in entering the RWA’s Golden Heart.


Karyn Good said...

Wow, Anita. Thanks so much for your very informative answer! There are things in your post I never would have dreamed of considering and it helps me out a lot. You've given some fantastic pointers and things to check out. I had no idea about the 'Golden' contest theme either. Since you're asking, I for one would love to hear more about the Golden Heart contest!

Rest assured I'll be referencing this post many times as I get ready to stick my toes in the writing contest pool.

Anita Mae Draper said...

And such cute toes, too, Karyn, if I recall a photo from one of your earlier posts. LOL

Your wish is my command. Next weeks post will be devoted to entering the RWA's Golden Heart contest and answering any other 'big' questions that are asked here today.

Jana Richards said...

Very informative post Anita. Lots of really good information.

I think your criteria for entering contests is right on. Electronic entering is the cat's meow. It is so much easier than making all those copies and then hoping it gets in on time. A few years ago I entered, or tried to enter, the "Finally a Bride" contest. I sent it late and I guess it didn't arrive in time. I never received any feedback. Had I been able to send my entry electronically I would have been fine.

Given that you are looking for good value for your money, what is your feeling about the Golden Heart? I know it is very presitigious, but you only get a scoresheet. Have you ever entered it?


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, no, I haven't entered it yet because I didn't think I had anything good enough. They receive over 1000 entries. But I'm going to enter this year. More on this next week.

Yes, electronic is certainly the way to go. Clean and effective and you can procrastinate until just a couple hours before the deadline before sending. :O

Anita Mae Draper said...

Well, I don't know if it's my topic or me but only 2 comments today. Still, I'm not doing this to win a popularity contest, so I'll still do the post on the Golden Heart next week. If I can help just one person understand the process better, I'll consider my time well spent. Night everyone.

Molli said...

Hi Anita. Commenting late as I didn't get a chance to read the blog yesterday.

Lots of info here - thanks. I haven't felt ready to look at contests for quite a while, but I'll take a look at your links and keep your words of wisdom in mind. Looking forward to your comments on entering the Golden Heart.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Molli, as a Golden Heart judge, you're the expert around here.

Everything I'm passing on will be from what I've gleaned while reading. I have to admit, 1000 entries are daunting.

Thanks for stopping in. I don't mind if you're late. :)