Writing Contests: A Viable Route to Writing Success

Readers, you’re in for a treat today! Jennifer Slattery knows Writer’s Contests, and today she shares with us what she’s learned on her road to success. I originally found this post at my dear friend, Barbara Parentini’s blog, Gifts by Grace, back in November. I bookmarked it and waited for the right time to share it with you…and today’s the day!

Let’s hear what Jennifer has to say:

If you’re a newbie writer, there are a few ways to rise above the notorious slush pile: write a stellar query, meet with an editor or agent at a conference, or place in a prestigious contest. Although options one and two help add leverage, they leave a large number of “what ifs.” Like, what if cyberspace eats my email, or I flub my pitch and swallow my tongue? Contests are by no means a guarantee, but they help you create a buzz for you and your novel while providing invaluable feedback. That’s why each year writers nationwide clamor to finish and submit their manuscripts to various contest coordinators.

Last fall, 500 authors competed in the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Genesis contest, resulting in a scant five winners. The Golden Pen received 190 entries in 2011, with only a handful crowned victorious. 120 writers entered the 2011 Christian Writer’s Guild Operation First Novel Contest, perhaps the only full-length novel contest, and only one of them will walk away with a $20,000 contract.

Upon first glance, these numbers appear daunting, perhaps even insurmountable. But there are things you can do to increase your chances of success. It’s easy, really. Write well. Include all those things that make for a great story: an engaging hook, unique writing, a strong plot, and lovable characters, all wrapped up in originality.

According to Genesis judge, Deb Kinnard, she’s a sucker for a great voice. “Voice is everything to me. If it can engage me, I’m willing to go with the flow, plot-wise.”

Voice isn’t something you can force, and often, it takes time to develop. It’s when you reach the point where you bleed into the page and readers catch a glimpse of your personality. To develop your voice, purposefully switch off the rational, plotting, angsting side of your brain and give your creative neurons full reign. Pound your keyboard, letting every uncouth and awkward word fly until your inner writer emerges. If you do this enough, your muse will emerge with increased frequency, squashing any cookie-cutting tendencies.

Then, once you’ve awakened your voice, couple it with great writing. When Genesis coordinator Ane Muligan judged the Genesis contest, she wanted to see craft knowledge displayed in strong writing. “I look for an overall knowledge of good writing skills, but allow for ‘rule breaking’ IF it works. That shows the author knows the rules, but has an innate sense of story.” She also looks for that spark of originality that keeps her intrigued. “A great opening line grabs me, and opening scenes need to hook me, as well as voice. In [the Genesis] contest, plot is not so much of an issue, since we don’t see the whole story (unless a synopsis is included).”

And yet, to truly have a great story, you need a great plot-one that starts strong and stays strong. That’s the main reason I love the Operation First Novel Contest. It challenges writers to polish not only that first ten or fifty pages, but instead, all 350. Regardless of which contest you choose, all provide excellent feedback that not only strengthen the writing, but also the writer. The ultimate benefit, of course, is hearing that editor say, “Please send me the full.” Statement often made to contest finalists.

Jennifer Slattery placed first in the 2009 Heartland of America Christian Writers contest, Second in the 2010 Dixie Kane (inspirational category), Fourth in the 2010 Golden Pen, and Third in the 2010 CWG Operation First Novel Contest. Having placed in numerous contests, she now uses her writing knowledge to help others do the same. Visit http://wordsthatkeep.wordpress.com to find out more about her critiquing services. She also writes for Christ to the World ministries, the Christian Pulse, Internet Café Devotions, Samie Sisters, reviews for Novel Reviews, and is the marketing manager of the literary website, http://clashofthetitles.com. You can find out more about her and her writing by visiting her devotional blog http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com.

Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your experience and insight.

And here’s a message about writing contests from our own Marcia Moston:

I keep close to my heart the biblical advice not to despise the day of small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). Because my story is a memoir and I am neither a woman of fame nor notoriety, I knew it would be a hard sell. Nevertheless, I decided to venture out by entering the Blue Ridge Writers Conference contest. After winning there, I gained the confidence to enter the 2010 Women of Faith Writing Contest. Not only was I delighted to win that honor, but was astounded to be offered a book contract by Thomas Nelson. I love contests because you never know the unexpected opportunities they may bring–from credits in your biography to books on the shelves of Barnes and Noble!

And readers, be sure to check back on Thursday for this week’s Writer’s Headlines, which will include several contests, collected just for you!

See you Thursday!

Posted in categories: Guest Blogger | Writing Contests | Writing Instruction

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