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No contest?

The third season of American Author— oops, I mean the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest— is now at the quarterfinal stage. Amazon's contest is unusual in that it includes a public vote at the end (rather like a reality show), and because it specifies the book must be unpublished, not the author. I've entered twice. I washed out the first time and made the quarterfinals the second time. ABNA is also unusual in that it's totally free; not even a token fee is required.

Fantasy author Jim C. Hines recently posted the results of a survey he did in which he assessed what authors did to get a novel published, looking at things like publishing short stories, having connections in the industry, going to conventions, etc. It's a wonderful survey (and a great example of how writers help other writers), but it makes only a passing reference of contests as a path to publication.

I think that's because for most folks, contest aren't really a path to selling the book. Sure, in the ABNA, one winner is guaranteed a contract, but thousands of people enter so the odds (especially for genre works) aren't especially good. But contests can be a tool to improve your writing; for me, what entering contests did was to help me learn a few things. For one thing, almost every conference looks at the first chunk of the novel, either by page count or by word count. That forced me to learn to structure the beginning of the book so that the hook was well set by the time the cut-off was reached. It drove the final nail in the coffin of my tendency to wordy writing.

Second, contests offer offer more feedback than submissions to an agent or editor. Admittedly, most contest judges aren't pros, but still, you can get specific feedback based on a partial entry, which is a useful thing. I entered the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference (PPWC) contest several times and the Golden Heart contest once. In both cases, the feedback provided was specific and helpful.

If you're thinking of entering a contest, consider what they offer in terms of feedback. The years I entered, PPWC charged extra for a full critique, as opposed to just seeing your score sheets. I don't know if they still do; they're always tinkering with the rules. But assess the cost of entering (your time as well as your money) against what you get if you don't win as well as if you do happen to win, or at least place. One thing PPWC does is to get editors and agents to judge the top three entries in each category, so that's a plus. The year I got third in science fiction and fantasy and the year I placed second in YA, I went to the conference. Hearing applause for my work at the awards banquet provided a tremendous sense of gratification, even though I knew most of the audience hadn't actually read the entry. Likewise, the feedback from the romance contest told me I wasn't writing what those folks were looking for, so I learned something.

Another things to assess is the judging method. The more judges the better. Most contests have a correction for personal opinion. At PPWC, you get two judges but if their scores are radically different, a third judge will rate the entry and the low score is tossed out. That's a critical feature. In the ABNA where I made the quarterfinal everything looked rosy until I was stopped dead at the point that it was one reviewer's opinion.

Has anyone got any contest experience they'd like to report, good or bad?




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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
lunalila
Mar. 27th, 2010 10:14 pm (UTC)
I guess in Spain things are so different.
We do have contests, lots of. But most of them, well most of the well paid at least are from publishing houses themselves. They ask for number of pages, in genre so and so and then a group of in-house readers choose five or ten or whatever manuscripts and send them to the judges.
In most cases you don't even know if you've made the short selection. You only know if you win.
And for what I've been seing this year, most of the authors that have published via literary contests were published before, by the same publishing house. One was even sponsoring another contest in the same publishing house he was submitting to. yeah, we are so different. I told you :).
karen_w_newton
Mar. 28th, 2010 12:07 am (UTC)
It doesn't sound that different from regular publication except you don't need an agent.

Definitely different from contests here. I think the ABNA is open to folks outside the US if you want to look at it next year.
jongibbs
Mar. 29th, 2010 06:53 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I've no personal experience, but the fact that there's no entry fee would seem to make it a nothing-to-lose venture, which is good.
karen_w_newton
Mar. 29th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
Hey, time is money! And there's not a lot of feedback if you don't make at least the quarterfinals. But as you say, no entry fee is a definite plus.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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