Backside of contests

A Snarkling seizes on one of Miss Snark's snarks and asks:

" I don't have much respect for contests mostly cause I've judged a bunch and I hear what my fellow judges have done or said (think snakepit and you won't be far wrong)." Miss Snark, I'd love to see you elaborate on this to the extent you feel comfortable doing so. Pretty please with gin on it.

How about:
"oh I just looked them over on the plane trip coming out" or
"they're all pretty much the same so I just chose randomly" or
"they're mostly first person present tense so I chose the one that wasn't"

Two of the three are comments I heard during my last conference.

From second hand sources, i.e. people talking about contests on panels I've been on:

"I got all the entries too late to read any of them"
"I let my intern read them, I was busy"
"I picked the worst one just to give him/her a shot"

Not pretty is it?


Devoted Snarkling said...

Miss Snark, you are so right on the money with this post!

As a newly published author, I was incredibly honored to be asked to judge our local community college's writers' contest. I have a few other local credentials to recommend me, but was awed to know that I was the sole judge for the prose part of the contest. (Another judge took poetry, thank goodness!)

I received a HUGE packet in the mail, and was resigning myself to many hours of slogging through (instantly I felt tremendous empathy for agents which had never occurred to me before). Then the person who recruited me for this job didn't hesitate to tell me, "You don't have to read them all."

I was appalled! I believed that every writer who had spent his/her good time and efforts and ink to submit desereved a full reading and nothing less than my complete attention and devotion would do them justice!

I did pretty well. I read/skimmed every page, although the things at the bottom of the pile got less intense attention.

None of them were "publishable" in my humble opinion. Many were depressingly bad and in need of basic grammar/spelling checks.

I ended up selecting as the first place winner a very quirky, funny, kind of blasphemous piece. I wasn't sure what the local "literary" community would think, but I thought, "They asked me. I'm going to choose what I like."

The second, third, fourth place winners were held to different standards. One was kind of boring/cliche throughout, but ended with an absolute BANG that told me that the writer had something, so I picked it.

Another (I think honorable mention) was the best of about six entries that were obviously from the same person (although names were whited out, it's not difficlut to tell the same voice and paper and printer font) and I chose him for sheer perseverence.

The (kinda) happy ending to the story is about a year later I was featured at a book event and the writer who I picked (the quirky one) came up to me and really thanked me and told me how much winning the contest had meant to him and his self-esteem as a writer.

I felt truly good about the decision and that maybe good things do sometimes happen to good people.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I guess then, contests are pretty much a waste of time. Is that the consensus? Do you see any redeeming qualities in the process, Miss Snark?

Ira Rosofsky said...

Pretty much a waste of time, except for stuff like the Pulitzer, Booker, and Nobel.

(Congrats H.P.)

Kelly said...

Gracious me. Worse than I thought! Sure clears up a lot. Thank you, M.S.

harridan said...

Different contests vary night and day as to whether they are worth the effort. I believe that every author should enter at least one just for the experience.

Why do contests vary so much? Well what is your goal in entering?

1) Is it to get some honest feedback from judges who don't know you from Adam?

2) Is it because the final judge or judges are editors/agents? Meaning you may get that read you've been hoping for forever.

3) Because the contest holds some prestige and even finaling will draw some attention to your work and you can list it in your query letter?

No matter what your motivation, there are a few things you have to remember.

First is Miss Snark's scary but real post that sometimes the big judges get busy and don't give a lot of weight to the finalist contest entries. Contests abound, and what sometimes reaches the top of the voting isn't always the best work.

Why? Because secondly, many contests have fixed judging sheets. The preliminary reviewers give scores based on the questions provided to them.

As an example, I'll speak of some contests in the romance genre. Say your Hero and Heroine don't meet as adults in the first ten pages. Now the judge has a couple of questions weighty in the scoring that specifically involve the heat of the romance about to occur. Being presented with pages involving an 8 year old girl and 14 year old boy, they can't really judge that. So they guess. Or they give you zeros for that section. It happens all the time and is based on that judges personal OPINION.

Lastly, the world has many "contest ho's." These are people who take the same 10-30 pages and submit to every contest they can find year after year in hopes of a win. These pages have been refined over and over and over again.

So what's the problem with that, you ask? The problem is, those pages represent the sum-total of the manuscript, or close to it. If anyone asked for a full based on those pages, well, they'd probably be sorely disappointed. One, because it would take the writer months to complete, and two, the rest of the manuscript wouldn't have been critted by every person on the planet. (Smiles)

So pick your contests wisely, and don't let the fact that you don't win or final make you ditch writing forever. They are what they are.

Danita Shattuck said...

I entered two stories in seven contests this year. The same story scored a near-perfect 99 out of 100 in one contest and a 65 out of 100 in another.

Judging, like an editor or agent's opinion, is subjective. And judges, like the general public, come with different preconceived ideas -- not all of them based on knowledge. For example, one judge said I should have the female main character in my story -- a reporter -- wear pants, not a skirt, "because," the judge scribbled, "reporters usually wear pants." Mmmmm, is that so? I used to be a reporter. Three of four days out of five, I wore skirts, about the same percentage as th other women reporters in our newsroom.

Case closed.

Some judges are just plain ignorant. One penned at the end of my first chapter, "You should try writing this in first person, it might read better."

My reuttal to that is, HELLO, I wrote it in first person. The opening hook is: "I pull up to the crime scene, step down from my rusty yellow truck, readjust my thong, and curse my best friend, July, for talking me into buying the damn underwear." Can't get much more first person that that.

Remodeling Repartee said...

I entered the novel I am currently rewriting in a contest sponsored by a writing contest. It finalled but did not win. I sat next to the agent who judged it at the conference lunch; she asked about my work and I mentioned the title and elevator pitch to refresh her memory; though I did not mention it was a finalist. We then, at her lead, discussed the work for some minutes. It was clear she did not read it.

I entered the same work in an RWA contest; and though it did not final, I got great, great critques. In the above contest, which was more expensive, I got nothing back.

Miss Snark is correct. Unless it's one of the biggies, fugetaboudit.

rosemerry said...

so am I the only one who enters for the money? Yeah I already got scammed by poetry.com and bought three books. I was devastated. I have now learned about scams and do my best to stay away from them. Otherwise contests are a fun thing for me to do and I don't take them seriously.

Anonymous said...

All the contests I've seen require an upfront fee. Normally in the range of $2 to $5 which isn't such a terrible thing to me, simply because there are a lot of other competitions where people put money into a pot and the winner draws money out. Those places are probably small-name.

I haven't entered in them -- I'm a lousy short story writer -- but are put-some-money-in-the-pot places scam artists? Does it depend on if they're readership means they have to foot half the money and have the pot foot the other half?

Just curious.