Taking stock... I’ve just been going through my Submissions File. I’ve submitted my novel to 13 (unlucky for some) agents. Responses so far: one no-reply, eight standard rejections, three personal rejections (one of which asked to see my next novel) and one request for a full (based only on a synopsis and covering letter) which was quickly rejected when they encountered the actual writing…
In the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve also entered quite a few writing competitions. The first one was Vanda Inman’s regular short story competition – well worth checking out. To my amazement I won third prize - £50 – which they agreed to convert into a critique of the opening pages of my novel. The boost it gave me was huge and very much needed. Since then, I’ve entered the following novel competitions:
- The Harry Bowling Prize
- The Yeovil Literary Prize
- The Daily Mail/Transworld competition
- Cornerstones Literary Consultancy’s ‘Are You Ready To Submit?’ competition
- A competition to win a writer’s retreat at West Dean college
- The Dundee Prize
- The Brit Writers’ Award
Most have come to nothing. But I ‘came close’ for being longlisted in the Harry Bowling; I've got through the first stage of judging in The Brit Writers, and I was shortlisted in the Cornerstones competition. This resulted in my work being showcased to several agents, a request for a full (unfortunately not taken on, but another short-listee was signed by the agent and has since been published) and a very incisive free one-page editorial report on the novel.
Entering competitions can be very, very helpful to an aspiring writer, for the following reasons:
- Competitions are not make-or-break, like submitting to agents or publishers.
- They provide hope and a sense of opportunity/potential during what can be a long-drawn-out process of submitting – or writing your next WIP. The feeling that ‘something’s out there’ is psychologically very helpful to the process of writing.
- Competitions force you to go through yet another round of editing/synopsis writing which can only benefit your eventual novel/story.
- Competitions are often judged by agents or publishers and can be a back-door way to making contacts with them
- You can add a win or shortlisting to your writing CV/covering letter.
- You may win actual money (remember money?)
- You may receive that so-vital and rare commodity – A Confidence Boost.
Take a look at past entries to get a sense of the kind of work that wins in any individual competition. Find out how many entries the competition usually gets (obviously your chances are higher in a competition like the well-respected Yeovil Prize, which gets just over 1,000 entries, than in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition.)
Beware of novel competitions which offer publication as a prize. Read the small print carefully. Far better, I think, to win a sum of money and the kudos associated than hand over your rights to what may, in essence, turn out to be a print-on-demand outfit.
Look at the list of judges. They will give you an idea of the kind of thing they’re after and also of the standard of the competition.
There are lots of websites and magazines listing current writing competitions. Literature Training is free, current and excellent (click on Jobs and Opportunities) and shows competitions for poetry, short stories, novels, screenwriting and playwrighting.
Make sure you give them exactly what they ask for in terms of wordage, layout, submission by email or hard copy, pagination, and whether they want your name to be attached to the entry. Keep a file of the competitions you’ve entered, and the dates.
Let's face it, writing for publication is essentially one long competition with many, many entries, so why not try as many ways as possible to break through the glass ceiling? There’s nothing to lose except the entry fee and a certain amount of pride. And what is gained can be extremely precious.
Oh, and er… do enter the Strictly Writing Award. Free to enter, and a £300 prize. What’s not to love?