Triple Crown Try-Fail-Try-Fail

A couple of weeks ago I read this guest blog post by writer Dahlia Adler (a bonafide superstar with a tiara) on Cupid’s Literary Connection. The topic of knowing if a writing contest is right for you and when it’s time to retire a project from the contest scene sparked a lot of debate, most of which was healthy. Stupid rude people. Anyway, Dahlia’s sound advice and keen insight helped me revamp my immediate contest strategy and led to some greater peace of mind for me.

Since then I haven’t really thought about contests all that much.

To be honest, I’ve been focused on getting in the groove of juggling my new day job, a 40+ hour work week, seeing Lawyer Boy once in awhile, and making my daily word count for #80khotfoot. Then something happened yesterday which amused me.

Sometime between brushing my teeth and wondering if my polka dot thong would show through my pants, my mom messaged me a link to a RWA chapter contest AND a close writer friend (who shall remain A. Noun A. Moose) emailed me about another contest she suggested I enter. Now my mom doesn’t send me every single thing she sees to me. She’s not one of those moms. My inbox is not full of prayer chains to be forwarded or cute pictures of kittens and puppies. And the Anon Moosey writer friend who emailed me about the contest has professed her undying suspicious stance on contests more than once.

I’m taking it as a sign from the Universe that I’m supposed to enter another contest.

But having declared that, I do have some thoughts I’d like to share based on my own experiences with writing contests.

No, that’s not just some random picture of the Kentucky Derby. I mean, it is, but… Sigh.

A teen champion barrel racer, my mom comes from horse country in Florida, where all manner of champions are bred and trained, from Thoroughbreds to Tennessee Walkers. Ya’ll know I’m not a huge fan of all things nature and buggy, but I grew up knowing horses and when I thought about contests, I couldn’t help but think about racing.

I don’t mean to imply that publishing and signing with an agent and getting published and all that wonderful wonderful stuff is a race. But behind every horse that walks onto the track, there are people that know that animal backwards, forwards, and every possible way. You have to know your book that way if you want it to compete with all the other great books going for the exact same editor/agent/reader/audience/etc.

Your Book – The Three-Year-Old Thoroughbred

The Kentucky Derby is the most famous horse race, like, ever and three-year-old Thoroughbreds compete in it every year. I mention the age thing because one big mistake I made with my last book was that I threw it into contests too early. I tried to enter a two-year-old in a contest for its big brothers and sisters instead of giving it the extra year to mature. Aka, I needed to give the book more work first.

Too much early exposure can damage a book’s chances later on when it is ready. Wait for the sweet spot. Know your book and when the time is right to begin entering writing contests.

A Winner – Takes One to Know One

99% of the time, I’m not an advocate of contests for feedback. No random feedback from a contest can replace the value of a good critique partner. Finding one or two or a group is a struggle, but well worth it. What I do suggest, especially if you are a member of an organization like RWA, is to volunteer to judge a contest. At least once, before the agents and the editors and the contracts and the deadlines and all that fun stuff happen.

Seeing contests from that side will improve your own clarity in polishing your writing.

The Finish Line – Knowing When to Start Means Knowing When to Stop

The careers of all good equine athletes eventually come to an end and it’s time for retirement. Having the sound judgement to not rush your book into the contest circuit also means having a little on standby to know when to stop. Set it aside and focus on your new book. If you have to, motivate yourself by planning what contests your new book will enter.

Keep writing and keep trying.

Remember – when you don’t final in a contest or you receive yet another rejection, you haven’t lost. You will never lose as long as you keep putting words down on the page.

And that’s what you missed in Dar’s mind!  xoxo Darcy

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