Writing Contests are NOT My Thing

When I first started the endeavor to be published, I entered a few contests with two different manuscripts. I ended up stopping because I noticed a pattern in the judging of them. When the judges were published writers, I got great feedback and pretty decent scores. When the judges were unpublished, I got low scores and snarky comments on how bad the story was as well as advice to stop writing. Yep. That happened. It seemed to me that the unpubbeds had an agenda. To make aspiring writers drop out of the competition. The published writers were much more kind and generous with sharing tips and how-tos. Sadly, there was not enough of that with the unpubbeds.

Interestingly, the day after I got scores on one of my stories, SOLO HONEYMOON, I got a contract on it, so I guess those two unpubbed writers who had mean things to say were wrong. One of them actually said she liked the best friend better than the heroine because the heroine was upset all the time (okay- this was first 20 pages) and the friend was more fun. Well, honey, the story was about a jilted bride taking her honeymoon with her best friend who was trying to cheer her up- so, was the heroine supposed to be all happy and smiles by page 20? I think not.

I’ve judged a few contests and even if I think the work is nowhere near ready to be published, I say kind things and try to give guidance. Like I always say, there’s enough readers out there for everyone, there’s no need to destroy someone’s hope and dreams.

What about you? Have you seen a difference in published and unpublished judges in the writing contests you’ve entered?

About Author

The author of these blog posts is a lawyer by day and fiction writer by night.
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21 Responses to Writing Contests are NOT My Thing

  1. jeff7salter says:

    My few years of contest entries yielded similar disillusionment with the judging, though I did not notice as clear a pattern as you’ve cited here.
    But, like you, I kept bumping up against judges who (apparently) had decided they knew exactly where my story was going and if they didn’t see every single thing they wanted or expected in those sample pages, then they trashed the scoring.
    I no longer remember some of the most offensive responses (from judges), but one which still sticks out was the judge who was offended that my story’s heroine referred to her neice (not to her face, however) as a bitch. This judge said nobody would ever think of their neice as a bitch.
    Oh, really?


  2. Oh, well, I am what an old friend called,”Family-oriented to a fault”,(!) but I recognize a bitch,( or male equivalent), even in the immediate family!
    What I have found among writers is pretty much what you have experienced: The bigger they are, the nicer they are; the ones who haven’t made it are often jealous and discourage others.
    The biggest names I have met have offered help,(one I took up on and she helped with advice about my bio), one I even embarrassed myself with,( a relative laid claim to having been in her past, but wasn’t!), offered me help and left it open-ended. Yet, the ones who never published or didn’t make it big with the one they did will discourage others. The worse case I know of was that of my friend who was seriously ill.She wrote so well but her cousin, a one-non-hit-non-wonder, told her it was too hard to try.Why she shot my friend down without reading her work and depressed her when she was dying,I will never understand. I don’t think any successful writer would have done that.


  3. Iris B says:

    I reckon I’ve only entered a contest once or twice … thing is … my stories are usually good (if I may humbly say so), but my grammar and wording is typical for a non-english speaking author – it sucks! … so I usually fail first up … same goes with submission. Glad I’ve found a very patient and tolerant publisher 😉
    And if I may have understood the above right …. I agree, unfortunately there’s a lot of jealousy out there amongst non-published writers, which is a shame, because so far I found most of the authors or any groups of authors great and interesting, but mainly helpful amongst each other!


    • Yeah, sadly there is a lot of jealousy. And you’re right, there are a lot of supportive authors and I love that.

      I can imagine how your wording could be an issue in a contest. I had an Australian editor on a couple of my stories and the first one we worked on we had issues with word choices but by the second and third ones, we were rocking along quite nicely.


      • Iris B says:

        It is fun …. and frustrating at the same time …. AND a steep learning curve. I learned “English” English at school, coming to Australia was a shock and a half! Now I’m adding US English to these tired memory cells. But it’s interesting … I’ve learned quite a few Americans don’t know about the “Bikkie” …. my favourite afternoon snack!


        • Nope. What’s bikkie? I have to know. Lol. I use some British English as I’m a huge Anglophile and always have been. Now that Downton Abbey and those type shows are popular here, i see More people understanding the Britishisms. Lol.

          And yeah, I bet yours was a steep learning curve because casual language is totally different than formal, isn’t it? My learning curve in fiction was doing less formal writing than I do in legal briefs. ( contractions are issues for me still-lol)


      • Iris B says:

        Australians have a tendency to ‘shorten’ about every word in a sentence. Bikkie is the short version, and I think more or less when you talk to a child, for biscuit – the cookie. “I never want biscuits unless I’ve got tea” – is from a song i like, cause it’s so ME, well, I don’t want a cuppa without a bikkie 😉
        changing from legal to “fiction” would be hard I imagine …. unless you do a John Grisham and “legal” is half the book. It was John, right?


        • Ahhh. I get it. And yeah, your biscuits are cookies for us. Lol. I like that no cuppa with no bikkie. Cute.

          Yeah, Grisham was the one but if you read his stuff, he has contraction issues, too. Hehehe.


  4. Micki Gibson says:

    I did the contest circuit for a while and I did get some great feedback. I also got some that I completely ignored. I recognize that not everyone will like my story. However, only once did I get a judge that I felt should write to the contest coordinator about. The coordinator had sent with our scores a spreadsheet showing how all the judges scored. Of all the judges who scored 4 entries or more, this particular one had the second lowest set. So I wrote to the coordinator and said that while that person might be a good judge for another category, they had made some remarks that clearly indicated that they didn’t “get” young adult. Teen characters are not going to behave in the same manner as a 30 year old adult. Peer pressure anyone?

    These days, I’m more selective about which contest to enter based on who the final judges are. Which means I’ve got to get cranking on my pageant story if I’m going to enter it in one whose deadline is in two days!


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