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Contests–We love to hate them. But should we?

by Sandra Orchard

Every year the writing contest season climaxes with a flurry of complaints on writers’ loops about conflicting judges’ comments and incongruent scores.

Been there. Done that. Totally empathize.

But…from my experience entering contests is a worthwhile investment.

Let’s face it. First manuscripts are rarely contracted, especially if the writer hasn’t invited editorial feedback from people other than friends and family. Entering contests is an economical way to get that much needed feedback.

Not to say you’ll be happy with what you’re told. Everyone’s tastes are different. What one reader loves another will hate. It’s the nature of the business and you might as well get used to it.

Although I already had an agent, and had written three novels, my first contest’s scores were average. Once I got over my surprise–after all, average was not in my vocabulary! I’d always gotten As in school. I’d eradicated all those flowery adverbs from the entry, and there wasn’t a pov glitch to be found–I grew to deeply appreciate the advice I received.

The needed fixes were not huge, but they were hugely important. They were the difference between a “send me the full” and a “thanks, but no thanks.”

I made the suggested changes. I took a gazillion workshops. I found critique partners. And the following year I entered the revised manuscript in the Genesis. It finaled. I was over the moon!

Of course, the feedback from first round judges is pretty thin when your scores are great. But I didn’t mind, an agent and an editor would read my story. I was so excited my chest felt as if it might burst.

A few months later when I received the final round scores, reality hit. High 90s from the agent. Low 60s from the editor. Talk about divergent opinions. It’s not the bane of first round judges. It’s reality.

Undeterred, I revised yet again, transforming the romance into a romantic suspense. The following year I entered the revised manuscript in the Daphne DuMaurier contest, and it won. It won the inspirational category, and best in show! And scored me a new agent.

But here’s the irony of contests. That winning–and much revised–story still hasn’t sold. But editor Tina James agreed to read the full even though a previous Love Inspired editor had rejected my proposal for the earlier version. Afterward Tina took the time to explain exactly why the story didn’t fit LI’s line.

I immediately applied what I learned to a manuscript I’d held off submitting. And that’s the story that sold.

Now…entering contests may not score you an agent or a contract or even useful feedback, but if nothing else, it will help toughen your skin for editor revisions and readers’ criticisms. At least that’s what I kept telling myself…

You be the judge. Deep Cover from Love Inspired Suspense hits bookstore shelves this week.

You can learn more about Sandra and her books at

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2 Responses to Contests–We love to hate them. But should we?

  1. Carole Brown says:

    Great post; makes sense & encouraging. Thanks for sharing, Sandra! Looking forward to reading your book.

  2. You’re welcome, Carole. I appreciate the feedback 🙂 And I’m thrilled that you plan to read my book. 😀