Having played the role of both finalist and wound-licker before the Genesis became a three-round deal, I know how the contestants feel. My score is two and two–with one of the losses becoming a win the following year. I know about Snoopy Dances and crying jags and righteous indignation. All along the way, I’ve been blessed with someone who either celebrates with me or sympathizes, puts up with my whining, makes me feel better, and gets me back on track.
The point is to get back on the right track.
When you enter a contest, you’re likely to get some terrific feedback, whether it’s good news or bad. Chances are, you’ve received two encouraging scores and one that borders on downright vindictive and rude. If you’re lucky, you’ve received remarks from the judges telling you their impression of your work and, if you’re really lucky, how to improve it.
If you aren’t one of the celebrants, then you have some decisions to make. After you cry on someone’s shoulder or rant and rave and slam a few cabinets, whatever your preferred manifestation of wound-licking, you have to decide what comes next. Are you so disappointed in your scores you want to quit? Are you a Christian author who now questions your calling? Back off for a while and have some serious prayer time. If you’re capable of quitting, you may be right: this career isn’t for you.
If you want to stick with it, to fight, you still have decisions to make. You can decide the judges are nuts, don’t know what they’re talking about, and totally missed the mark with your story. After all, what could they possibly know, right? First round judges aren’t usually big name professionals. Maybe they have a book out, maybe a few magazine articles, but they’re not superstars in their genre, so why pay attention to them?
You can choose that route, and chances are huge you’ll be a self-published author, not because you want to be, but because you won’t have another choice. If you’re unteachable, you’ll never improve. If you think you know it all, then what you know will be all you learn and you’ll never grow.
The best result from this contest is to get your crying out of your system, then decide to approach your judges’ comments with an open mind. Do the judges have a point? Is there some weakness they can see, but you’re blinded to? Remember, a score of “3” just means your manuscript need work–doesn’t mean it’s hideous.
Get your money’s worth out of the contest and see what you can learn from it. Examine your scores in each individual category–is there a consistency among the judges? If so, it’s time to study. Could your POV be deeper? There’s a book for that. Need some grammar help? There’s a book for that, too. Find your weak spot and make it stronger. Then try again, because there is no other place where you as a writer can get a totally honest and unbiased opinion about your work.
That’s the beauty of contests. Unlike published authors who hope to get reviews so they can see their readers’ opinions, contest entrants are guaranteed feedback, even if it’s just a set of numbers in a column. Approached with the right attitude, this set of numbers can steer you toward becoming better at your craft.
Look at contests as a tool to gauge your progress. If you’ve discovered you couldn’t quit writing if you wanted to, then learn, improve, and don’t give up until you get the results you want from the contests you enter.