Pick Your Comps

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Anyone who has ever written knows the value of story competitions. They are places to send your writing where we can test waters without too much risk of drowning; where we can read the winners to see what others, with dreams just like ours, are writing alongside us. They are places where someone is guaranteed to read what you’ve written.

But how does one choose the best competition among the hundreds screaming “look at me?” Some charge high entry fees for a chance of hefty prizes, while others offer the chance to be in a print magazine—which is still the Holy Grail, for authors like me. One factor that nobody ever seems to consider, though, is the feedback a competition offers… and it’s no wonder, since most offer, at best, the same form-lettered pat on the back that they send to everyone else who enters.

Not so over at Writer Advice. Before my flash story, The Cold and The Dutiful, recently won second place there, managing editor B. Lynn Goodwin did what she does so very well; she gave me insights into the strengths, weaknesses and points of confusion for later editing. If this was even before winning a prize, you might imagine how much more feedback I got when the competition was over… and your instincts would be right. Lynn’s judges also took the trouble to select insightful comments to help me continue working to my strengths, and to improve… you know… that other stuff.

This is what we should all seek in a competition: an experience that is thoroughly rewarding, without necessarily needing to “win.” The last two years have taught me a lot about which communities will take the trouble to support and encourage me as a writer—WOW and Writer Advice now among them—and hopefully, should I return to writing next year, I can wield that knowledge for more years to come. Writing competitions may be the best means available to promote our short fiction to the world…

…but make sure you pick your comp.

(Oh, and read The Cold and the Dutiful!)

 

Competitive Creativity

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I would like to invite some responses detailing other writers’ strategies when entering competitions, and perhaps more links to the comps themselves.

Sometimes, I know why I enter short story competitions. Other times, I wonder.

With lists and lists of competitions available to enter, a writer could nearly make a full-time career of the pursuit. Some enter them all (taking a ‘why not’ attitude, and using any winnings to finance further entries), while others refuse (preferring to keep their writing underexposed for greater appeal to publishers.) I have met authors in both extremes, but I tend to take more of a middle ground between two opposing tensions: the certainty of exposure against the risk of overexposure.

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