Contests: A Two-Edged Sword?

In Hebrews 4:12, Paul wrote about a “two-edged sword.” He wasn’t talking about writing contests, but about the Word of God and its ability to cut to the heart of a person, exposing what that man or woman thinks and desires to the light of God’s truth.

Since then, the phrase “that’s a two-edged sword” has indicated there is good and bad in a situation. It wasn’t that long ago that Gloria Estefan sang about a love that “Cuts Both Ways.” (Okay, it was 20+ years ago–excuse me while I go get my cane. Ouch.)

A difference maker
Diana Prusik was one of the five finalists in last year’s Operation First Novel contest. Even though she didn’t win, she did get published.

“I can honestly say participating in contests changed my life,” Prusik said. “As a result, I received opinions and suggestions from a few editors, judges, and even Jerry Jenkins himself (through a Thick-Skinned Critique session). I soaked up every piece of advice offered and did my best to apply them in revisions.”

Through the contest and the Writing for the Soul conference, Prusik gained the attention of Tyndale House and her contest entry, Delivery, was released this year as part of Tyndale’s Digital First Initiative.

Professionals agree
DiAnn Mills (right), the Craftsman course mentor for the Christian Writers Guild and two-time Christy award winner (Breach of Trust, 2010 and Sworn to Protect, 2011), said contests can create interest.

“Contests are a valuable tool to get your name in front of agents and editors,” Mills said. “However, the downside of that is submitting an unpolished manuscript—that can tarnish a writer’s name.”

Christy Scannell, a Guild mentor and a member of the board of the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, says participating in contests can lead to additional assignments.

“Contests are an opportunity to publicize your skills and interests and to network at awards banquets,” Scannell says. “My participation in contests has resulted in more freelance work and contacts.”

The caution
In addition to Mills’ encouragement to not submit anything but your best, Julie-Allyson Ieron (right) points out the dark side of contests.

“I’ll never forget the deep disappointment of the first runner-up one year in the Operation First Novel contest,” says Ieron, a Guild mentor and an author-speaker. “Mom was with me at the conference that year (I was on faculty) and she noticed the runner-up weeping in the background.”

Remember when entering contests that judging is subjective. Certainly there is good and bad writing, but when comparing great with great, a judge’s personal preference will make the difference.

“So enter, be thrilled if you win, but don’t put too much stock in that one-in-a-million shot,” Ieron says. “Keep working with excellence and consistency. Keep building your credentials and your platform, and eventually you’ll see success.”

Go for it
As long as you have a good attitude and reasonable expectations, I say enter those contests—you just might win. But even if you don’t, you’ll receive feedback on your writing that will either affirm your direction (we all need that) or help you see a problem area you were unaware of.

Feedback is key. If I enter a contest and don’t receive any, what’s the value of that contest—except to the winner? This is why the Christian Writers Guild changed our Operation First Novel contest this year. We want to provide everyone who enters with a sheet of advice and encouragement.

Our contest is only open to Guild members. We’ve recently lowered the cost of membership and upped the benefits. Find out more.

There are many contests. Check online and in The Christian Writers’ Market Guide. Use discernment and find the contests that offer what you need.

Michael Ehret is the Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. He has written for newspapers and other print and online outlets. He edited several nonfiction books, was the senior editor for a faith-based financial services and insurance organization, and is the ezine editor for American Christian Fiction Writers.