My Contest Experiences

So… I have to admit that my enjoyment (perhaps it could be termed an addiction) to writing contests started at a young age.

When I was 9 years old, I won a writing contest in my school district for an essay about Abraham Lincoln. What? Someone thinks I’m a good writer? Well, then, I must be. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.

Granted, I didn’t win another contest until after I wrote my first book. So there was a bit of a time gap. In 2013 I placed 3rd at the IPPYs and the eLit Awards (for best scifi/fantasy) for the first book I ever finished (and had self-published at the time)–Blue Violet. Since then, I’ve won several more contests or been chosen as a reviewer’s favorite for a given year. (See Abigail Owen awards and Kadie Scott awards.)

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You wouldn’t think it would feel like that big of a deal. But to me those wins were a validation. After all, this was the first book I’d finished. While I’d had it professionally edited (I still credit Wendy with showing me the ropes), I still wasn’t sure if it was any good. Not like I was going to trust my family to be brutally honest, right? But it won, and that gave me a sort of validation that I’d needed. Like I was legit somehow.

I’d love to tell you that I didn’t need that. That I had the confidence in myself to believe I was a good writer. Now, 6 years and 29 books later, you’d think I’d definitely have the confidence. And I do. I know I’m a good writer. I’ve grown and continued to study my craft, always striving for the next book to be even better than the last.

But I still love the validation that placing in a contest can bring. These days it can often be that little nudge I need when I’m knee deep in a manuscript and at the “this sucks and I suck” phase that inevitably happens.

I will say that I don’t particularly care for the contests that involve reader voting. To me, that is a popularity contest to see who has the biggest network (and not necessarily of readers who’ve actually read the book). But the ones judged by people who read the books, and where industry professionals judge the finals? When I place in those, that’s that boost my confidence loves.

Another question you might ask is, did I see any results from winning the contest? Shrug. Sometimes I’ll see a small pop to my sales after winners are announced. I know some authors have found agents or editors via contest wins. I have not. Some of the more helpful contests, the judges provide notes back to the authors, which I do find valuable.  Also, I get to put “award-winning author” in my author title, and that, for what ever arguable reasons, helps legitimize me in the eyes of readers first thinking of picking up one of my books.

To me, contests are also a bit of a litmus test. It helps me know that my writing is continuing to be consistently good. I write so much faster these days. Blue Violet took me three years from word one to publication. Book 2, Hyacinth, took 6 months. Now I write a new book every 2-4 months (rarely as many as 4, I don’t have time). But I still want to produce quality reads.

I don’t submit my books to as many contests as I’d like. That can get horribly expensive, and most aren’t cash prizes. Some will give awards or metals. But most it’s a digital seal to go on my website and the pride. But I love that rush. Even when I don’t win.

Like I said…it’s a bit of an addiction. Much like finishing a book has become one. To me, that’s a huge accomplishment. And release day. Same rush.

Damn, I love being a writer. 🙂

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