By Royce Buckingham
My 16 year old son just earned 1st Place for his composition in the Washington State Young Composer’s Project. While I understand that this news is most exciting to my immediate family, it reminds me of how important contests were in building my writing resume and ultimately leading to my first deal.
I started by submitting short stories to contests, wrote and submitted my first novel (which is still in my desk drawer, by the way), and then moved on to screenplays. First, I chose regional contests and then expanded to national opportunities. With each new honorable mention, second place, and outright win, I gained the confidence and inspiration to continue developing my craft.
Eventually, my entry into the Academy Nicholl Fellowships earned a semifinal finish, which led to my first book sale and a movie deal with 20th Century Fox.
Here are the things I looked for when choosing which contests to enter:
Price: Most budding authors don’t have a ton of money to throw around. Make sure the cost is in line with the size and reputation of the contest.
Is the contest reputable? Find out how long its been around. Check out past winners. Research what others have said about it. Review the list of judges.
Exposure: Make sure success in the contest will get people to take you seriously at the next level. Also, what type(s) of promotion does the contest offer, and is there a solid web and social media presence?
Feedback: You need to hear what others think about your work. Contests that include critiques by judges are extremely valuable to improve your storytelling and evaluate whether to continue developing and marketing the story you submitted or chalk it up to experience and move on to new material.