I'm hosting a debate on my writing blog just at the moment, about how and why people enter writing contests. I'm trying to widen the discussion, and wondered whether anyone here would be willing to join the debate and/or direct people to my blog if they're interested in sharing their thoughts/experiences? Here's the link:
I was very happy to receive positive contributions from the Bristol Prize organisers (and one of the judges) as well as a former judge of the Sean O'Faolain Prize. It would be great to hear from more people, though.
Please do join the debate!
Tiger aka Sarah
It turned into an interesting debate, too - thanks for posting it here, Sarah
Thanks for joining the debate, Emma. Yes it's very interesting - and ongoing, as Sally Quilford is now directing people to it and has joined the debate.
Digging up this post from ages ago (thanks, MartinEx for that, and for the steer to what was a really excellent thread over on Sarah Hilary's blog) to say that WriteWorder Cherys, AKA Susannah Rickards, who's an enormously experienced judge and first-reader/sifter for competitions, kindly guest-blogged for me about what comps look like from the inside:
which might interest people if they're thinking about comps.
Thanks for reviving this thread Emma, looks like an interesting topic.
I'll have a look at the blogs.
Thanks for the links Emma - another good insight on the comps front.
I can't resist entering whenever I've got something I don't know what to do with - competitions have the lure of the Lottery about them - "It could be you!"
Although sometimes they're a bit more like scratchcards - with that hum of quiet desperation that surrounds the young mum in the queue at the newsagent's.
One of your links led me on to another of your blog entries on fiddling - (ooo-er! Matron) - a really interesting post on getting on rather than messing about
I do find myself referring to that post on Fiddling very often - and in teaching, too...
I'm coming here late, I know, but I wanted some background after reading the Cornerstone competition thread, and wondering if the cynicism was justified.
Those two guest blogs of Emma's are so insightful. It never would have occurred to me that Aunt Doris, who mops the Arts Centre floor, might be a filter reader. And why not - if she knows her Dostoevsky?
Well, Aunt Doris or not, I've decided I'm going to go against the trend and enter that competition. Yes, simply, I want reassurance that I'm not in the ordinary 94 per cent (and not the dribbling 2 per cent, either). For me, it's making the longlist that matters. I think that would be progress.
As for the 10 pounds entry fee, I say, so what? It's a business, ain't it? And what does that sum buy these days in Britain? A good wholewheat loaf? A bus ride into town? A good quality mop?
|wondering if the cynicism was justified|
In my case, it is primarily a case of being a miserable scrote with trust problems.
|Well, Aunt Doris or not, I've decided I'm going to go against the trend and enter that competition. Yes, simply, I want reassurance that I'm not in the ordinary 94 per cent (and not the dribbling 2 per cent, either). For me, it's making the longlist that matters. I think that would be progress. |
That's pretty much the reason I send flash stories out to e-zines and also why I have entered competitions like Fish, Bridport, Biscuit, Dundee International Book Prize (ahem
) and so on...
|As for the 10 pounds entry fee, I say, so what?|
Yep, I've blown a good deal more than that on competitions, writers forum membership(!) and a host of other writing stuff, including paid reports and the like. Some of it was money well spent, some of it wasn't, and I don't care because I can still pay the mortgage and still afford to write some more.
|It's a business, ain't it?|
Yes, yes it is.
But if you want to get your writing published, so are you
A one-off payment of £10 is not, in itself, a bad thing. Provided you go into it fully aware what you are committing to and that you are happy with the commission fee that you will need to pay to Cornerstones if you are lucky / talented enough to get representation through that competition.
As per the thread, to me, the sums don't add up. You are not me, however, and if they add up for you, go for it.
Always, always, always, though, you must remember the law of writing (and any publishing enterprise) that money must flow to the writer
(or provider of content) once you get that deal.
|Always, always, always, though, you must remember the law of writing (and any publishing enterprise) that money must flow to the writer (or provider of content) once you get that deal.|
This is very true. However, writers can and should invest money in their training, learning and development. The line between which and proper business return can of course be fuzzy. For example, most writers used to consider paying to have their work edited and for their own cover art, etc, breached this law. Now, that's changed: it's seen as a necessary investment in self-publishing. However, there are plenty of people out there offering to help you with this, and of course charging you for it. So, in essence, each of us has to decide if we're investing in the necessary training/development or self-production side of our business, or whether in fact we're just letting money flow the wrong way. Within which I suggest the key question is: what am I getting for my money?
Perhaps an example: I do some editing work for a highly-respected publishing service. Recently, a writer sent in his book saying he wanted someone to re-write it for him, so it read as if written by a proper writer; that he didn't want to take the time needed to learn how to himself. The idea he had was a very good one: an unusal thriller based on his own experiences. I did him a sample chapter then we gave him an estimate. Not surprisingly, it was quite a large figure, although perfectly reasonable against the time I would have had to put in. He didn't want to go with it. I don't know what he's going to do next.
|I don't know what he's going to do next.|
Ask David Hockney to paint the picture he would like to do himself?
Ask James MacMillan to compose the piece of music he has floating about in his head?
With regards to money, I just don't see my writing as a business. It's a pleasure, and like any enjoyable pursuit, money put in is not missed, regretted, or fretted over.
But, that's me. And I don't have to make a living out of it.
|With regards to money, I just don't see my writing as a business. It's a pleasure, and like any enjoyable pursuit, money put in is not missed, regretted, or fretted over.|
Which is valid - probably, also, the reality for me.
Case in point; I spent £14 entering a competition today. The upside could be a four-figure cash prize plus some nice ego boosting (certainly, I enjoyed being short-listed a few years ago), maybe even a small trip down the road to Cork. The downside is almost certainly going to be a slight reduction in my bank balance instead.
But then, if it is just for pleasure, why enter a competition where the prize is so publishing focussed?
Paying an extra 10% of your future advance to a third-party when you don't seriously believe you stand a chance of getting an advance in the first place is very easy to do. The reality could well be different when, as happened to a friend, a publishing deal coincided with an unexpected job loss so that publishing leapt from being a harmless hobby to a critical financial consideration.
I guess, my point is, know what you are giving away and why.
I agree with Gaius, if it's just for pleasure why get embroiled at all with the business side of publishing? Because if you then get a toe hold in the business, you will only be at least let's say challenged by having to deal with it, and hampered in doing so if you aren't really bothered about the details. But then of course it's a lot of writers' dream: to write something for fun and somehow get it published, and make some money, and continue to write for fun and somehow make some more money. The problem being that publishing is run by professionals, and that goes for most if not all the regularly selling authors. Even if it's often in the publishers' interest to (falsely) portray best-selling authors as happy, strike-it-lucky amateurs (e.g. J K Rowling). You see something similar with the X Factor: any act there that has genuinely gone from happy amateur to professional overnight (and I doubt there are actually very many of them) will face huge problems of adjustment.
As for paying for competitions - like everything, it depends. There are some highly respected writing comps like Glimmer Train (although they run both fee-based and free competitions). But there are also comps which are clearly designed to cover their costs from the authors, if not make a profit too. As with everything, it's up to us to find out which is which and/or use our instincts.