Friday, April 15, 2016

Paying for Contests: Breaking Along Genre Lines

Looks back over the week...tallies up the votes...and is not the least surprised to find the pay to play votes break right along genre lines. Anyone who's been a part of RWA has, to this point, been open to paying a contest entry fee. Conditioned? Yes. We are. For good reason.

RWA is unique among professional writing organizations in that membership is open regardless of publication status. The membership is tiered within the organization based on publication status, but the organization's goal is 'advancing the professional interests of career-focused romance writers'. That means that RWA welcomes writers of every level into the organization and then invests time and energy in teaching them anything and everything they want to learn about the craft and/or the business.

But, and this is a big 'but', there are no report cards, you know? If you're a writer still seeking publication, how do you garner constructive feedback from objective sources? Critique groups get to know you and your writing style fairly quickly - to the point that your crit partners can read between the lines of your writing and fail to call you on your BS. RWA's answer to objectively gauging your progress is contests. However, reading entries and commenting on their content takes time. Time is money. Therefore, in trade for someone else's time, contests within RWA charge a bit of money by way of entry fees.

So no, I have no issue with paying for contests. However. I will suggest that you should be very, very clear about what you're paying for when you fork over an entry fee. Before I was published, a contest had to promise me one of two things - feedback on the writing from someone who knew more than I, or a read by an editor/agent if I made the finals. The entire point of entering a contest was to find out where I needed to do more work on my craft and/or to get my work in front of an editor or agent and bypass the slush pile.

But just like kids grow up and graduate from high school, writers outgrow the need for contest as objective feedback loops. The RITA was the last contest I paid to play in and it was worth every penny just for the fun of it. But really, once a writer is published, feedback comes from agents, editors, critics, mothers . . . not kidding. Mom's single comment about my first book, "She swears a lot." Yes. Chick was a POW. She has reason to swear a lot. So no. I don't currently pay for contests.

To answer Jeffe's question from earlier in the week: Contests are a tool. Both for a writer's org and for the writer. Save the heaps of scorn for the writers and orgs that forget that fact.

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