Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Is it worth entering writing competitions?

There are three primary benefits from winning writing competitions:

1. Prize money
2. Accolades
3. Brand promotion

There may be some others, such as networking or supporting a cause, however the big three are the same across the board. However many competitions require a fee to enter and it is a game of skill, not chance. There are also several pitfalls you should be aware of.

A prestigious competition with a big prize that is open to everyone, published or unpublished, is going to have a lot of entrants. You could be competing with authors who have been published for thirty years, who are reasonably big names. Not to mention everyone else with a story and a daydream.

If the entry fee is moderately high, that money may be better spent elsewhere. Such as more niche competitions—ones specific to your genre, location or publication status.

You also need to be highly aware of the contract you are signing by entering the competition. If the story is going to be published—and usually it will be—where? And what rights are they asking for? Be aware some competitions may ask for rights even if you don’t win.

Some competitions appear to just be a money making scam. The entry fee is $10 and the prize is $500. If 1000 people enter, that’s $9, 500 in profits for... what? Pointing to a story and handing the writer $500.

I personally prefer competitions that don’t have entry fees. However I am also aware that there will be a lot more entrants in those competitions, because entry fees are a hassle and off putting to a lot of other authors too.

So let’s assume the competition is legitimate. The entry fee is reasonable, there is good promotion for the winner and a decent prize. You’ll have stiff competition, but you know the win would be great for your career. What else should you consider?

First, read as many of the past winners and runners up as possible. Think about why you think they won and, realistically, if your writing is up to that standard. If all the other winners are literary, do you really think your dystopian steampunk elves novella is a likely first prize contender?

It’s also worth researching the judges. Be aware of who you are trying to impress. Every judge thinks they are impartial, but none of them are.  The judge who posted the homophobic rant on her blog is not going to score the lesbian romance story very highly, no matter how great your style is.

Some people seem to have a knack for competitions and they work as a massive boon to their careers. If you are one of those people, competitions are a worthwhile investment. However there are some people who think publishing revolves around them, and without impressive wins in your query letter, you won’t find an agent. Don’t be that person.

My biggest tip for entering competitions? Follow the guidelines. You don’t want to be disqualified before the race has even begun. Because you won’t get your $15 back and you could have spent it on getting ‘Anti Social’ instead.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lies We Tell Ourselves. AKA: Why you don't have a boyfriend... I mean, publisher.

I have a friend who desperately wants a boyfriend.

She goes to the gym, she wears nice clothes and gets her hair done professionally, her makeup is always flawless and she has fun hobbies and interests. She cooks and cleans, she’s sweet and caring, she has a good job and she’s hands down one of my most generous friends.

She doesn’t understand why she’s single. So I ask her:

“How often do you introduce yourself to men you don’t know?”
“When you see a guy watching you at the gym, what do you do?”
“Avoid eye contact.”
“How often do you ask male store clerks what they’re doing on the weekend or if they’ve seen the latest action movie?”
“How often do you go to classes or activities where you don’t know anyone and make new friends?”
“Never. But I’m fit and I buy nice clothes, I have a good job, I have mastered the smoky eye and my cleavage is amazing!”

And you know what? She is amazing. And she’d make an awesome girlfriend. However it’s probably not going to happen while she refuses to take those extra steps like actually meeting men.

Everyone reading this knows a guy or girl like that. Maybe you are that guy or girl. However most writers I meet do exactly the same thing—not with romance and dating, but with their writing career.

They work on the things that are easy for them and ignore the things they find hard or scary. Maybe they write every day, but refuse to learn how to draft a proper query or present an elevator pitch. Maybe they write awesome action, but their dialogue is terrible. However instead of fixing the areas they know they have deficiencies, they just keep plugging away like they always have.

The best cleavage in the world won’t get you a boyfriend if you won’t talk to men (or women). You’ll never get published if you keep wilfully ignoring your weaknesses. Chances are, if you’re serious about a career in writing you know what you should be doing but aren’t. It’s that guilty little twist in your gut you’re feeling as you read this.

In fact, that’s probably true of whatever your goal is. We both know you’re doing the fun, easy parts—maybe you’re even doing the hard, asses-and-elbows part, but you’re not doing the scary part. You’re not improving in the area you’re worst at, regardless of if that is financial, public relations, grammar or some other secret area known only to you.

So lets me honest: What are you not doing that you should? What’s really holding you back?

Let’s work on that today.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Getting Lucky In Publishing


How often have you been told that getting published is as much about luck as skill? How many stories have you heard about kismet stepping in to land the right project on the right desk, or a friend of a friend mentioning a novel to the right person and BOOM, six figure contract?

What if I told you ‘luck’ is actually something entirely within your control?

‘Luck’, by definition, is a deviation from the expected projection of outcomes.

If you bet on a horse with 2:1 odds and it doesn’t place, you would be disappointed. If you bet on a horse with 56:1 odds and it won, you would be excited. That’s good luck. There was only a very low chance the horse would win, yet it did.

Some people think luck is a tangible and mystical force, but you should think of it more like a mathematical term to describe something fortunate or unfortunate that happens despite statistical likelihood.

Which means that luck is highly susceptible to manipulation.

Luck is comprised of two things: opportunity and attitude. Both need to be in your favour for good luck and I will show you how:


You have to be in it to win it.

Heard that before? Of course you have, it’s the cornerstone of lottery ticket sales. However the odds are very poor in lottery—much, much worse than in publishing. Opportunities in publishing mean being informed and proactive.

One of the best things you can do is join a large, active writing organisation that puts out monthly newsletters with an ‘opportunities’ and ‘competitions’ section. They should list what publishers are open to submissions, writing competitions, internships, residencies, courses, workshops, writing groups, events, book launches and a myriad of other related things.

Actively pursue these things. Enter competitions. Go to workshops and talk to everyone—tell them about your novel and ask them about their work (both literary and day job). Find out about niche anthologies and submit to them. Lots of publishers, particularly in romance and horror, do Christmas collections and will start looking for material before June.

The more you are in, the more chance you have to win.


No, I don’t mean ‘the law of attraction’ type stuff.

Believing you will win does not make you win. You don’t draw good things to you with a magic happiness vibe. HOWEVER, believing you do can give some people the attitude adjustment they need—thus for some people it can be a self fulfilling prophecy.

Human beings have very large communication centres in our brains. We sacrificed a lot to develop them (mostly sensory abilities and bite strength, FYI). People are far more sensitive to verbal, non verbal and even written communication than we realise.

If you are relaxed and positive and believe in your work, other people will to. Note I said ‘relaxed and positive’, not ‘manic and pushy’. Manic and pushy comes across as ‘hysterically terrified of failure’, which doesn’t inspire confidence in anyone.

If you’re relaxed, positive and selling yourself well, people will remember you. Then they will become that friend of a friend who told their publisher cousin. Or even the agent who picked up the next best seller in a coffee shop.

If you’re really bad at this, and let’s face it, lots of writers are introverts, take some public speaking classes. Few people are born with the ability to sell themselves. Nearly every celebrity you see being interviewed was taught that ability in a classrooms setting. You can be too.


Luck is about opportunity and attitude. Expose yourself to as many opportunities as possible and don’t be an asshole when you meet people. Learn to promote yourself properly.

Also, stop buying lottery tickets.