Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Seeking the Medal Stand

So, as I was authoring Tuesday's post about what writing gig I would next pursue, I was actually working on a fourth project that I failed to mention. Seeing as this was a "quickie," as far as writing goes, I thought it better to just plow through with it rather than lump in together with larger projects. This mini-job, which I have now completed, is as speculative as it gets: a writing contest.

After learning about it a matter of hours before the deadline, I barely managed to squeeze a short story submission to Athanatos Publishing Group's Christian Writing Contest for 2010. Luckily, I had a work of short fiction that fit the bill and just needed to spend some time dressing it up, but I was reminded why I'm not generally inclined to enter writing contests, particularly those, as this one, with an entry fee. Sometimes, however, the potential gains outweigh the potential risks.

The Bad
Writing anything requires an investment, if of nothing but time, effort, and hours spent awake instead of sleeping like one of those "normal people" I hear so much about. In a contest such as this, however, the ante is raised. So, not only does one stand to not make any money, as is so often the case when writing speculatively for magazines, collections, or unsolicited contributions to publishers, but in all likelihood you'll be out a few bucks when it's all said and done.

Speaking of risks, what if you're sending your hard-earned sawbucks to some internet or mail-order shyster? Do a quick Google search for "writing contest scam" and watch the hits pile up. There's a line of people out the door that would be happy to help lighten your wallet and deprive you of your intellectual property while they're at it. It's not hard to see why. Is there anything bought on more faith? You send your check to a publisher to pay the readers, they promise from the bottom of their hearts to actually read it, and then have a built in excuse to part company, simply telling you that you didn't win, and to try again next year. They'll even accept multiple entries. How nice of them.

Even if everything is legit, who is your competition? Are there ten entries or a thousand? Are these short stories, essays, or poems written by working stiffs like you and me, or does Orson Scott Card or Nicholas Sparks enjoy entering internet contests for fun?

It's a minefield out there.

The Good
Ultimately, despite all of that, I decided to take a swing at this one. Perhaps most significantly influencing this situation was the fact that I had a suitable story written and ready to go, which I have tried unsuccessfully to sell. Religious fiction is a notoriously difficult genre in which to make any sort of living, simply because the avenues for such short stories is fairly limited to begin with, and most that are out there are not in a position to pay. Athanatos really does it right, offering good prize money and actual publication of the winners as a compilation, so people can actually see your work. That's important to me, and at this point it's all I really wanted for this story. They also have an actual history of backing up their promises and not running to the Caymans with all of the entry money, which puts my mind somewhat at ease.

The other thing is that I often wonder if I'm any good. I'm not the only author to constantly have to fight back that demon. It's easy not to take risks and just sit comfortably in my niche. I have a pretty sweet deal as it is. I have a good relationship with a publisher who enjoys my work. I know that I'm a capable enough writer to have my work see print, but I want to get better. I need to see how I stack up from time to time. As much as I hate losing, and I hate it, I think that the process of being judged is useful and beneficial.

So, my little 1600 word bit of prose is sitting on the desk of some judge right now, waiting to be put into one pile or another: contender, or pretender. I'll let you know how it comes out in April.

Hopefully I'll make the medal stand.


Lee Ee Leen said...

I've been shortlisted for awards. The problem with winning is that it can become a kiss of death- a writer can't better that achievement or gets complacent

Jason Richards said...

It can certainly be a problem any time you have the opportunity to rest on your laurels. When feeling like I've arrived, I like to go back and read something that has been published; I'm always horrified by how terrible it is. It keeps me grounded. :)

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