Thursday, February 23, 2012

Writing Contests

How is an unpublished author supposed to get his or her name out there?  How does an unknown gain some kind of recognition, enough for people to take them seriously?  One way is to enter writing contests.

Writing contests can be intimidating.  Unlike a query letter and a few pages, in a writing contest, you're assured that at least one person will read your story.  But what if they don't like it?  What if you failed to submit your best work?  Well, putting yourself out there is the only way you'll ever know.  On the bright side, if you stink, you usually won't hear anything, so you can at least pretend that you just barely missed the cut.

The vast majority of contests are for short stories with a word count limit.  I've always found the short story constraining - it's difficult to tell a complete enough tale in so few words where someone actually gives a damn.  However, it can also challenge you to become a better writer, which I'm sure is part of the point.

I've entered six contests up to this point, starting in June of 2011, and I've been lucky enough to place in two of them(with one contest still being decided).  My very first short story, "The Collection Agent," made Honorable Mention in the Writer's Journal Write to Win! Contest for the October/November issue.  I was thrilled, especially since I spent all of an hour composing the story and submitted in on a lark.

The next few contests got more difficult.  I wrote two stories for Writers' Journal that felt a little awkward(side note - Writers' Journal has now gone defunct...not sure how that makes me feel), and both failed to place.  Why did they feel awkward?  Because I was trying to pull stories out of thin air and had little concept of the world they were supposed to take place in.  That was when I shifted my strategy.

I decided that my short stories would now come from worlds I'd already created in my head.  These were worlds where I'd either already written a novel, or I had enough of an idea that the concept could morph into a larger vision.  No, I didn't lift them straight out of already written stories.  I just grabbed a piece of that world and brought out a new element.  That made it so much easier than trying to start from scratch - I was already familiar with the characters and setting, so I didn't have to try and flush out a back story.

"Darvaza" placed as an Honorable Mention in the November Horror Writing Contest for Writer's Digest and was taken from the world I'd created in my vampire novel, Akeldama.  The issue for the story comes out in May, so I can't yet publish it on this site - Writer's Digest has the right of first publication - but I will eventually put it on here.  Another that is still out there came from the novel I'm currently writing and is centered on the opening scene where the main character dies and is taken into the afterlife.  I plan on submitting two more stories for the Writer's Digest May Short Story Contest, one in Horror and one in Sci-fi(the first will come from Salvation Day and will center on one of the character's descent into Hell, while the second one will come out of a yet unwritten novel about the human race trying to escape a dying Earth).

The biggest benefit to entering contests is that someone will read my stuff.  In other words, I don't get stopped by the dreaded query letter.  My biggest complaint has always been, not to sound immodest here, that I believe people will enjoy my stuff if I can just get them to read it.  Hopefully a few more of these will get some accolades so that I can gain the attention of an agent or publisher.  That, of course, is the ultimate goal.  Plus, it's always nice to have someone besides your friends and family tell you that you have some talent.


  1. Great new strategy Russ. I need to follow suite!

  2. You make blogging look like a walk in the park!

    1. I wish it felt that way sometimes. ;-)