Friday, January 31, 2020

Conflicted About Contests by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Sarah Loudin Thomas
Have you entered writing contests—as a published or unpublished author? If not, have you considered it? Author Sarah Loudin Thomas shares her personal experiences and some insight. ~ Dawn

Conflicted About Contests

Carol, Rita, Christy, Inspy, Selah, Genesis, First Impressions, Badge of Honor . . . and those are just the ones I’m most familiar with.

Some contests are for pre-published authors, some for published, some for traditionally published, some for independent, and some mix it up. And only ONE story wins in each category. Which can leave those who DON’T win feeling . . . less than.

I coordinate a contest for pre-published authors at the Asheville Christian Writers Conference and here’s what I know about contests . . . are you ready for this? They are TOTALLY subjective. Scores can vary widely, which is why at least three judges per entry is ideal.

I entered a contest before being published. One judge gave the entry a near-perfect score while another, well, clearly thought it could have been better. MUCH better.

This past year I saw a dream come true—one of my stories was nominated for a Christy Award. I was over the moon! I adore the novel, Christy, especially since it’s set in my beloved Appalachian Mountains. Catherine Marshall even lived in my home state of West Virginia for a while. It’s the award I dreamed of when I signed the contract for that first novel.

I didn’t win, but as I watched each awardee mount the steps to the podium I turned my attention to the rest of the room. Way more authors remained in their seats than stepped on that stage. Not to mention the exceptional authors who weren’t even in the room. Goodness, I had some favorites last year that weren’t even on the list of nominations!

Which begs the question—why bother with contests?

For pre-published authors, I think it’s incredibly valuable when you get feedback and/or opportunities. Judges’ scores can point you toward weaknesses and strengths in your writing. Being a finalist or winning can sometimes get you in front of editors and/or agents. So if you’re starting out, jump into the fray! I entered multiple contests that provided invaluable input for improving my writing.

But what about the contests for published authors? What good is winning one of those?

  • For better sales? After signing my first contract I asked my editor if winning awards helped with sales. Not really. Okay, that’s probably not why.
  • For the prestige? Maybe a little bit. I mean, it IS fun to sit upfront at the ceremony and have folks congratulate you. Plus, you usually get something pretty to put on your shelf.
  • For the affirmation? Hmmm. This may be getting closer. Did I mention writing is subjective? Having a panel of judges say, “This is good,” is something of a relief. Writers are notorious for self-doubt.
  • For the credentials? Well, it’s certainly nice! If you read my bio you’ll see I mention some of the awards I’ve received or been nominated for. It’s a way of saying that someone thought my story was better than average!
  • To support organizations for writers? I love this one. Quite a few contests use entry fees for things like scholarships or to support an organization that provides services for writers. Even if you don’t final or win, you can feel good about supporting other writers.

I go back and forth on contests. I think they’re a wonderful tool for writers yet to be published, but I’m conflicted about entering now that I have some books under my belt. I guess the trick is to get real with myself about why I’m entering (or if I was nominated, why I hope to win).

So how about you? Do you think contests are valuable?

Why bother with writing contests? #seriouslywrite #encouragementforwriters via @SarahAnneThomas
Author Sarah Loudin Thomas shares reasons why writing contests may be valuable—and why they might not be helpful. #seriouslywrite #encouragementforwriters via @SarahAnneThomas

When Silence Sings
When Silence Sings

For years, Serepta McClean has towered over the coal-filled hills of West Virginia, taking more than her share of legal and illegal trade alike. She’s intent on securing the future of the McClean name, despite two unreliable sons and a long-standing feud with the Harpe clan that’s exploded once again into violence.

While many fear her, and many more despise her, few dare to stand against her. Especially not someone like Colman Harpe–a railroad man with dreams of being a preacher. And yet it’s a reluctant Colman, Serepta’s sworn enemy, who finds himself in this powerful woman’s territory, supposedly sent there by God himself to share stories of love and hope.

With the feud growing ever more dangerous, putting the entire region at risk, these two impossibly different people find themselves on a collision course. And the very lives of everyone close to them will be changed forever.

Sarah Loudin Thomas grew up on a 100-acre farm in French Creek, WV, the seventh generation to live there. Her Christian fiction is set in West Virginia and celebrates the people, the land, and the heritage of Appalachia. Sarah is a fund-raiser for a children’s ministry who has time to write because she doesn’t have children of her own. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Coastal Carolina University and is the author of the acclaimed novels The Sound of Rain and Miracle in a Dry Season–winner of the 2015 Inspy Award. Sarah has also been a finalist for the Christy Award, ACFW Carol Award and the Christian Book of the Year Award. She and her husband live near Asheville, NC.

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