Monica Stoner, Member at Large
Several years ago, someone told me if a work was ready for a contest it was ready for an editor. I didn’t agree then and agree even less now. Having judged contests, I’d have to say some of the entries aren’t ready for the contest and should never go to an editor. This is not meant harshly, everything I’ve judged had some good features, but they were often lost behind poor pacing, grammar, or just too many words in the wrong place.
The huge advantage to a contest over an editor is, the contest judge has to read your whole submission. The editor can skim a couple pages and tell you the submission is not right for their line. The contest judge can find the place in your story where you need to start the book; an editor could easily find the same place but generally won’t have the time to do so. Nor should an editor have to tell you where to start your book.
Since so many contests now allow for judge comment, you have the advantage of multiple edits to the same book for one contest fee. You can agree or disagree with any of them, but if every one finds the same problems, you’ll know where to head for your next rewrite.
Once you have some manuscripts and contests under your belt, and have finaled in one of the contests, or at least not received your entry back dripping read with editorial comments, you might think about offering to judge. Don’t make this offer lightly, since as you would well know by then, fragile egos could be behind the creation of the entry, same as when you entered. Who better to understand how a mean word can send you to Camp Hershey or Dove when you should be sitting still and writing?
One or two sessions of reading contest entries can be eye opening for your own writing. I’ve also found this to be a great remedy for the dreaded writer’s block. Many clubs offer contests throughout the year and most are in need of a both entries and judges. Give it a whirl, you never know how much fun it can be until you try.