As I prepare my new novel's first chapter for a "first chapter" writing contest, it occurred to me that winning isn't everything. Sure, winning gets your name in "lights", and your final review is probably done by an agent or publisher's editor. You may win a prize and some cash. You might even get super lucky and get your full manuscript requested by said agent or editor. These are all great things. It's very validating and inspirational.
However, if you're starting a new novel and don't have a critique group, and want to see if what you're writing is working on so many different levels, then entering contests can be a boon, even if you don't win. All contest judges have a score sheet that rate elements of you story and your writing, and there are usually at least 3 judges per entry. Most times, the judges also give you valuable handwritten feedback. It's these score sheets and feedback that are worth the price of admission.
For example, I started a new novel entitled "Thirteen" a few weeks ago. It's a psychic paranormal novel, set in a near futuristic or alternate reality San Jose, California. My first question to myself was: are people too paranoid about the number to not want to touch the book or the subject matter? Secondly, my book begged to be written in first person. This is a first for me as I've always written in third person with 2-3 POVs. So my next questions were: is this working for me, for this character, for this premise? Is my character distinct and vivid enough to hold her own through 100,000 words? Is my voice fresh? Is my story idea fresh? Is the reader drawn into the story enough to want to continue reading? And so on.....
These are questions that are invariably answered in a contest judging. Granted, everyone's tastes differ. I could get one judge who thinks my idea is ludicrous and hates my heroine. Or I could get one judge who loves the idea but hates my writing. If Thirteen's lucky, then all judges will love my idea and my writing! Regardless, I should know how well or how badly the story appeals to others in one or two contests.
That's all you're going to get about Thirteen for now! When I've hit my 3 chapter mark, I'll post a blurb about the novel on my website. Right now, I'm still in the plotting stages...and preparing my contest entry!
Have a great week!