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What Happens If You Don’t Win?

So you entered your manuscript into a writing competition. A certain pushy editor told you to do so in a certain pushy “quick questionnaire” – which, incidentally, was rigged. And so you went for it.

Then you didn’t win. Not the grand prize publishing contract. Not the third-prize money. Not even an honorable mention.

You. Won. Nothing.

As such, you’re probably not very happy with a certain pushy editor and her rigged quick questionnaire. But in said editor’s defense, she never promised you’d win whatever writing competition you joined. Far from it.

If you don't believe me, here's Thursday’s Writing Challenge as proof:

Determine to enter a writing competition or two, and then actually do it.

These contests are perfect for writers who aren’t writing and writers who have written but still need to edit.

If you’re the first type, they offer you a motivational deadline. You can either write that story in time or be disqualified from winning the grand prize.

If you’re the second type, they offer the motivational fear of comparison. Will your fellow contestants be better? Will they get your grand prize? Not if you can help it!

Clearly then, that certain pushy editor never said writing competitions were perfect for winning. She said they were perfect for motivating.

Big difference.

Now that we have that little misunderstanding out of the way, here’s Writing Rule #43:

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t win a writing competition.

It also doesn’t mean you’re a horrible writer, that you’re never going to make it, or that the manuscript you submitted needs to be trashed.

All it means is you didn’t win. Just take the loss as a learning experience and go from there with this list of questions...

If you need to lick your wounds first, then by all means. Sigh your sighs of disappointment. Sulk over some junk food and Netflix, bitterly telling the writing competition in question that they had their next book-to-blockbuster-movie or book-to-fan-following-TV-show on their hands – and they blew it.

But then, after you’re done, consider these questions. And no, they’re not rigged.

  1. Did you make an error? Reread the rules to make sure you didn’t miss a deadline or send in a higher word count or some such thing. Those silly mistakes do happen to the best of us.

  2. Is your title not catchy enough? It might be a completely fitting title and the best one for your manuscript. And you might have plans for an engaging front cover to play off of it perfectly. But it doesn’t have that front cover right now. All it has it its title. And if that title didn’t engage the writing competition reviewer, then sadly, you’re sunk.

  3. Do you have a typo or two in the first paragraph or page? That could have been enough to disqualify you.

  4. Does your opening paragraph immediately grab readers and say, “If you don’t come with me now, I swear you’re going to regret it!” Story hooks are one of the most important parts of a manuscript and can very well determine what publishing route options you get to choose from.

  5. Is your ending lackluster for any reason? Did you set readers up for something epic, only to fall short?

There’s a whole lot of other questions you could ask yourself, but we’ll leave it at five. Hopefully, you get the point.

There are a million potential details of any story – some significant, some individualized – that can keep it from winning a writing contest. Maybe it was something you need to fix. And maybe it was something you can’t control, such as submitting an awesome manuscript that just got lost among a whole lot of other awesome ones.

If the first explanation applies, then find it and fix it. If the second, then accept it and move on to the next publishing possibility.

One way or the other, if you lost a writing competition, that means you had a full manuscript to submit in the first place. And at the risk of sounding cheesy, that’s something worth celebrating.

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