Friday, August 26, 2016

Writing Contests by Cheryl Bolen

I once got roped into reading a wannabe author’s first chapter. It read like those first clumsy efforts we all wrote and thought were wonderful. I told her she needed to get in a critique group and needed to enter contests. I went on to tell her that many of us got our first contracts as a result of entering a writing contest and making the finals, which were then sent to an editor who selected the ultimate winner. 

Her response: “What if I don’t make the finals?”    

My response: “If you’re not good enough to make the finals in a writing contest, you’re certainly not good enough to get published.” 

Like many aspiring authors, she didn’t listen. Instead of entering contests, she sent that crude sample of her writing to editors with the certainty that they would fall in love with her words. Which they didn’t.  

I have no room to criticize. I had done the same thing back in my twenties with my first novel. It was many years later before I learned how to make contests work for me. 

I feel that making the finals in one particular RWA-sponsored contest in 1996 led to my first sale to a New York publisher. 

Then when my first book was published, it won for me the title of “Notable New Author.” I was sure winning that contest would open up a lot of publishing doors. It didn’t, but knowing that a lot of judges thought my book the best made me feel like a consummate professional.

I still love to enter writing contests. My husband thinks it’s silly. “You know you’re a good, competent writer,” he says. “You don’t need any more validation.” 

Since I went (mostly) indie five years ago, it’s more important than ever that I receive professional validation in a field that’s littered with many, many authors whose prose isn’t much better than the sixth graders to whom I once taught English. 

I’ve been happy to win some contests since I went indie and to place in many others. Does it help sell my books? Probably not. But showing pictures of my plaques and awards on Facebook gives this social media-challenged chick something to post. Here are a couple of the ones I’ve posted, and my readers usually respond favorably to these posts, either to congratulate me or to say they loved the book that won.  

The ultimate contest is the Rita. I have entered every year I was eligible, except one. My dream is to one day be a finalist for that lovely statuette—the highest accolade a romance writer can earn. My husband just shakes his head. He already believes I’m the best. Aren’t husbands wonderful? – Cheryl Bolen’s three Pride and Prejudice novellas are now available in one volume, print or digital, titled Pride and Prejudice Sequels.



  1. I'm glad to read this. I've entered very few contests since I was published--the Rita a few times and a couple of others once--and only placed in one. It makes me think I should do it again just to see what happens. I do remember that I won the very 1st contest I entered and thought I was on my way! It only took five more years or so. :-)

    1. Liz, I suppose it's a good thing we were optimistic after that first contest or we wouldn't be where we are today. I won my first contest around 1988, but it was SEVEN more years before I sold the first book. That happened after I learned to enter contests where editors at publishing houses that I targeted worked.

  2. I didn't even know about contests before I sold my first book, but I'm glad there are more contests for published authors now. My big problem is missing entry deadlines. LOL. I plan to be more diligent this year.

  3. Becky, I think we're all guilty of missing those deadlines. After you enter a contest, like the Holt Medallion, they notify you the next year when the contest opens.

  4. Yes, Cheryl, husbands are wonderful. You and I lucked out in the hubby department, didn't we? I guess they were the best trophies of all. But a RITA would be nice too. *g*

  5. Thanks for the reminder to get myself into more contests! I haven't entered any in years. I did okay, but then I published and my focus went elsewhere!

  6. Riht on, Cheryl. There is a lot we can learn from contests, both entering and judging.


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