THE PART THAT LUCK PLAYS
Many writers dream of winning a literary competition...
When luck grants you first place, it's a boost up the ladder. The gate to recognition swings open. You experience the elation of peer envy. Your name becomes familiar to editors, who begin to look upon your work with favor. And if you take home a prestigious prize, the ensuing publicity almost guarantees acceptance thereafter.
No wonder freelancers are tempted to gamble-- no matter how long the shot. But we shouldn't be tempted too often.
A publicized competition sharpens us; we push harder, and polish more, than for regular submissions. And that's good, as a periodic tonic; sometimes we let down a bit. On the other hand, there's danger in habitually entering contests, for that extra effort often breaks out in a rash of anxiety, resulting in wild shooting.
Like the get-rich-quick hold on the gambler, the dreamer-writer catches contest fever. I know more than a few who suffer the malady-- good, hard working writers going broke on contest fees. They wouldn't think of paying to be published, but repeatedly pay not to be.
Taking chances is the name of the writing game; but continually entering contests is like sending a reading fee for every submission. And as the fever rises, not thinking clearly, some start ignoring the odds, and daring out of their league.
Entering contests can be an exciting change, or a costly invitation to disappointment. If things aren't going well, and you sometimes enter contests, to break the monotony, select them carefully. Nothing can be gained by trying to lasso a prize beyond your experience. Unless your qualifications fit the criterion, your chances of winning equate to catching a feather in the wind
Of the thousands of literary contests, perhaps hundreds will fit your expertise, and experience. But unless you ferret out those only, you are wasting time. Better to thoroughly research and evaluate the level of competition before taking the chance. Stretching for the wrong brass ring will only bruise your ego.
In this speculative profession we must risk rejection and failure to progress. To make anything like a good salary, we must constantly play the dice game: pitch and hope, pitch and hope... but do your homework first. And until your talent is honed, be patient.
Unlike the lottery, top prize in a writing contest cannot be won by just anybody; the "lucky" first had to quality. With very rare exceptions, the winner is one who methodically climbed the ladder ...
The first contest you enter should equate to the bottom step of the ladder-- maybe offering only publicity, or five or ten dollars. Then with the boost a win gives your confidence, you can work up to $50, $100, $500, $1000.... all the way up to "The Nobel!"
Advantage, privilege, prestige, the title "famous author" ... winning a popular prize promotes a writer's career like no other. And you might possibly win several, if you gradually work up to it, compete in your own league, follow the rules exactly, and send your very best-- always remembering the odds...
There are always a number of talented losers who did everything right. So remember, after you pass muster, it is never a sure thing. The odds can come down to the personality of the judge.
Whenever you enter a contest, think of these things. Also, keep in mind that your chance is born of all that went before.
Lady Luck plays but a bit part; she's only on stage that one last hour.
* * * * *
This article is excerpted from the author's book for writers: THE WRITING WORLD, Living The Literary Life, © 2003