by Elizabeth Buege
After several rounds of helping authors get their manuscripts agent-ready through Pitch to Publication and RevPit events, I’m excited to get on board with ShoreIndie, helping indie authors get ready to share their books with the world. In these contests, I’ve read through hundreds of entries, and now I can quickly tell the difference between people who are ready for an editing contest and those who aren’t.
Are you thinking about entering ShoreIndie or another editing contest? It’s important to make sure you’re ready first. Take a look at the seven red flags below—if any of them apply to you, stop and take notice. It doesn’t mean you should give up and walk away; it means you should think about why they apply, how you can fix them, and whether or not it’s a good idea to enter the contest. How are you doing in each of these areas?
1. You haven’t read the directions.
This one is the big one. If you aren’t planning to read and follow the contest’s guidelines, you shouldn’t be entering. Contest hosts, judges, and editors want to know that you understand what the contest is about and that you’ve read the rules carefully. Do your research on participating editors, too—as an editor for past Pitch to Publication and RevPit events, I often saw entries that included elements I had said I wasn’t accepting. Don’t submit what the editors don’t want to read. Your entry won’t be considered, and you’ll be wasting your own time and efforts. Along with this, make sure you’ve read the instructions well enough to include all required info in your submission. If an entry doesn’t follow the directions, that’s a big warning flag to the editor that an author probably won't be easy to communicate and work with.
2. You’re not willing to make big changes.
The main point of an editing contest is the chance for authors to work with a professional on big-picture improvements to their story. In the past, I’ve seen a few cases where an author hires an editor or is picked by one in a contest only to reject the editor’s input on strengthening the manuscript. If you believe your book is already perfect or doesn't need content changes, then a contest where the main prize is help with major content changes isn’t right for you. Whether or not your book actually needs large-scale revisions, you’ll be missing the point of the contest entirely if you aren’t looking to revise. A contest about growth isn’t a good fit for a book that has already arrived—or one that isn’t ready to make the journey yet.
3. You don't have a full manuscript.
To enter an editing contest, you’ll need to have a completed, quality draft of your story. This contest is about revising, not drafting, so don’t try to enter a partial manuscript. Also, bring the best possible draft you can produce on your own. Make the changes you already know you need to make—that way, you’re not wasting time having an editor tell you what you already know. That way, if you win, your editor will be able to help you make it shine beyond what your first round of revisions could.
4. You haven’t researched what a good blurb looks like.
You don't have to be an expert, but you should know what a blurb or other required pitch format looks like—and then follow it. While ShoreIndie is blurb-based, the other contests I’ve helped with have required query letters. Some of the entries I have seen have looked nothing like industry standards, even with an example entry and letter available on the site. If you’re new to pitching your story, don’t just guess wildly with your entry. Take a look at the contest’s website for examples, and reach out to the contest hosts, other writers, or even a search engine for help if you need it.
5. The grammar still needs a lot of work.
A good story is lost in shaky writing, and while you may be able to make it shine with a copyeditor’s help, the contest editors want to know that the authors they pick have a good handle on writing and will be able to present a visibly strong manuscript after the revisions are completed. Brush up on your grammar and self-editing skills before putting your story out there.
6. You haven’t yet found your voice or writing style.
Editors and writing coaches can definitely help you strengthen your voice, but there’s not a lot of time for that on a contest schedule. If you haven’t paid a lot of attention to what your writing actually sounds like, there’s a chance it won’t stand out from the pack and catch an editor’s eye. Check for everything from character voice to varied sentence structure and word choice—if you’re not sure if it all comes together smoothly, get another set of eyes on it for feedback. More often than not, it takes a lot of practice before your writing voice clicks and is ready to present to readers.
7. You’re not ready to share your story with strangers.
If you want to keep your story private until it’s published, an editing contest may not be for you. Multiple editors will be reading your entry’s pitch and pages and possibly asking for a synopsis and/or a partial (e.g. the first fifty pages). If you win, your entry may be posted publicly—for example, it’s posted online in both RevPit and ShoreIndie. If you’re not sure how much exposure a contest will be giving your manuscript, check with the contest’s website and hosts—know what you’re getting into and make sure you’re comfortable with it. If you’re not, you might not want to enter.
Are you ready?
Did any of these signs apply to you? If there are any steps that you feel you’ll never be ready for, don’t be afraid to find a different path for your book. Contests are a lot of fun, but they’re not for everybody. If you still want to enter, think about what you can do to grow in these areas. Don’t feel bad if you can’t get ready in time; instead, think about what you can do to be ready for the next contest. If you can get ready in time for the contest you’re considering, great! When you’re prepared with a strong entry, you’ll have a great experience during the contest and a greater chance of catching an editor’s eye.
where she blogs writing tips and related topics to help authors grow in
their craft. When she’s not editing books or grading research papers,
she’s probably reading, writing, or enjoying the world around her.