Friday, 10 January 2020

Guest Post by By Emma Read - The Pen is Mightier than the Sword (or – What’s the Deal with Children’s Writing Competitions?)

By Emma Read 

It may seem anathema to some to consider writing a competitive sport, but as someone who was a committed comp-addict (and now handles the FOMO by reading and judging comps), I’m here to share some insights from both sides of that gleaming, shiny trophy.

Why enter?

Why indeed? The 2018 Bath Children’s Novel Award received 791 entries, from all over the globe. It’s not the best odds.

Then again, someone has to win –right?

For me, it was never about coming first. It was the hope of listing – gaining something useful to add to my somewhat thin query letter (smashing that mask-making competition at the library, age five, wasn’t cutting it). If your goal is making the longlist, or even getting a notable mention, the odds are vastly improved, especially if you’ve got a well-polished manuscript.

But still – odds are you will fail ... and that’s also a really good reason to enter.

Wait ... what?

I have failed to list in plenty of competitions and it hurts. Especially when you’ve done the homework, determined that your work is precisely what the judges are looking for, polished your manuscript to a high shine, and still the answer is a resounding NO. It’s the same sort of no you get when your dream agent doesn’t make a full request, or when you don’t sell on submission, or when your book isn’t on the tables in Waterstones, or listed in any of the annual awards. This is the writer’s life and for me, it helped to get used to it right from the start.

Failing in competitions is practice. Practice at moving on, practice at failing again.

Being a competition enthusiast comes with other benefits too (more fun than being rejected, I promise), especially if you have a supportive writing group to share the fun with. 

(Top Tip: find a supportive writing group!)

Entering comps for us was a team sport. We carried each other come victory or defeat and boosted one another on to the next. Success for an individual felt like a success for the team and there were plenty of vicarious celebrations.
Competitions also provide meaningful deadlines, reasons to improve and sometimes even feedback. And perhaps, most importantly for me, it was a push to get my work ‘out there’. To get over my squeamishness at the thought of someone else reading my words. To normalise the fear of being judged. 

On the other hand...

Being hooked on competitions can have its downsides – the most obvious being the cost. Most (but not all) competitions come with a serious entry fee, which pays for the prizes, admin, and the colossal number of hours required to read/judge/provide feedback on the entries (791 is feeling like a REALLY BIG number now!) Multiple fees across the year can quickly add up and even the cheapest entry requirements can prohibit writers from entering. (If this sounds familiar, do look out for sponsored entries for low-income writers, which many of the competitions offer).

It’s also important to remember that a competition listing, or even a win, doesn’t guarantee success. Whilst many on a longlist go on to find agents and subsequent publishing deals, many don’t – even winners. It’s a rollercoaster, just like the rest of publishing.

But forewarned is forearmed (with that mighty pen), so if you’re still keen ...  

Sign me up!

In no particular order, here are some of the competitions available to writers of children’s literature:

Twitter pitch contests: #revpit #Pitmad #DVpit #Pitdark #queryswap #querykombat #tellAMH #PitchCB

So if you do decide to enter, have fun, learn what you can and understand that any judging of creative art is subjective. 

Good Luck! 

Emma is the author of Milton the Mighty (Chicken House) and the upcoming sequel, Milton the Megastar. Under its working title, Milton was shortlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award and Emma has had success in a number of other writing competitions, including flash fiction and Twitter pitching.
She is now a reader and longlist judge for the Bath Novel and Bath Children’s Novel Awards, and for the WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award. She is also a mentor and tutor for WriteMentor 

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