For new writers, competitions can be a great way to gain feedback on your work and find out if it has the potential for publication.
Not everyone can win an award, although many competitions narrow down the field through long and shortlists. But does featuring on one of these bring any reward?
I’ve entered a number of competitions over the years and although I haven’t yet managed to win one, I have had a little success. In 2011, my first manuscript was shortlisted in Route Publishing’s Next Great Novelist Award, and this year I made the longlist of the inaugural Bath Novel Award with my second manuscript.
The shortlist was announced last week but I didn’t make it that far. It was disappointing, but not a surprise.
When I entered the competition, I hadn’t finished writing the novel, so I had a rush to finish my draft in time for the final deadline. Naturally, it wasn’t polished enough to make it through to the next stage, but I was encouraged by an email circulated by the organisers that said:
…we know this will be a disappointment, but would like to take this opportunity to underline your book’s achievement and potential. From our judging panel’s perspective, making the longlist meant your writing shone out in a field of 649 books. I know they believed every one of the 32 extracts they selected could be our winner.
Not making the shortlist does not alter that view of your first 5,000 words. It simply means the judges felt your full manuscript is not yet as complete or polished as the five they shortlisted.”
I was thrilled to discover that I had been awarded a place on Bath’s longlist. The competition judges were the first people to read my manuscript, so to achieve recognition at this stage was a massive boost to my confidence.
But the longlist is a tough place to be. With 32 manuscripts all vying for five places on the shortlist, I knew my chances weren’t high. But that didn’t stop me from thinking about the awards, and my story, constantly for the duration of the judging. The desire to progress to the next stage burned in the pit of my stomach as the date of the announcement came closer.
The toughest thing about not making it through to the next stage is the feeling that my momentum has stalled. I’m back where I started, with a manuscript to finish and no idea how I’m going to get there.
I need to focus on that nod from the judges that propelled me onto the longlist in the first place. Instead of focusing on the disappointment of an opportunity lost, I need to remember that I have achieved something. But it’s up to me to capitalise on it.
If I’m going to take the next step in some future competition, then my manuscript has to take a step forward too.
I guess I’d better hunt out my editing hat…