Question of Contests

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

January 30, 2014

Before I jump into that question–directed at writers, so my apologies if you are a rodeo queen–I want you to know that I’m building a Flash Fiction blog hop at Carrot Ranch. Wednesdays will be “Flash Fiction” days and I will post more about the rules of play between now and its debut on March 5.

In the meantime, I’m curious to know if you, as writers, enter your writing into contests. I did. Why? Well, if I wanted to be a bronc rider, I’d need to prove that I can ride a bronc (an untamed horse; one that bucks wildly). Rodeos are a test of a cowboy’s skills, including bronc riding.

So, I’m a career business writer making the transition into writing fiction. I’ve long dabbled and throughout the years, from workshop organizers to former lit professors to industry posts, I’ve heard that winning a few contests like winning a few rodeo belt-buckles is good for building credibility.

It’s a bit nail-biting because I might be a great bronc rider, but if I get bucked off during a rodeo, I look like a clown. Thus, I might be a great writer, but fail to win any contests that I enter. Do I then demote myself from great to failed? Such are the questions writers wrestle with daily as we cling to credibility in our craft.

Nonetheless I sent a submission. It was thrilling to get accepted so at the very least I need to remember that an editor did chose my story. The contest organizers are building reader engagement and require Facebook “likes,” good comments regarding the writing and closing arguments to persuade the judges. It’s really hard to tell if this is just a popularity contest or an authentic way to engage writers and readers. I feel caught between the confidence of an adult and the agony of being sent back to junior high school.

Leave me a comment about your views on contests or any experiences you want to share. And if you want to help a writer win a writing rodeo, at least give my story a like at: Midlife Collage Contest. If you want me to shout, “Yeehaw!’ loud enough to be heard across the horse pasture, leave me a stellar comment on my story. Winners are announced next Monday morning, Feb. 3, 2014.

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  1. sylvestermouse

    I used to participate in competitions, believe it or not, in music. When I was really young, I enjoyed winning. As a teenager (I think I was about 15 when this reality struck me) I started noting the expressions and tears of the contestants who didn’t win. In oh so many cases, I watched extremely talented people leave rejected, dejected and depressed. By the time I was 17, I quit competing. Every time I looked at the trophies I had won, I saw the faces and tears of those who didn’t take home a trophy. I boxed up all my trophies, ribbons, crowns and photos and stuck them in the closet. I detested what they represented. See, by then, I knew that there were a few judges making those decisions. In many cases, a different set of judges, would have had a different set of “winners”.

    As an adult, I can look back and know what absolute assurance that what song, what instrument, what story, what book might not touch one persons heart, could also touch thousands of others in ways we never even dreamed possible. What if we all listened to only a few judges? We would all stop singing, we would all stop writing and the entire would lose.

    I said all of that not to discourage you from competing, but to say regardless of any outcome, never stop writing! Never stop offering your talents to the world and to the many hearts who may not have the eyes and ears of the judges, but who are equally, or perhaps even more so, important.

  2. Charli Mills

    Thanks for giving me a meaty bone to chew on! I appreciate you sharing your story and I wrote a blog post in reflection. You gained wisdom and confidence at a young age.

  3. Susan Budig (@slb2)


    I enter poetry contests and have had some success sometimes. For me, they are worthwhile because they *do* build reputation/street cred. But not contests that are dependent on readers’ responses. At least, I don’t think so. And I also have a hang-up about popularity, I’ve been intimidated by popularity since I was in grade school so my response to it has been to dismiss it before it dismisses me.

    But contests that offer cash prizes, my poem in print, and/or public readings all excite me. Success is claimed after the judge(s) deem it worthy.

    As a professional (man that sounds hoity-toity), as a paid-writer since 2003, I’ve had so much rejection, I really can’t put much stock into it. Years ago, I created my own mantra: My success does not depend on others’ acceptance of my work, but on my own perseverance.

    So whether I win or place in a contest, whether I lose completely, I am not defined by those contests. Heck, they don’t even affirm me, truthfully. But they do serve or can serve as stepping stones.

    Also, I’ve hosted a poetry contest for four years at a social media site that’s now in flux. I was the sole judge of the poetry. I discovered that sometimes the work I received was so top-notch that in order for me to choose ONE poem to win for the day, I had to review my guidelines and decline otherwise excellent poetry because of technical infractions.

    In other words, daily winners definitely deserved it. Their poem was splendid. But the other dozen or two dozen poems were often of equal caliber. They lost out because of simple “mistakes” such as submitting two minutes past deadline or editing their work after submission to correct a misspelling.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for joining the discussion! When I think of persevering writers, I often think you, having had the privilege of working with you on freelance projects and in a writers group over several years.

      Ultimately, I’m beginning to see the necessary balance between building street cred (like that phrase!) and maintaining personal integrity. I’ve enjoyed small contests (localized in some way) like through my college or within my community or offered by groups I know. Branching out into the book publishing industry (after a lengthy career of business writing, copy-writing and print publications freelancing) I knew that I would have to demonstrate more creative abilities. I’ve been careful, seeking credible contests (lots of scams out there) and admit that I was dismayed to discover “entry fees.” My budget is set for frugal right now, so I’m limiting the fee-to-enter contests.

      Thus that leaves the popularity contests. Because of my business background, I get it. Nothing is for free. In order for a publication or organization to offer free entries they need to generate traffic. Most likely, all the hits they receive over the duration of a contest is rewarded with some sort of marketing revenue. I think my friends and fellow writers will appreciate my limiting these contests, too! There’s only so much, “vote for me” that readers, peers and friends can handle. 🙂

      Also, I appreciate you sharing your insights as a judge. When submissions are of equal caliber, it is a judge’s duty to uphold the guidelines. I would liken this to being an editor–article submissions are often superb writing, but my first duty is to make sure the article supports both the message and tone of the publication and adheres to the editorial style guidelines.

      Another consideration for all of us–writers, poets, journalists, editors, judges–it to take into account the readers. After all, they are our “target audience.” Contests or no, it is always important to remember the reader before finalizing a submission.

      Thanks for sharing your points and perspective!


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