4 reasons to enter a novel competition (even if you’re not planning to win)

Louise Cook was a runner-up in the 2020 WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award and a 2020 WriteMentor mentee.

After a degree in Art History turned out to be even less useful than predicted, Louise Cook fell into the charity sector and has stayed there for over a decade. She’s worked across issues such as local communities, women’s rights, LGBT+ rights and youth, many of which have influenced her writing. 

Alongside crafting YA novels, she has mastered the absolute basics of numerous other creative pursuits and is currently foused on knitting. She gets most of her thinking done while hiking with her two tiny dogs. 

Louise’s novel, The Eternal Return of Clara Hart, was shortlisted in the WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award 2020 and went on to list in several other competitions. Over the summer she was mentored by Emma Finlayson-Palmer and Carolyn Ward. 

Last year I entered the WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award with my novel, The Eternal Return of Clara Hart. I was lucky enough to reach the shortlist, but, when I thought back to why I entered in the first place, it wasn’t because I thought I would snatch one of those coveted slots. So why did I bother at all?

Plenty of reasons! Four, to be precise.

  1. Get used to sharing 

Sharing your writing with other people for the first time is one of the most exposing, scary things you can do. It’s like getting your heart out for someone else to judge. And yet, any writer who wants to eventually be an author has to go through this process.

Competitions are a great place to start. Your work goes out, it gets read by strangers and nothing bad can ever come of it. Consider it practice. Submitting is an achievement in itself.

2. Gauge reader response

This is the main reason I entered WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award last year. 

WriteMentor was the first writing competition that ever seemed worth entering. One of my biggest struggles as a writer is my non-existent self-confidence. I knew wouldn’t win, of course (and I didn’t!), but it was still worth entering, because I would get something even more valuable than the grand prize, something everyone who enters the competition can get: the feedback. 

Every entrant to the WMCNA can get a sentence or two of feedback from both adult and child readers by adding an additional £5 to their entry fee. I was fortunate to be able to afford the fee and it seemed worth it just to get my novel in front of actual readers and teenagers to hear what they thought.

Getting the feedback was by far the best part of the process for me. Shout out to the young reader who thought my book would make a good Netflix series. I’m still waiting for the call.

3. Get used to waiting and rejection

These are two more uncomfortable aspects of being a writer. 

Anyone planning to be traditionally published spends a lot of time waiting to hear back from agents and publishers. Sometimes we wait weeks, sometimes months, sometimes we wait for an email that never comes (the dreaded ghosting). And, when we do hear back, more often than not it’s a rejection.

Writing competitions are a great opportunity to practice pressing send and forgetting. And whatever stage you tap out at: longlist, shortlist or final hurdle, practice remembering the odds were against you, celebrate with the equally hard working writers who won, and keep going.

4. You just never know

I cried happy tears when I found out I’d made the longlist, because I simply couldn’t believe it. I finally, FINALLY had something to put in the awkward bio section of my agent query letter. Even better, real readers had seen something in my book that they liked. And when I made the shortlist? No tears, just screen-gawping shock.

No matter what you think of your writing, no matter how much self-doubt you have, if you can find just enough belief in your story to send it in, it’s worth a shot.

Give it a go. You won’t regret it.

More details on the 2021 award are here.

Louise Cook

1 thought on “4 reasons to enter a novel competition (even if you’re not planning to win)”

  1. Pingback: #WriteMentor - for all writers of children's fictionwritementor success story: Louise Finch

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