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On Critiques, Contests And Conferences, by Jenn J McLeod

Are these good things for a writer? My first instinct is to respond with a resounding “yes”. In reality, the answer will be different for everyone.

Writer conferences/festivals: Some writers I know thrive in such environments and cannot wait for that annual get-together. My friend, Fiona McArthur (up to something like 27 titles with her Mills & Boon medicals and almost as many association conferences) has never missed her annual get-together. Others find conferences daunting, overwhelming and even debilitating. (That small fish in big ocean thing.) Festivals can also be addictive and expensive, but it sure can be fun rubbing shoulders with the literati! As I said way back in an earlier post this year, thinking like an author is key to my ‘believe, be brave, be businesslike’ strategy.

Critiques and contests: Having someone – ideally another writer – to critique your work has to help, even if their comments (which you won’t always agree with) open your mind to other possibilities. Having someone point out things about your writing will also prepare you for this author business. Nothing strangles the ego out of the words, “I am a published author”, more than a good editor. So, critique partners are invaluable if you can: (1) find someone and (2) click.

Note: Friends and family do not make good critique partners/editors. They will usually only tell you the positive things. You need to know the not so positive. A writer’s group (face-to-face or online) can fulfil that need or help you find a critique partner.

Contests: Only when you have something you are ready to share (that means it’s critiqued, polished and follows the basic rules of grammar and style) should you start entering writing contests. Warning: Whether payment is required or the contest is free (in fact especially if free) check the entry condition fine print and understand there are disreputable people out there waiting to take advantage of wannabe authors. Go for contests that at least offer feedback or publication. (A young writer I am mentoring, Shannon Garner, recently placed 19th out of 167 entries in a short story competition and has been published in the 2013 Stringybark Anthology – Stew and Sinkers. What a great start to her literary CV.)

Note: Contests prepare writers to write something for publication. They are rarely a shortcut to publication. I limited my pay-to-enter contests to associations/groups I knew and trusted. The contests circuit can also become a never-ending cycle of entering, editing and re-entering. Don’t get caught up in the safety and comfort of contest circuits. You need to know when to move onto the next stage, trust in yourself and your work, and start submitting to the people who will get your work in print – publishers and agents.

The bottom line…

Conferences, contests and critique partners can be both enriching and debilitating. While the positives far outweigh any negatives, you’ll need to keep believing in yourself and be ready for contest scores that crucify, readers that ridicule and rejections that hurt. In the end, it doesn’t matter what family, critique partners or contest judges think (notice I didn’t list agents and publishers, because what they think kind of does count!). Believing in yourself is the only thing that will keep you committed to the journey – a journey that will have many turning points.

Speaking of journeys and commitment, as my contribution to Writing Novels in Australia initiative draws to a close (this is my second-last post), I thought you might find this old blog post on my turning points to publication interesting (written following the signing of my first contract).


Jenn J McLeod’s author website:

Jenn J McLeod’s bio page


House for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeod     Half Moon BayThe Book of LoveThe Fortunes of Ruby WhiteThe Indigo SkyRotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelist

Writing Novels in Australia

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is very interesting. I have entered several writing competitions, only one of which offered feedback, and have found them quite disheartening. Not winning a competition is one thing, but not winning and not knowing why or what you could improve is another and it can raise a lot of self-doubt (at least for me). The reason I entered was to improve my writing but I have decided not to in the future, unless feedback is offered, as without feedback it’s difficult to make any progress.

    November 13, 2013
    • Jenn J McLeod | House for all Seasons #

      It is easy to reach out and look for validation in contests. I did. But as i have found, often the judges are sourced from either readers or other writers who are as generous with their opinions as they are their time!!! thank you for sharing.

      November 13, 2013
  2. Rowena H #

    Great post, thanks Jenn. At one of the conferences I attended the key note speaker mentioned that a friend (unnamed) entered 50 pieces in various writing competitions and she did well. I thought it was an interesting idea and nominated the following year (2011) as my Go For It year. 52 submissions, 6 wins, and the rest fell into oblivion. To the outside world it was a good year. For me – the validation seeker – I couldn’t forget the losses. I’m not cut out for so much ‘silence’ in one year. Now I take it one submission at a time … 🙂

    November 13, 2013
  3. Rowena, this business is FULL of scary silences. I have had to learn to be patient. ( the steepest learning curve of all for me!!) Kepp believing. If you’ve followed my posts thourghout the year (here) you will lnow it is all about being brave, believing and being business like. Extraordinary things do happen to ordinary people.

    November 14, 2013

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  1. Month In Review (November 2013) | Writing Novels in Australia

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