10 June, 2016

Competitions: the statistics!

Ever since I started writing I have kept a file on my computer listing the competitions I've entered and highlighting the ones where anything nice happened. By 'nice' I mean anything that wasn't a straight-forward nothing. These "hits" include being a winner, shortlisted, commended or published. The list starts in January 2007. So how am I doing?

  • I have entered 60 competitions
  • I have 30 hits of some sort
  • In seven of my hits I was the overall winner 
  • I have 29 misses (and one competition still awaiting results)
  • Over a third of my entries were in 2008 or 2009 - before I started writing novels or having children!
  • My longest run of hits was at the start - competitions one to six were all hits!
  • My longest run of misses was May to July 2009 where I entered seven competitions and missed out on the first six.
  • In the last two years (while concentrating on novel writing and taking two extended breaks to have babies) I have entered six competitions in total. One is still awaiting results and the other four were hits - hooray!
  • You can see a full list of my hits on the competitions tab
  • If I had to pick my favourite entries I think I would choose The Language of Fish (2nd place, December 2014) and Handrails and Parachutes (winner, October 2012)

So, it looks as if I'm running at a hit rate of about 50% overall, which I'm not unhappy with. I think a key to this is competition selection. I could have entered 61 international and prestigious competitions and had a hit rate of 0%. For me, competitions are a good chance to learn something about your level of writing. Yes, it's important to stretch yourself and enter the big competitions - Bridport, Costa etc. - from time-to-time as you never know what might happen, but you learn more from the competitions where you come third or make the longlist and can compare your writing to that of the winner. How do you choose which competitions to aim for?

I am heartened to see that the last couple of years, although very slow in terms of competitions entries, has been successful. I guess my ideal now would be one of two things:
a) to start entering more things again and choose my competitions well enough that my hit rate stays 50-60%, so I'm challenging myself but not being silly about my level of talent!
b) to keep entering very few competitions - ones where I stand a good chance but which attract a reasonable number of entrants - and try to keep my hit rate higher; focus on quality of writing and competition.

In reality, I am unlikely to enter much for the next few years. Finding time to write my second novel is difficult enough. If I enter more than one or two competitions, the extras are likely to be the fun ones - txtlit, or 100-word challenges, things like that. I am particularly interested to see that entering more competitions did not improve my hit rate - proof that, although practice is important, the quality of your practice is as important as the quantity!

Of course this list doesn't include the competitions associated with my novel, The Art of Letting Go. I am currently on the shortlist for the People's Book Prize, so please do go and vote for me and help me on my way to being a prize-winning novelist for the first time too! Thank-you.

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