Jane Austen (“our” Jane Austen, not the real one) clued me in to the ArtsJournal website, which gathers interesting articles about the Arts from all over. Besides such fascinating topics as how insomnia shrinks the brain or, correspondingly, how napping makes you smarter, this article caught my eye, Why You’re Better Off Winning A Bronze Medal Than A Silver.

The logic is quite understandable. From the article:

“Third-place winners have upward thoughts (“at least I won”) that increase satisfaction, researchers have found, whereas those who come in second tend to have downward “if only” thoughts that decrease happiness.”

I think just being an Olympic athlete is a great achievement.

This got me thinking about the Romance Writing contests that abound at this time of year. Not only RWA’s Golden Heart for unpublished manuscripts and the RITA for published, but the RWA chapter contests, like my home chapter’s Marlene Contest. Does the logic fit romance contests? I actively used contests to reach my writing goals, both when unpublished and published and I’ve been successful at both, winning both of RWA’s top prizes, the Golden Heart and the RITA.

For the published author contests, like the RITA, the Holt, NRCA, Golden Quill, etc., there is typically only one winner. Reaching finalist status does feel like an achievement, like winning the Bronze. Same is true for the Golden Heart.

But when I was entering lots and lots of unpublished contests, my feelings were different. If I was lucky enough to make the finals, I always prayed that I would at least get second place. To me, the Bronze merely meant my manuscript wasn’t good enough.

Now isn’t that silly?

The more rational part of me knows that, like in the Olympics where some events are measured in fractions of seconds, there may not be much difference between first place and third. I also know that reaching the finals is some validation of one’s writing skill, but not reaching the finals does not mean your manuscript isn’t just as good. Like figure skating, there is a subjective element. If your manuscript doesn’t reach the finals, then it may mean you got judges who subjectively scored it lower than other judges might have. I know I missed the finals on some unpublished contests because judges scored me low for what they assumed were errors in research, which, in fact, were not. These things happen, just like in some events of the Olympics, where judges might make mistakes because they know only what they subjectively see.

So, have you writers out there entered any contests this contest season? What are your hopes for the contests? What have you entered in the past? Have contests made you feel encouraged or discouraged about writing?

For readers, does it make a difference to you to know a book has won a contest? Does it make it more likely for you to read it, or does it make little difference? What contests mean the most to you, if any?