Lessons from FWA 101: The Royal Palm Literary Awards (RPLA)

This post is the first in a series that aims to give you insights into the experience at the 2012 Florida Writers Association conference. The objective is straightforward: to share what I’ve learned. My ultimate goal is to encourage you to apply these lessons to your own writing life.

In a quick summary last week, I mentioned my accomplishment: placing third in the poetry category for the RPLAs (for a full list of winners, click here). It was a nail-biting experience. On Saturday night at the conference, dinner was served, then devoured, and the formalities began. I was very nervous about the announcement, but fortunately, Poetry was first genre on the list. When my name was called, I was ecstatic! I felt disbelief, but also relief. I did my best not to trip on the platform and I got to share the moment with my friends and my boyfriend, who jumped up to meet me for a congratulatory hug at the back of the ballroom.

The contest was judged by “55…current or retired teachers, librarians, professional editors, college professors, published authors, former RPLA winners, journalists, and leaders of writing and reading groups.” Source. The most valuable thing about this contest is that the author gets to see the rubrics used to judge the pieces. I got insightful praise and critique about what I did well, and areas where I can improve. I’m still absorbing the feedback. I’ll have an upcoming post on how to use and implement critique.

If you are serious about a writing career, follow these take-away tips:

Join a writing association. There are many. Associations or guilds are categorized by region, genre, or both. Find one that has a local chapter near you to get a feel of the organization’s operations and values. Research the benefits of joining and use the membership to build credibility.

Join a critique group. Chose a group that will suit your needs. It may be online or in person, but surround yourself with serious writers to help you test a reading audience and grow your network.

Enter a contest. Challenging yourself to put your best work up for judgment is a big deal. The risk is enormous because you invite the possibility of rejection. Just do it. Especially look for contests that promise feedback, like the RPLA.

Let us know of any contests you have entered that provided you a good experience. As always, leave comments with any insight to improve the information in this post.

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