By Stephanie Espinoza Villamor
Her story won top honors in the 2020 IWSG Anthology Contest. Dark Matter: Artificial comes out May 4.
I’m incredibly grateful to the IWSG, and to all the esteemed judges, for publishing my short story “Artificial” in the upcoming IWSG anthology. Being chosen as the winning author was such a thrill, especially among such amazing competition. Entering writing contests is not easy. There’s a difficult balance in adhering to a specific genre/theme, hitting the correct word count, telling a complete story in that space, and putting yourself out there to be judged by writing experts! This was my first year participating in the IWSG contest, but I’ve submitted work to local anthologies in the past and have been inspired to try more contests in the future. Whether you end up published or not, the journey itself helps hone your craft in a variety of ways!
First, of course, writing contests let you practice writing in general. Sometimes all you need is a good prompt to get the creative juices flowing. But they also help with discipline—you have to be able to meet deadlines and word counts. If you tend to write more on the wordy side (like me) this limit can help you flex those editing skills. If your stories are too short, the word count may trigger a search for places to add description that will make the world come alive to your readers.
Contests also offer an opportunity to find the best fit for your work. Most contests don’t just come to you. You have to seek them out and filter through them, like with the list on the IWSG Contests page. This search process is great practice for when you need to investigate which magazines, websites, agents, publishers, etc. accept the type of stories you write.
My best advice to consider when you’re entering a writing contest is to get feedback on your story from other authors. My writing group friends also offer encouragement and support to help me actually finish a story by deadline! I’ve been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators since 2017, and while this year’s anthology audience isn’t for the children’s audience, a couple of friends from my critique group were willing to read my entry and send comments. I’d also formed my own writing support group with coworkers back in 2016, and we continue to meet virtually during the pandemic through Facebook. One of these friends told me, “I just know you will be published. You may even win first prize.” While I never would have believed it, having someone with that kind of unwavering confidence in you can get you through all the rejection, writer’s block, and self-doubt that we insecure writers face.
So, what can you expect once you enter a contest? There’s definitely a lot of waiting. I did my best to work on other writing projects to distract myself while waiting to hear back about the IWSG contest winners. Then I had to wait to share the news that my story was selected for the anthology since publishers often have a specific announcement day. The big reveal is always fun, though. I created a post on my Facebook author page to share with the awesome cover design.
Being part of the IWSG anthology involves a lot of marketing, especially on social media. I’ve had some marketing duties as a librarian, but this was the first time I’m really marketing myself. I updated my old author website, created the Facebook page, and started logging in to Twitter more. You don’t have to be on every social media platform, but pick a couple that you’re most comfortable with and post regularly to those. Your headshot is also an important marketing tool that will end up on websites, blogs, and social media—and getting a good one was challenging during the pandemic. My mom ended up taking my headshot outside her house with a portrait lens I bought to photograph my one-year-old. I think it came out great since I don’t look too much like the tired parent of a one-year-old.
Even without the pandemic, there’s always going to be challenges when it comes to the writing process and contest process. I went through several rounds of edits with the publisher to get my manuscript as polished as possible, and often spent hours at night thinking about whether to keep, remove, or change individual words. But that’s a good challenge that I know ultimately made my writing better. Overall, being a part of the IWSG anthology has been so fantastic and fun! Everyone I’ve met through this experience has been especially friendly and also well organized, keeping us moving forward as we get closer to our release date. Even though I’m doing a lot of new things, I never feel overwhelmed or alone.
I highly encourage members to participate in the next anthology contest, and keep up the good writing!
Bio: Stephanie Espinoza Villamor is a librarian writer mom who lives with her husband and young son just outside Las Vegas. As a child she wrote her own books on dot matrix printer paper, and later started publishing in school magazines and newspapers. Ultimately, she earned a master's degree in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University, and now works as a college eLearning Librarian. She writes stories inspired by her supportive family and Hispanic heritage, especially for middle grade and young adult readers.