What’s All This Contests Business About?
There are lots of writing competitions and contests out there on the web or in writing magazines. Some are free, some charge a small fee to enter, yet others have an eye-watering entry charge.
I love the free ones. I’m also happy to pay a small fee knowing that it contributes to prize money, admin fees, eventual printing costs and possibly a payment for the judges for their time. So far I’ve avoided the eye-watering ones as being ridiculously expensive.
Interestingly, the higher entry cost does not always mean the better prize. There are some free to enter contests that have generous prizes for the winners and some charging high fees with low returns for the winners.
Prizes range from simply seeing your work published – online or in print – and sometimes a copy of the magazine or anthology it appears in, free consultations or in-depth critiques on your piece, cash prizes from small to life-changing, writer’s retreats in gorgeous locations and sometimes fun prizes like a weekend away somewhere.
What Should You Submit?
Some contests set themes or are genre specific. Others are open-ended so you are free to submit what you like as long as it meets any other guideline requirements.
You may read the guidelines and realise you have the perfect piece stashed away on your hard drive ready to go. Great! Why not give it a try?
Maybe a contest theme appeals to you or sparks an idea, or provides a new genre or medium for you to explore. Great! Use it to create a fresh piece of writing and challenge yourself.
Whatever you decide, always fine tooth comb the guidelines. Entries are discarded immediately if they fail to meet the word count, or are the wrong genre or have already been published somewhere else if the contest has specified previous unpublished work only be submitted.
There really is something for everyone out there. Every genre under the sun and any medium you can think of – short, flash, novel, poetry etc.
Where Do I Find These Contests?
Google is your friend here. As is Twitter. Writing forums and groups and writing friends often share opportunities with each other. Writing magazines like Mslexia, Writers Forum and Writing Magazine list competitions in their magazines as well as running their own.
Chris Fielden has just updated his writing competitions page which you can check out for free because he is awesome like that. He also offers advice on entries and his own personal experiences with Writers Forum, where you can pay an additional £5 for some feedback on your entry.
How Do You Know They’re Legit?
As with anything, do your research. Google them and make sure they’re reputable. There’s a whole load of forums out there that dish the dirt on dodgy markets, so worth a look to see if a market has been flagged.
Be wary of those offering to add your story to an anthology for a fee. Some of these are genuine and mean your winning work will appear alongside other chosen winners. There are cases of anthologies where all the entries get published, often in poorly edited forms, regardless of quality. So be careful and do your research.
Victoria Strauss offers some useful advice on her website. Writer Beware is a good general place to check for market scams.
My Competition Experiences
When I started entering contests early last year, I had four short stories and a handful of poems that I circulated. Some are currently still ‘out there’ waiting for results announcements.
I kept a spreadsheet to track every entry, fees, prizes, deadlines, projected announcement dates and other relevant information. I entered a total of 22 pieces in 16 contests throughout 2017 (some allowed more than one entry for a better fee ratio). On three pieces, I paid an extra £5 on top of the fee for feedback as I felt I needed it. I spent a total of £83 including the feedback.
Four entries were free. The cheapest was Glimmer Train at $2. The most expensive Mslexia at £10.
Did I have any success? One short made it onto the Exeter Writer’s Short Story Competition longlist. Out of hundreds of entries across the world, it made the Top 40. That was a hell of a boost to my writing.
As I said above, I paid for some feedback and what I got back was helpful, if a little brief, but I guess £5 isn’t going to buy you anything too in depth. I have reworked the pieces and two are out doing the rounds again.
Is It Worth It?
That’s subjective, of course. I’ve set myself a budget limit for this year and I’m looking more at free-to-enter contests and normal publishing markets where there’s no fee but I have a handful earmarked that I intend to enter. I like the buzz of it.
If you create a new piece of work, whether it wins or not, then I’d say yes. If you’re longlisted, shortlisted, get an honourable mention, are lucky enough to win – all of these are a great credit to add to your writing CV.
And, oh boy! If you win a prestigious one, your writing career may just hit the big time.
Additional Pros and Cons?
Deadlines! Always helpful to boost productivity.
Trying something new – who knows what a prompt or new genre might set off in your brain.
Judges reports and winning entries are worth reading post competition if you can find them to give a feel for how it all works.
Long wait times for announcements are a bitch. I try to forget about them and get on with something new.
Justifying cost. Especially when you don’t win.
Not winning. Self-explanatory. It’s disappointing. I try to deal with this by having a new market lined up to send the piece straight back out after a quick edit/ rewrite if needed. Not necessarily to another contest as I’m now lining up general markets as well but that’s a whole other post.
How about you? Entered any contests? Had any luck? Feel disappointed by the whole process? Just don’t think it’s worth it?
Would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below 🙂