Chances are good that if you’re a writer, even an amateur one, you’ve already asked yourself, are writing contests worth entering? The answer, however, is far from simple. There are all types of writing contests in all genres, and they each offer a different reward. If you’re curious about whether or not you should enter a writing contest, the answer depends mostly on what you hope to get out of it.
Starting at the Beginning
Writing contests serve many purposes. Many of them promise a spot in the next publication or even a cash award for winning, and even if you don’t win, there are benefits to entering many of these contests. These include:
- Suggestions for improvement and constructive criticism from the publisher
- The possibility of being published in one of their future issues
There are also different sponsors of these writing contests. The two most popular are from the magazines Writers Digest and Poets & Writers, but there are also private organizations that can be a sponsor. Either their website or their membership newsletter will announce the contests, and it’s up to you to find them.
In addition to writers’ magazines and private organizations, writing contests can be sponsored by independent book publishers and publishers that specialize in specific genres, such as e-books, non-fiction books, and poetry, as well as organizations that have a specific purpose, including those that advocate spiritual values, healthy lifestyles, and many others.
There Are Pros and Cons to Writing Contests
Like almost everything else in life, writing contests have pros and cons. It’s not that any of these things are severe or too negative, but it is good to become familiar with both sides before making the decision to enter one of these contests.
The pros of a good writing contest include:
- Credit in short or long lists: Many magazines publish short lists and long lists for their readers, and your name being on one of them is always a good thing.
- Deadlines force you to finish your work: If you’ve been taking your time writing something, a deadline can help you move forward and finally finish the project.
- Money: Cash prizes are often given to both winners and runners-up.
- Prestige: This is a great thing to include in your query letters
- Publication: You get to see your name in print.
- There isn’t much to lose: Even if you don’t win anything, you will have gained valuable experience that will prove to be helpful.
- Time away from your work: This means you can concentrate on the contest for a while, then look at your writing with a brand-new outlook.
Of course, there are also cons to entering writing contests, and below are a few of them:
- Entry fees: Although most entry fees are reasonable, they can add up quickly if you’re entering a lot of different contests.
- Exclusive submissions: If a publisher or magazine asks that you not submit your story to anyone else while the contest is going on, this can be a great inconvenience for you.
- False rejection experience: Even though it isn’t an official rejection, losing a writing contest can feel like it is.
- Lack of prestige: With lesser-known magazines or publishers, even winning a writing contest is not likely to advance your career much.
As a writer, you have to weigh the effects of all of these pros and cons and decide for yourself if entering a writing contest is worth it on your part. Even with the negative aspects of the contests, it is likely still worth it if your main goal is to share your writing with other people and give that writing a chance to be looked at and reviewed by the professionals.
Things to Keep in Mind When Entering Writing Contests
Of course, once you ask yourself, are writing contests worth entering and decide that the answer is “yes,” there are still some things you should keep in mind before entering the first contest. Entering contests is a process with deadlines and adherence to word counts, so below are a few things to remember before you even get started.
- Make sure that you know when the deadline is. These deadlines can pop up before you know it, so write down the deadlines to each of the contests you wish to enter so that you never forget when they are.
- Read and reread all of the instructions. Writing contests are looking for something specific, especially when it comes to word count, formatting, and so on. If your manuscript is off by even a little, it will likely be rejected immediately.
- Get a good feel for what the publication is looking for. Go back to past issues and read what past winners have written. You want to make sure that you give them what they want.
- Pay attention to anything regarding eligibility. If it’s a YA contest, you might have to be under a certain age. You might also have to live in a certain state or area, so make sure that you are familiar with any of the rules on eligibility.
- Smaller contests are good for beginners. If you’ve never before submitted anything to a writing contest, start small and send in one article or story. Only when you gain more experience should you consider sending in bigger articles or more than one story at a time.
- It is all right to submit an article or story to more than one publication at a time. Unless the sponsor of the contest prohibits it, this is a great way to increase the odds that you’ll win one of the contests that you’ve chosen to enter.
As you can see, becoming organized will greatly benefit you once you decide to enter one or two writing contests. You’ll need to be organized to make sure that you know about all of the requirements and the deadlines, so getting organized is a great way to prepare yourself for these contests.
Offering More of What Is Good for You
Best of all, writing contests allow you to do what you love – write. They offer the chance to show off your work, and if you win the contest or become a runner-up, it is possible that the editor of the publication will do a write-up about your story in a future issue, which can help you establish rapport with that editor.
Writing contests also tend to be a little more democratic than regular submissions. In writing contests, the publisher doesn’t care who the author is or even what your credentials are because all writers are treated the same. You have the same shot at winning as someone who has won a lot of contests in the past. Writing contests are great at leveling the playing field for writers.
Then, there is the advantage of bragging about your accomplishment, which goes a long way when promoting your book later on. You can officially call yourself an “award-winning author” from now on, and it is impressive to prospective agents and publishers. This alone should make you consider entering a good writing contest any time one is available.
This does not mean, however, that all writing contests are the same. In fact, before you enter any type of writing contest, there are some things that you should be aware of which might spell trouble for you, and this includes the following:
- Consider every rules and regulation. Make sure that you understand what the prizes are and what rights, if any, you will be granting to the sponsor, especially if you win.
- Who are the actual judges? All judges should be experts in the field or at least experienced enough to judge the submissions. Not every Tom, Dick, or Harry will fall into this category.
- Don’t sign all of your rights away. If a sponsor asks for you to give up the copyright to your work, don’t do it. One-time publication rights, if you win, are one thing, but don’t sign away everything. This is where reading the fine print becomes so important.
- Check to see if the sponsors are legitimate. Especially if you haven’t heard of them before, you should check them out online and make sure that they’re on the up-and-up.
- If you suspect a scam, don’t enter the contest. Red flags can include “winners” having their poetry published in a book that you have to pay to receive and winners only having their work published online – unless it’s a legitimate e-book publishing company.
This is not to say that bogus writing contests are prevalent, but in today’s times, you can’t be too careful about anything. Trust your gut instinct, do your due diligence, and make sure that you know exactly what you’re getting into when you decide to enter a writing contest.
A Few Other Advantages of Entering Writing Contests
Writing contests offer other advantages as well as the ones already mentioned. By simply submitting a story to a contest, it shows the sponsors and judges – many of whom are agents or publishers – that you are serious about your writing. Even if you don’t win, that doesn’t mean that your manuscript won’t get noticed, and it’ll get noticed by all of the right people.
If you’re concerned that some unscrupulous sponsor will steal your work, there is no need for concern. Although this is certainly possible, it won’t happen if the sponsor is legitimate, and if you’ve done your research, you’ll know which ones are. You also shouldn’t be concerned about the entry fee, since most of them are in the $5-25 range, which is reasonable for nearly everyone.
In addition to cash prizes and seeing your story in print, many sponsors of writing contests offer other prizes that are certain to pique your interest. These include things such as Broadway tickets, dinner for two at a nice restaurant, plaques, marketing and promotional products like t-shirts and hats, iPads, and many others.
After All Is Said and Done, Only You Can Answer the Question
Asking yourself, are writing contests worth entering, usually ends up with the same answer, which is that you have to decide for yourself if the contests are worth it in the end. Taking everything into consideration in your writing life is the only way to know for sure if entering a writing contest is something you should do.
Before you determine whether or not to enter your latest poem or short story in a writing contest, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the sponsor offer feedback on my writing?
- Does the contest offer more than one prize?
- What are my real reasons for wanting to enter this contest?
- Is the contest fee reasonable and within my budget?
- How much time am I going to spend away from other writing projects?
In the end, only you can determine if writing contests are worth entering. They sure offer a lot of advantages for both beginning and experienced writers, but you have to weigh the good and the bad to determine the best course of action for yourself.