contests are a wonderful way to get your name in print
and in front of hundreds, even thousands, of potential
new readers. They are also great professional credits to
add into your growing writing portfolio. Maybe you're
only entering for the lure of prize money or you need a
break from your regular writing. Maybe you just like the
thrill of winning!
The odds of winning a writing contest are not terrific,
but there are certainly plenty of things you can do to
improve those odds, and stack them in your favor.
Where possible, try to enter only those contests which do
NOT charge a reading fee. It is true that some
publications charge a reading fee to cover the cost of
the prize money being awarded to the winners, but there
have been cases in the past where writers have parted
with their hard-earned money, and no one but the contest
organizer has "won". Choose your intended
Where there is a fee involved, compare the potential
prize to the entry fee. If the entry fee is $10, but
first prize is only $50, then it's hardly worth your time
entering that one. But if a reading fee of a couple of
dollars could possibly be rewarded by a much larger
prize, then obviously the small fee is an acceptable
Check "Writers Beware" sections on the
Internet for contests or organizations that have earned a
bad name. Dont enter them, no matter how good they
might look, or how wonderful a prize the might be
offering. A few good places to check are:
- Writer Beware
- Preditors and Editors
- Speculations Rumor
Read the guidelines for the competition you want to
enter, then read them again. Then follow those guidelines
to the letter. Word counts really do count. Genre
is important, and if a theme is specifically chosen, do
not add one sentence about that theme, simply to fit into
the intended range.
Write something specifically for the contest you chose,
and be very careful about the "submission
policies" of the organizers. In some cases, the
contest rules will state that you may not submit your
work elsewhere until the winners are announced. Pay
careful attention to the rules, or you may find your
entry is disqualified.
from the Winners
Don't just read the work of the past winners, really scrutinize
the story. Not just first place either, read the
runner-up stories and honorable mentions as well.
You should begin to notice similarities in style and
theme. Do the judges lean towards vivid action scenes, or
flowery romantic prose, or original, experimental ideas?
Do they prefer a lot of dialogue, or more narrative? The
winning stories should tell you a lot about the judges
preferences, and can also teach you much about your own
writing style at the same time.
This works especially well with themed contests. Try to
find and unusual twist or original angle, and write your
entry from there. Never go with your first
instinct. Chances are a hundred other people also thought
of the most obvious pitch for a particular theme too. If
your story stands out as being the original among a
hundred other clones, then the judges will be looking
Before you submit your masterpiece, take the time to go
through it carefully one last time. Spelling, grammar and
neatness are all important factors. They mark you as
professional and capable - regardless of whether you've
been published before or not - and also make your
submission easier to read.
Enter your story as early as possible, and definitely
well before the closing deadline. Some contest judges
read entries as they come in. Early submissions would
obviously have an advantage, as the judges are more
engaged. Put yourself in a judges shoes - how alert would
you be after reading 500 entries?
Increase your odds of attracting a judge's eye and enter
as many times as allowed. If your odds of winning were
one story out of a possible 500 stories, then enter 5
pieces and reduce the amount of competition down in your
own favor. Only try this if the guidelines state that
more than one entry is okay.
Go ahead and post it out. Here is where so many
newer writers come unstuck. They simply don't have enough
faith in their own ability. Tell yourself as often as you
need to that "All the great writers were once
beginners too". That didn't help? Try reminding
yourself that "You're writing for the love of the
craft, not for an intended critic".
Do whatever it takes to make you realize that your
submission is not going to go too far sitting in the
bottom drawer. Your writing is just as valid as that of
Hemingway, or Grisham, or King. It just hasn't been
And besides, as they say, you have to be in it to win it!
Type "Writing Contests" into any search engine,
and a surprising number of results will return.
- Fiction Factor offers a listing
of fee-free contests, updated regularly.
- Writing world.com also has a
- Manuscript Editing has a large
contest listing page
- Writers-Editors also show listings
for creative writing contests
These are but a few of the many places which list current
contests for writers and poets. Happy hunting.
And Good Luck with your submissions.
Copyright Lee Masterson. All Rights Reserved.
Lee Masterson is a freelance writer from
South Australia. She is also the editor of Fiction Factor
(http://www.fictionfactor.com) - an online
magazine for writers, offering tips and advice on getting
published, articles to improve your writing skills, heaps
of writer's resources and much more. Check out Lee's
newest book, "Write, Create & Promote a
Best-Seller" here and jump-start
your writing career.