Contests for writers are everywhere – it’s almost impossible to avoid them. Not that you should. Entering writing contests can be extremely beneficial to both new and established writers.
Writing contests offer a variety of prizes for winners such as publication, trips, gifts and goodies, or cash prizes. Some contests simply award you with a first, second, or third place or maybe an honorable mention.
There are contests for poets, novelists, essayist, playwrights, short story and flash fiction writers. No matter what type of writing you like to do, there’s sure to be a contest out there for you.
Finding the right contest, however, can be tricky. Do you want paid-entry or free-entry contests? What are you hoping to get out of the contest? Is the contest right for you? What are the contest guidelines? And, most important: which contests should you take part in and which ones should you avoid like the plague?
There are many sites that can help you navigate the wide world of writing contests. The BS Vigilante page from the WM Freelance Writers Connection outs editors, publications and contests that have turned out to be scams. Writer Beware Blogs offers regular reports on fraud in the writing biz. FundsforWriters.com shares some of the best contests via their email newsletter. The popular site Predators and Editors also has a page devoted to contests that are NOT recommended.
Your best bet is a contest that’s been around for a while. Contests with lots of entries tend to be pretty reliable as well. And, if you can, have a look at the jury panel. You can often tell by the jury whether or not a contest is worth your while.
Here’s why writing contests are great for writers:
- You might just win. You never know how your piece will do in any given contest. It might even win. If it does, your prize packet could include writing classes, free sessions with a mentor, a writer’s retreat, a subscription to Writer’s Market — all of which will help further your writing career. Prize money and grants can help pay for a writer’s website, an illustrator, a layout designer, or any other tool of the trade. If winning means publication in an anthology, on a website, in a magazine or newspaper, more people will have the chance to see your work and become fans.
- You can add it to your writing credits. If you win or place, you can include your awards on your resume, blog or website. That recognition might help you get a writing job. After all, it says a lot when your writing was submitted alongside dozens upon dozens of other entries, looked over by many critical eyes and still ends up being chosen as one of the best.
- Your writing might get noticed. A jury will be selected to read through all submissions and pick the winners. Jury members often include publishers, agents, professional writers, editors, and writing mentors. The chance to have them look over your work is an excellent reason to participate in a contest. Perhaps your submission will result in landing a publisher, an agent, a writing gig or a mentor. At the very least, you’ll get feedback on your work from professionals in the industry. What they have to say will help you become a stronger writer.
- You’ll get feedback. Some contests share feedback from the jury with participants. If they don’t do it automatically, you can always ask. Feedback and critiques from the jury can help you see your strengths and weaknesses. You can see what mistakes you are prone to making and where your writing falls short. Is the story line confusing? Are the characters believable? Is there enough backstory? Is there too much? The feedback from the jury will answer all these questions and more. Contests that don’t offer feedback usually state so up front. And, even if they don’t, you can always evaluate the work of the winners and see how your piece measured up.
- It will give you experience. Entering a contest means that you will be writing to a specific topic with a set word count and a deadline. This kind of practice is invaluable if you plan to write professionally. Besides, the more you write, the more your writing will improve.
- You’ll develop thick skin. The writing business is a tough one with a lot of competition. You’ll get turned down more often than you’ll get that writing gig or publishing deal. Get used to it. Those who make it in this industry have thick skin. So, you entered a contest and didn’t win anything. So what? You’ll eventually learn to move on and continue creating and submitting until you do.
- You will be more likely to submit again. When you win or at least realize that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t, you’ll be more likely to enter other contests, send in that agent query or submit your work to other publications. The more you get your work out there, the more likely it is to be seen and accepted. Plus, putting your writing under of the noses of others is the only way to get feedback and critiques that will help you grow as a writer.
Remember, the worst that can happen is that they’ll say no. And then you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on to the next project. You also have the option of asking for feedback, reworking the piece and submitting it elsewhere.
When it comes to writing contests, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. So, find yourself a contest and start working on your submission!
Tiffany Jansen is a freelance writer located in the Netherlands. The author of Mary’s Story and Mary’s Holiday Story for Medieval Maidens, Tiffany is now working on an English-language guide to Dutch castles. Her writing can be found on her blog Putting Words to Paper.