I am a sucker for a writing contest. I have a writing friend who thinks they can be a real waste of time and money, and I acknowledge that she is very right most of the time. But after a recent meeting of my SCBWI critique group, and after the experience I gained from one contest, I have identified some intangible benefits.
But to be fair, I will outline some of the negative aspects of writing contests, too. This is hard because I’m not good at seeing the downside of things.
Cons of Writing Contests
- There is usually a fee.
- The word count may not lend itself to the best telling of your story.
- Winning an award doesn’t always mean publication of your writing.
- It could be a scam.
Pros of Writing Contests
- The fees for some are very small.
- Some offer prize money.
- Word count limits can force you to revise.
- Winning could mean publication.
- It’s good practice to have to meet a deadline.
- Some contests promise feedback that you don’t get on regular submissions.
I’ve been writing for a long time, all the way back to when I started my elementary school’s first literary journal. Yes, as editor several of my more painful pieces of poetry were chosen for the first issue. But since then my fiction success has been pretty low. In college and as an adult I wrote for several newspapers. But my short stories only earned rejections. It hurt but I kept writing.
Then last year, as I continued my habit of entering writing contests, something changed. I earned an honorable mention for a poem, a finalist position for a flash fiction piece, and an honorable mention for another flash fiction story.
These were my first writing awards, ever. And that last honorable mention includes publication in a respected sci-fi/fantasy magazine! My first fiction publication. Ever.
Of course I think it couldn’t be better. But to be fair I’ll list some cons:
- There is no prize money.
I’m sorry, I can’t think of any more cons for entering this writing contest! I tried. But I’m just too much of an optimist. Here are some pros:
- The editors asked me to revise my story slightly. That was good practice.
- The editors asked me to review and sign a contract. I was excited to learn what was in the contract and research the meaning of the rights.
- The editors asked me to review their copyedits. This was good learning, too.
- I’m following the magazine on Facebook and learning about how they tagline the stories in each issue.
- My ego is boosted.
- This story was originally written before I had children, and I had pulled it out and re-worked it. I have lots more of those and feel like I am a better writer than I was then. I can make them, better, faster, stronger.
If you want to enter a writing contest, I would say go for it. But go for it in a smart way.
- Do your research. I picked journals that printed things I loved to read. So find a literary magazine or journal that you respect. I have two favorites that have contests on right now and I saved up some of my best work for their contests!
- Do not just enter any old contest. I often look for contests with unique angles like ‘Best Starts’ or with themes and prompts.
- Pick the right writing. Chose stories or poems you have written that you think they would love.
- Don’t enter contests with excessive fees. I consider anything above $20 excessive.
- Think small. Lots of really big magazines like Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers offer contests. But smaller journals and magazines host them, too. Sign up for alerts from places like WOW! Women on Writing, Writer Advice, FreelanceWriting and AllIndieWriters.