What is a writing competition? Why should I pay to enter?
Well, quite simply; it’s a competition that you enter with a piece of your own writing, and hopefully you win it!
There’s a prize (usually money, but sometimes just the pride of being chosen as winner) and the winning piece will usually get published somewhere. Sometimes there’s an entry fee, and sometimes the competition is directed towards something – some publishers or magazines run competitions for the first chapter of a story, or a book proposal. There are a very wide variety of competitions – from poetry inspired by Shakespeare, to themed short stories, to flash fiction, to novel extracts.
(1) Winning gets you fame and fortune! You get noticed, get money (or other prizes), and you can put the win on your writing CV.
(2) A deadline and word count are often good motivators to write.
(3)You’re often in with a chance to be published.
(4) The competitive element can be inspirational; you’ve got to be good to win
(5) It’s an immediate satisfaction – or at least, better than six months of silence from an agent or publisher.
(6) There’s a wide variety of competitions to suit all levels of experience
(7) You can write what you want, in your style – although if you want a theme, there are competitions with prompts and themes.
(1) You don’t get paid unless you win
(2) You often have to pay to enter.
(3) Not all writers like the competition element, or see winning as a worthwhile prize.
(4) The lack of a theme or direction (as opposed to submission calls) can be off-putting.
(5) You don’t get feedback, so it can be hard to know why your work didn’t win or how close it did get to winning.
As a general rule of thumb, money should always flow to the author. If you have to pay to get your book published (by someone else – obviously if you’re self-publishing, it’s a different story) then the general advice is avoid it.
However, most writing competitions do charge an entry fee, which usually goes to pay for the prize money and the admin fee. As the competitions don’t publish more than one or two of the stories, they don’t recoup money via sales – and so an entry fee is accepted practise.
That’s up to you. You need to weigh up the likely cost over the likely gain – and that does include fun! Many authors have a ‘marketing’ or ‘slush’ budget that can go towards costs like entry fees. However, keep an eye on your cashflow as well as your achievements.
An excellent place to start is our curated list of writing competitions, which is kept up-to-date with the latest competitions. You could also have a look at your genre magazines, as they often run competitions or advertise them. Finally, your favourite authors are also a good source; what have they won? Or can they recommend anything?
At the bottom, there are things like #1LineWed on Twitter; you simply tweet a line of your writing and see what everyone else is putting in. Ad Hoc Fiction runs free flash fiction competitions weekly, and Fifty Word Stories is monthly – these can be a very good starter to get you writing.
Beyond that…pick what you want! There’s often smaller competitions with lower entry fees on forums, magazines and online blogs. Some of the larger competitions (with higher prize money) are for noted magazines or linked to awards. It’s a case of picking what you want to go for – or aiming high! You can’t win if you don’t enter…
First, can you enter? Many competitions have restrictions on location, age, or genre. Do you have to be a member of a society or a forum?
Next, do you actually want to enter? Who’s sponsoring the competition? Is it something you can write, and is the prize something you want?
Third, check for a scam. This is mostly gut instinct; there are competitions where everyone ‘wins’, where your work has won inclusion in an anthology that you will have to pay for…most competitions are entirely legitimate, but just be a little wary.
Then check the basics. What’s the deadline? Is there a theme request? Check the genre, length, style and any provisos that the organisers might have requested. You want to give yourself the best chance of winning – there’s no point wasting money if your writing doesn’t fit what’s being asked for.
Check the Terms & Conditions – yes, it’s a pain, but it’s worth doing. If you won, what would happen to your story? How much publicity would you have to do (and are willing to do?) If you don’t win, do you still retain the rights to your writing? Can it be submitted or published elsewhere?
Write. Edit. Proofread. Format. Make it good. Then pay and submit.
And finally, administration. Note down somewhere – a writing notepad, a spreadsheet, post-its on your corkboard – what you submitted to which competition, and when. Most competitions are at least yearly and if you’ve already submitted one piece, don’t submit it again!
If they’re something you enjoy, then do it. They’re easier than standard submission calls (no theme) or submissions to publishers (as you don’t have to write a novel); you can write what you want, they’re usually simple to submit to, and you could potentially win a nice prize.
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