My Twisted Writer Brain…

Writing Contests! Why and Why Not!

Several years ago I entered my first short story into the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Contest. I didn’t win. But–I received a letter informing me that I came in 81st! Yes, you read that correctly I came in the top 100 and I was tickled pink.

If I go back and read that story the writing is amateur. There are many rookie mistakes in the overuse of adverbs, soft grammar, and way too many speech tags but the story line was strong and received recognition. This bolstered my confidence for months to come.

I learned a lot from that first experience and am now at the point where I’ve won accolades for my short stories.

So, three good reasons to enter writing contests:

  1. If you don’t throw your hat in the ring you don’t have any chance of winning ever! Even to flirt with the possibility of winning is exciting and invigorating. Sometimes taking a chance pays off. For every person that enters, I bet there’s ten that didn’t. Do your best work and have someone check it over for errors and story flow before you submit. Even if you don’t place you can usually read the winning entries and see where you went wrong. (Keep an open heart–I used to read the winning entries and think…what’s so special about that? mine was better! pout pout. Reality doesn’t lie though and you’ll see that as you progress.)
  2. If you win or place there is industry validation that is forever yours to keep. This is HUGE! Even coming in 81st, my name went into the anthology along with the name of my story. I still have it. Since then I’ve won or placed in a few other contests. I’ve made myself certificates and hung them near my desk as a constant reminder that my writing is worthy of recognition.
  3. If you write short stories, flash fiction, or poetry the contest world is waiting for you. Any type of recognition you receive is a stepping stone in the building of your platform. You can use the fact you won a contest as proof in a query letter that you know how to write because you’re an “award-winning” writer. On top of the accolades, you may also receive monies as payment. How could there be anything wrong with that?!

While contests are a great way to keep your muse in working order and perhaps even earn some much-needed recognition, there are a few things you need to look out for to avoid disappointment.

  1. What kind of contest is it? If you’re a contemporary commercial writer and you enter something into a literary writing contest, don’t be surprised to be passed over. I know that for myself, I’m often literally not literary enough. Huh? I know it sounds weird but what it comes down to is the style that fits into the contest realm. If the contest is being run by a literary magazine, for example, the chances of winning with contemporary writing are near impossible. Literary writing is read for the artistry and normally driven by character and internal conflict. Contemporary is often written for entertainment. Be aware of what kind of writer you are. Know the audience that the host serves–this could save a lot of heartaches.
  2. The cost of contests can be prohibitive. I don’t mind $10-$15 but if it creeps up to $20 or over, I really have to think twice. While some writers will enter everything willy nilly like, it’s better to slow down and submit to contest you recognize as being legit and cost-effective. Do you know anyone who’s won? Perhaps there are local contests? Read the fine print and make sure you get the rights to your story back after it’s been published. Read through the details carefully. Legitimate contests usually list an estimated time of announcement.
  3. Don’t enter contests where there’s only one winner. The main reason for this is your chances greatly diminish when the number of winners is lower. You want to up your chances of being able to either be in the top ten or at least garner an honorable mention. The problem with these kinds of contests (one winner only) is that they’re very narrow and I don’t think it’s very fair to take a huge field of writers and only chose one. You should also watch out for any contests with large prizes–remember if it’s too good to be true then it probably is. Do your home to avoid disappointment.

While writing contests can be a boost to morale and your writing career it can also be depressing when you get your hopes up and you don’t get acknowledged for your hard work. Rejection is part of the game, unfortunately. Take it, learn from it. and polish up that story and submit elsewhere.

Make sure you have another set of writer’s eyes look over your entry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve entered something only to then read it later and find a gaping grammatical error or extra words that didn’t get erased in the last edit. It happens to the best of us and while it’s not the end of the world, it’s disappointing.

Hone your craft. A short story is a perfect opportunity to show your skills in a limited word count but you best be sure you developed that character even if you only have 1500 words. You can do it.

Here are a couple of contests that are legit, relatively inexpensive, and have several winners each time.

Writer’ has a quarterly 24 hour short story contest. It’s a great brain exercise. Only cost $5 and is totally legit. I won it in Summer 2016.

Writer’ Writing contests. Different events throughout the year. Around $20 to enter. Last year I came in 8th out of 2300 for the short short story contest. Quarterly contests. Entry fee around $10-$20 depending on whether or not you want a critique. You can read many of the past winners which is very helpful. There are many winners and the prizes are decent.

Look on Submittable where many opportunities are listed. Do your due diligence as to suitability etc.

Cheers to you! Good luck. Happy writing.

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