Five Important Tips to Consider Before Entering a Writing Contest

I love writing contests. It’s something about the feeling of satisfaction of sending the entry off and the dreaming of winning it all. Sort of like a lotto ticket, I guess.

Unlike those tickets though, there’s not a lot of rules governing the average writing contests. There are different entry prices, prizes, and rules (or lack thereof), that can–and should–keep you on you toes.

There are a few things you need to do **before** you enter. It’s your due diligence to make sure all is as it should be.

Here are my five top things to consider before entering a contest. If one doesn’t fit your style of writing, move on to the next one. Don’t try and fit yourself into a square box when your writing more resembles that of a triangle.

ONE: If a Contest has only ONE Winner–Avoid it.

I’ve seen many contests advertised saying: Win $5000! and then you explore a little further and you find that there will only be ONE winner. No second or third places and no Honorable Mentions.

What? Like seriously? That sucks!

The odds are astronomical that you’ll win. Think about it… you have to beat out EVERYBODY! So, even if yours is really good, someone else’s could be just a breath better and they take the win.

Nope, to me that’s a HUGE red flag for those who enter.

You increase your odds of winning or placing with the more offered recognition given. Do the math. Pretty simple–one winner and 5,000 entries….yeah, not great odds.

TWO: Who Are The Judges?

If you’re entering a contest, even when it’s blind (no names and the judge doesn’t know whose work they’re reading), the judge still has certain styles, or biases within them because they’re human too.

Any time I enter a contest, I research the judges bios and see if they have leanings toward certain types of writing. Some may be very literary (lyrical and descriptive) or perhaps they take offense to the use of cuss words.

While those things won’t necessarily sway a judge, it could have weight if your entry is close in comparison to another.

Remember that sending your work out to be judged is all about opinion.

It may seem obvious that if the judge, for example, is an edgy feminist, grounded in politics and protest, then perhaps a rom-com or fantasy with alpha male characters may not be the best fit… but then again… who knows. Everyone has a personal slant–just know that.

And, if a contest doesn’t let you know who the judges are before the closing date, then don’t worry too much because every submission will be on equal footing.

THREE: If The Prize Sounds too Good to Be True…Listen to Your Gut

I saw one on Facebook a couple of years ago and the top prize was $20,000!

Whoop whoop….what writer wouldn’t love that?

The thing is that the next prize down was like $200 for second and $100 for third. The contest had a very long time window (like months) before closing and was open world wide.

All of this set off bells and whistles and I steered away.

How can a contest be open for months and months? It doesn’t make any sense. They continue to collect entry fees, but the prizes are skewed for one major winner and two puny prizes. Didn’t seem fair and it didn’t ring true. Caveat Emptor –Buyer Beware.

Something to think about.

FOUR: Keep Track of Your Submissions.

You want to avoid submitting something twice to the same contest. OOPsy…. Not only is it a waste of money, but also your time and effort.

Here’s a FREE Tracker you can print off. It may help to note the dates, prizes, etc.

Remember to also keep track of any contest winnings. Keep your receipts so you can use on your taxes if possible.

FIVE: Have Fun and Enjoy the Process.

For me, I love the challenge of writing a compelling story in a short space and time. I also love the “chance” of winning.

If you don’t enter, you can’t ever win. So that’s the philosophy I try and put toward every entry I do. Hey, at least I took a stab at it and if I win–Yay Me and if I don’t–well, I’ll lick my wounds and move on.

Just a short word about the announcement of winners.

Omg…I don’t know how many times I’ve entered a contest and really–seriously– thought my entry was THE WINNER!! Like how could it NOT win?

Well, the judge picked something else to win.

The sense of rejection and total disbelief shakes me. Lol. Yup, every single time. Shook right down to my toes. I’ll ask myself, what happened. The judge couldn’t have read what I wrote. It makes me want to weep, it makes me want to call up that judge and tear a strip off, and it makes me want to prove them all wrong. I’ll win next time… you watch. lol… Yes. A definite rollercoaster of emotions but it passes.

So, be gentle with yourself if you don’t win. It’s really ok. We’ve all been there. Onwards and upwards. Read this post I wrote: Whaddya Mean I Didn’t Win?

With Winning or Placing Come Accolades

If you enter a contest and win or place, it is a boost to your portfolio and resume

If anyone’s told you that contests don’t help your cv, then I bet they’ve never won.

To be able to list yourself as a winner is huge. It means industry validation and credibility to your writing abilities.

Don’t underestimate the power of a win–no matter how big or small!

Even to receive an Honorable Mention is worth the effort of entering a writing contest because you know you’re on the right track. You may have the bones of a story that needs some more work and attention and who knows, maybe next time it’ll be a winner.

If You’re Looking for a Contest to Enter then Here’s the Wine Country Writers’ Festival link.

I am the co-director of this Festival and though I don’t choose the contest winners, I do get to congratulate them and pay them. Check it out. There’s three categories: Fiction, NonFiction, and Poetry. ONLY $15 per entry or 2 for $25


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2 thoughts on “Five Important Tips to Consider Before Entering a Writing Contest”

  1. Thanks for this post. I’ve always been kind of torn on what contests to submit to and to stay away from, but the last part at the end about how an honorable mention still being a win was what got me. I’ve been an honorable mention a couple of times but it’s hard to see it as an actual accomplishment and it sometimes doesn’t seem like something I should be proud of. This has helped convince me at least a little bit!

    1. Hi! Thanks so much for commenting. Contests are great and fun and validating for sure. An honorable mention is VERY worthy of mention. It shows that your work is good! Take those HM stories and rework them, read them aloud and see what’s missing…. they’ve already been deemed good…make them great! Yay You.

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