Writing Contests

Dear Google,

Are writing contests a good idea? Search.

or Writing contests. Search.

or Writing contests that pay. Search.

or Writing contests that are easy to win. Search.

or Writing contests with very little competition. Search.

or Writing contests with very little competition judged by someone who adores my writing. Search.

Before I give my opinion about writing contests I’ll give you the bottom line first. Just remember, no matter what anyone says, apply the acronym BYOB (Be your own boss) to your writing decisions.

Some Win, Most Lose

As a writer you will make a thousand decisions, both good and bad. For some writers entering contests is a good idea. I mean, someone’s got to win and someone always does. To the person who wins any amount, or places at all, writing contests are a good idea. For the hundreds or thousands of others who fund writing contests – there is almost always an entry or reading fee – it is not a good idea to enter writing contests.

People who date get married. People who don’t date don’t get married unless they are arranged. Writers who enter contests don’t win contests. Writers who enter contests win contests. Writers who enter contests don’t win contests. The latter fact is a more common fact. But simply put, if you don’t enter you will never win.

I have entered dozens of writing contests. I have placed. I have been the “judges pick”. I have received recognition in my local paper two years in a row. I have even won a SLAM Poetry competition. But most contests I have entered I have not won a thing.

What’s the Difference?

Rejection is part of a writer’s life path. It is heightened the more often you are submitting pieces for publication. The majority of seasoned writers have more rejections than we can count. But we can always count our acceptance rate. Not only is it more memorable, but it is less frequent and therefore easier to fit in one or two hands.

So what’s the difference? If you are going to get rejected anyway, why not just enter a contest or two. The main difference is that while submitting to contests costs money, submitting your piece for publication isn’t usually accompanied by a reading fee. There are a few exceptions with the small and college presses. These help pay for their operating costs. I am sure there are some legalities I am unaware of, but I am not to interested in legalities for the purpose of this article.

Most writers are poor. And since the odds aren’t great, the more contests you submit to, the better your chances of winning. Although technically true, with this strategy, money adds up in a hurry. For me the contests are no longer worth it except on rare occasions.

Rare Occasions

My general rule of thumb is to avoid writing contests. I know view them as rights of passage for beginning writers. And most times, you can’t convince a beginning writer of anything she doesn’t already believe. Writing gets better with time and so do the decisions surrounding it. At least this as it should be.

When I enter writing contests it is mainly for these reasons:

  • I already have a piece handy that is perfect for the contest. And I mean, perfect.
  • It is a local contest where name recognition will go further in the local community.
  • It is a contest sponsored by an organization I am a member of. Again, name recognition is everything. The more often people see your name the better chances they will become familiar with it. And familiarity breeds trust. And trust breeds sales.
  • If it is free.

My Advice

If you have to pick between the two, go for publication over contests. I believe your odds for publication are better. But take it with a grain of salt since this is based on experience, not statistics. I could very well be wrong. But I don’t think I am. Contests generally publish the winner in a book or on a website. They are looking for the cream of the crop and generally something that expresses the editors and judges aesthetic. Of course this is true in traditional publishing too. I just think the idea of a contest heightens the competition and the criterion that much more.

But of course, BYOB. Be your own boss. Find what works for you. Just don’t be so stubborn that you end up throwing away your hard earned money for a lottery pick.






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