Writing Contests and Awards

For the writer who’s still looking to publish or who has had a dry spell, entering contests is one way to build the resume. Which contests will help the most, and which are probably best avoided?
Writing Tip for Today: Here’s a little primer on writing contests:

  • Cultivate Contest Connections. When considering which writing competition you want to enter, bear in mind your platform and writing goals. I’ve learned (the hard way) that unless you win an award in the area where you hope to become an author, it doesn’t help that much. I publish mainly in the Christian market, so when I’ve won awards in mainstream or literary contests, it mattered if the Christian agent/editor had heard of it. If you want to be a mystery writer, concentrate your efforts in mystery writing contests or categories. Few may care if you won a limerick contest (sorry, Pat!)
  • Consider Cost. If a contest asks entrants for more than about $25, it may not be a contest worth entering. I usually set aside an amount for contests every year and strategically pick the ones I think will benefit my writing platform.
  • Big Fish, Small Fish. If the contest is a huge international affair, say like Writer’s Digest or PEN/America, you will have longer odds than a smaller regional or genre-based competition. You will need to decide if you want to take a chance on a big contest, where your fee will probably help pay the winner, or if you like your chances better in a smaller, more focused contest.
  • Follow Da Rules. Don’t risk disqualification by breaking any contest rules. And be sure to read the fine print: I’d be leery about a contest which takes all rights to your stuff.
  • Enter Internet Contests with Care. As with all other Internet things, a few out there want to scam you. Ask for a list of previous winners, and try to take contest info from reputable sites. Aside from being crooked, some outfits run contests as a way to cull address lists and sell to others. If you enter one contest and suddenly you get loads of spam or junk mail, the contest may be making money from more than your entry fee. On the plus side, C. Hope Clark’s Fundsforwriters newsletter is a good source as is Poets&Writers.
  • Add to Your Platform. If you do final, receive HM or place in a contest, add it to your bio or resume, along with the year of your participation. Unless of course, you won in 1932, in which case you say, “Past winner of . . .” Just kidding. A contest can make a difference as you work toward publication. It shows that you are working, submitting, and keeping up with the writing world in general.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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