In 2007, for a class assignment, I entered a writing contest. And everything changed.
At first, I didn’t like the idea. I didn’t know what contest to enter, and I didn’t have anything prepared for submission. I didn’t like deadlines, and what if–gasp!–I didn’t win? What would that do to my self-esteem? (Imagination can mess me up, like it does to a lot of creative types.) I gulped back the fear and went for it, deliberately choosing a local, county-wide contest because fewer entrants equals less competition. I wrote a poem, entered the contest, and won the grand prize–$200, four tickets to a comedy club, and an invitation to read my entry at a local poetry event. I was too scared to attend, and someone else read for me.
Even though I’d placed too much importance on that one contest, winning it gave me something to mention in query letters. More important, it gave me confidence. In that confidence, I submitted articles to magazines, and I dared to enter a bigger contest. That contest paid for my attendance, room, and meals at the Colorado Christian Writers’ Conference, which included lots of classes, encouragement, feedback, and a one-on-one critique of my work with an editor from a national glossy magazine. I also met a writer friend that I still hold dear. (Hi, Beth! ::waving::)
With direction and a handful of published articles, more doors opened, both in writing and in editing. By the end of 2009, I was getting steady writing and editing work with steady pay.
If you’re a newbie writer, winning a writing contest–even a small, local contest without much competition–can plump your portfolio, give you confidence, earn you a little money, and help get your foot in the door with publishers. If you’re invited to join an event with other writers and publishers, that can turn into an opportunity to make friends in the industry.
I’ve found that not winning has its benefits, too. Sometimes judges scribble hand-written advice on contest entries before returning. That advice is gold. And those straight-out rejections with no feedback will either strengthen our determination or send us spiraling into the depths of anguished self-doubt. Either one makes for good writing fuel.
All this, of course, if the contest is legitimate.
IS THE CONTEST LEGIT?
Lots of scammers target writers, so watch out! Legitimate writing contests may charge a small entry fee (around $15-$100), but no legitimate contest will require you to pay anything to receive your prize. Not one.
If you live in the US, and you’ve been the victim of a writing contest scam, report your experience to the Federal Trade Commission.
A good source for information on legitimate writing contests is Poets & Writers Magazine.
Some current contests:
- Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction Deadline March 14, 2016 Short works of fiction on any theme, no shorter than 2500 words and no longer than 12,500 words.
- The Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize Deadline March 15, 2016 Stories of 750 words or less on any subject.
- Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest Deadline April 1, 2016 Humorous Poetry
- Crab Orchard Review’s Annual Literary Contests Deadline April 21, 2016 Poetry, Short Story, and Essay.
- Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition Deadline May 6, 2016 Categories include Inspirational, Memoir, Magazine Feature Article, Genre Short Story, Mainstream Short Story, Rhyming Poetry, Non-rhyming Poetry, Stage Play, Movie/TV Script, and Children/Young Adult Fiction.
- Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition Deadline May 15, 2016 Fiction stories up to 3,500 words. No theme or genre restrictions.
- North Street Book Prize Deadline June 30, 2016 Submit your self-published e-book or printed book from the following categories: Mainstream/Literary Fiction, Genre Fiction, Creative Nonfiction and Memoir. Length limit: 150,000 words.
Keep up to date on the latest writing contests at Poets & Writers.
Have you ever been targeted for a writing scam? Entered a legitimate contest and won? Lost? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comment section. Please. I’m so lonely. 😉