Monday, September 16, 2013

To Contest or Not to Contest

That is the question.

I haven't entered a writing contest in a couple years and I've got a new novel that might be worthwhile to enter, but I'm not sure it's at the point where I should enter it or whether I actually want to. There are various reasons for and against it.

So how about a Top Ten?

Top Ten Reasons to Enter Writing Contests:

10. To get your arse in gear and get that manuscript polished
9. Practice for submitting things
8. Something to put in a query letter/bio/reference
7. Money
6. Acclaim
5. Writing experience
4. Feedback (general, plus scores)
3. Critique (formal critique)
2. To get an agent/editor offer from a judge
1. To win (duh)

I was tempted to arrange it in a much different order, because I don't think winning is the most important part of a contest. When I first entered a writing contest, I did it to win. Plain and simple. The second time I entered a contest I did it for the critique. At this time, I think the most important aspects are the feedback, critique, and experience. Each writing contest you enter means practice writing and practice submitting something. However, I don't think I'd enter another contest unless I felt I actually had a winner. A story isn't a winner until YOU think it is.

So what should a person look at before entering a contest?

1. That the contest fits with what you write/enjoy writing/your personality
2. The organization running it is respected and honest
3. The cost - Is it reasonable? is it worth it?
4. The cost versus the prize money
5. The status of your manuscript (for novel contests) - Is it ready? Polished?
6. An explanation of the entry fee - If there's a cash prize, it's reasonable to figure much of the entry fee is going to that. If there are "celebrity" judges, you can likely assume they are being paid some amount, which would come out of the entry fee. Is it being donated? Are they a non-profit? If they're a non-profit, they hope to have some portion of the fee to keep for funds to run the non-profit once they've met costs.
7. Will the winning entries be published in some way?
8. The judges - Are they known? Do they have publishing experience?
9. Is this their first contest or has this contest been around for awhile? If it hasn't been around for awhile, has the organization running it?
10. What do YOU want out of entering this contest? What's your main goal? Will this contest help you to achieve what you want from it?

I guess that's sort of a top ten, too, eh? But it's in no particular order.

Just a gathering of thoughts. I'm leaning toward not entering right now, but I've got some time to decide.

So what are your thoughts? Do you enter contests? Do you want to? Have you in the past? Why do or don't you?

May you find your Muse.


  1. I've never entered one. Just didn't cross my mind I guess.

  2. I enter as long as the cost isn't outrageous and I love the ones that offer feedback!

  3. One of the things I like about contests is that the deadline gives me a push to actually finish a piece. I also like when there's a theme or "rules" like word count, etc. because that gives me some parameters to work within, which is often good for reeling in ideas and forcing me to think outside my usual box. :)

  4. Like Alex, they usually just don't cross my mind. On top of that, none of them are ever free, and I just really don't want to pay money to enter a contest. Sure, you get something to add to your writing resume if you win, but I'd rather submit a short story to a magazine and get more (something to add to your writing resume and publication) for free.

  5. Oh, and in regards to your comment we're both fine. We're close to the floods but not close enough to be in danger, other than having to shovel some serious water out of the basement. But compared to what others are facing, a tiny bit of ruined carpet is nothing!

  6. I've entered a few with short stories, got exasperated that some of the high-profile contests that seem to never step outside their comfort zone. And, some contests favor locals over others, espec. those supported by univ-presses. It's something to be aware of.

    I do enter some contests sponsored by the writing conferences in my area.

    At this point, I'd prefer to send the info out and query.

  7. Hey Shannon,

    Yay, it's me! Who? Okay, never mind.

    I don't enter writing contests. And no, I didn't consider the Tree of Life, a writing contest.

    To enter a writing contest is something I could never see me doing. Wouldn't be fair on the rest of the contestants. Yes, I'm delusional.

    My muse needs a GPS....


  8. I'm not really in support of writing contests. For one thing, they are designed to make money for the people holding the contest more than anything else (in most cases). But, then, there's the lack of any objective standards being applied. They are the equivalent of querying, and I don't support that, either.

  9. I've wanted to enter contests, but I'm too scared to. In a way, as long as I don't enter the contests then they can't tell me that I'm a bad writer, so I must be somewhat okay. I know that I'm only lying to myself with that but I haven't gained the courage to enter a contest yet.

  10. I'm not entering contests as much as I have in the past lately. I didn't even enter the latest Twitter Pitch Madness party, and feel great about it. The odds just seem stacked against historicals in the contests on the blogs I usually participate in, and my writing style also seems a little out of step with what usually wins there. It seems like a rat-race these days, much like querying. I've gotten a lot of good critique and even a few behind the scenes partial requests in the past, and feel my best option is pursuing some kind of self or indie-publication till the market changes.

  11. I'd enter for the experience, to get the stuff out there so others can read it and most important, the feedback!
    It is frightening though...
    Writer In Transit

  12. I don't enter my stories into contests, but pitches and queries etc. I have entered.

  13. Interesting post. I've entered contests in the past. Never heard back from any of them, so there was no feedback. They were basically, if you don't hear back from us by a certain date, you didn't win. Good luck to you!

  14. I've found that contests are really bad for my ego because I never get anywhere with them LOL. Good luck if you decide to enter!

  15. Every writer should take the path that feels right, but has to also be adventurous in exploring paths. If querying or straight-up self-publishing aren't working for you, then hitting some contests can work. It's got to be a matter of identifying the right ones for your project, particularly ones that offer the best possible winning conditions. Amazon's contest and Writers of the Future, for instance, has a lot of upside for winners. Most web novel contests don't offer much more than credit stolen.

  16. Contests. I have a problem, like an addiction, with contests. DO I win. Nah. But I come close - or so I'm told - so like the gambler I keep going back.
    I'm partial to contests that have an offering of feedback. Maybe when I'm rich and famous, I'll stop. But for now, I keep going back to that bad lover.
    Well, there you have it.