WRITING CONTESTS – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly–7 Tips on Choosing and Winning Writing Contests

by Peggy on May 23, 2012

7 Tips on Choosing and Winning Writing Contests

If you are looking for publication credits, more exposure, and the title of “award winning author,” then entering writing contests may be a worthy pursuit. Winning a writing contest can build your confidence as a writer but it can do much more.

Winning a contest can:

  • Grow your publication credits
  • Generate more income as a writer
  • Expose your work to new readers
  • Give you credibility as a writer
  • Give you invaluable practice in writing and submitting work

It’s critical that you know where to find contests, and learn to discriminate, choosing only those contests that are viable, credible, and worth that precious entry fee. When searching for contests, always consider the source—which magazine listed the contest? Was it in the back section of the magazine listed under Writing Contest, or in the classified section? Contests listed in the classified section need more careful scrutiny. Is the sponsor of the contest legitimate?

 Some of my Favorite Sources for Writing Contest:

Poets and Writer’s Magazine – Contest Section or online at http://pw.org

http://fundsforwriters.com online newsletter


Kentucky Literary Newsletter


Glimmer Train

Bogus Contests

How can you tell a legitimate contest from a bogus one? For some contests it can be quite easy, for others it may require a little investigative work. When deciding which contest to enter, keep these questions in mind.

  •  Is there good disclosure of past winners?
  • Does the supporting organization have a web presence?
  • How many years has the contest been running?
  • Are guidelines clear and posted?
  • Are they requesting too much information?
  • Is the cash prize high enough to justify the entry fee?
  • Is the prize “free representation” or publication?

Many contests are not contests at all, but a veiled attempt to build a prospective customer list. Many of these contests and their accompanying websites offer free representation rather than a prize. Beware of a contest that sends you a letter stating you didn’t win, but that your work is excellent—all you need to do is use their services to improve your writing.

 Contest Mills

Contest mills often tout large cash prizes but if you read the small print you may find this phrase; “Prizes are awarded on a pro-rated basis based on the number of entries.” In my early days of writing, I entered and won a contest which gave away prizes based on the number of entries. And no—I never read the fine print. The prize was supposed to be $3,000 and I received $350. For me, it was still a thrill, and I was happy to receive my PayPal credit for $350. If  I had  read the guidelines carefully I would have known that my chance of winning the entire $3,000 was dependent on the number of entries. These types of disclosures are usually not listed in the ad for the contest, but are buried in the fine print of the guidelines.

 Anthology Scams

 Some contests promise publication in an anthology. The problem is that the anthology may never be distributed and you may be solicited to purchase other services such as editing, writing help, or publication services. Some anthology scams accept everyone who enters, publish the anthology, and then sell it to the entrants.

Don’t get me wrong, some anthologies are used as fund-raisers for worthy organizations, the contest is real, the judges are independent judges, and the publication is produced, distributed, and sold to the public.

 How Important is Winning a Contest?

 Winning builds confidence and credibility for you as a writer. It doesn’t hurt that if you win, you have some extra bling in your pocket. I like writing contest, they force you to meet deadlines, write a concise and compelling piece and get used to submitting your work.

 Here are my Seven Tips for Maximizing your Chances of Winning:

  1.  Write a compelling piece and start with dynamite lead- editors drop entrants with weak openings.
  2. Submit early while the judges are fresh. (Eighty percent of entries are submitted during the last two weeks of the contest.)
  3. Follow the guidelines precisely.
  4. If there is no length restriction, make your piece between 1,500 and 3,000 words.
  5. If it isn’t prohibited by the guidelines, add a short paragraph about you and your work.
  6. Have a clear theme, lively, memorable characters, and a conclusive ending
  7. Make sure the entry fee is reasonable for the prizes offered.

In my experience, poets seem to do the best job of submitting their work to contests. I have known many who have won several contests, been published in multiple anthologies, and gained new readers. Whether you write fiction, creative non-fiction, fantasy, or flash fiction, there is a contest or contests out there for you.

There is one rule about entering writing contests that trumps all others: “You can never get published what you never submit.” Peggy DeKay

I would love to hear your comments and experiences on writing contest. If you know of a great contest, email me at peggy@tbowt.com or comment below.


Keep on keeping on.

To learn more about self-publishing, up close and in person, sign-up for our The Business of Writing Summit held in Louisville, Kentucky on August 11-12. Three programming tracks, 24 presentations by experts, and our keynote speaker from Glasgow,Scotland — Andrea Gardner.

Here’s the link: http://businessofwritingsummit.com




©Copyright 2012 Peggy DeKay and the Business of Writing Today, All Rights Reserved

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Connie Williams June 22, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Great episode you guys. TOns of great information about entering writing contests. Hadn’t thought of doing that, but now I might try a few. Thanks for mentioning me and my book THiNKING CONSCIOUSLY ROCKS! debuting in Amazon’s Top 100 in Self-Help & Motivational category.
Connie Williams


Peggy June 23, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Thanks Connie, for the kind remarks.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: