Writing competitions abound, and new ones are announced every day, it seems. Yet entering a writing competition takes time, effort and organisational skills, as well as distracting you from arguably more important things – such as writing and self-publishing your next book! Is it worth it? Debbie Young considers.
In a recent straw poll of ALLi authors, six key factors emerged as reasons that writers enter writing competitions:
- Earning the status of award-winning author
- Additional exposure for your work to a new audience
- The opportunity to have your entry published at someone else's expense (a typical prize in a writing competition, whether for novels or for short works)
- The endorsement of your work by a third party – a kind of substitute for the approval of a commercial publisher
- The value of a new writing prompt, if the brief includes a theme (I recently wrote some flash fiction for a project specifically about local government services – something I'd never been inspired to do before, but was thrilled when one of my stories was chosen for the winners' anthology!)
- To motivate you to write and complete a piece of work by a set deadline
But there are also lots of reasons not to enter:
- Time better spent elsewhere (e.g. writing and self-publishing your next book!)
- Fear of rejection (after all, there are likely to be far more losers than winners)
- Cost of entry fees, where charged (these can range from free to a modest to extremely high – while charging entry fees to cover costs of running a competition is fine, and also to limit entries to the best work of serious authors, I've seen many entry fees that are clearly exploitative)
- Slow response times – the conditions of entry may constrain you from sending your manuscript elsewhere until the results are announced
Assuming you decide that the potential benefits of entering competitions outweigh the risks, you can help yourself by making sure you enter only the ones that are best suited to your work, so that the odds aren't stacked against you. Useful points to check are:
- Find out who the judges are – do you respect their judgement?
- Is the game worth the candle – does the chance and potential reward of winning justify your time, cost and effort?
- Check out the quality of previous winners – would you be in good company if you won? (I've seen some winners' lists that looked like a warning against how to self-publish badly.)
- Check out how many winners there are – although a large number might suggest a greater chance of winning, if it looks as if every entrant wins a prize, the bigger winner is probably the organiser, collecting all their entry fees!
Read more advice about choosing and entering writing competitions in Chapter 8 of the ALLi handbook, Opening Up To Indie Authors, which I co-authored with Dan Holloway. The ebook is free to ALLi members as a membership benefit, while non-members may purchase the ebook online in a range of formats via our Shop page on this site.
Join the conversation via the comments box! What motivates you to enter writing competitions – and what deters you? Are there any particular competition successes that you'd like to celebrate here? We'd love to know!
“6 great reasons to enter #writing competitions by @DebbieYoungBN for @IndieAuthorALLi: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/competitions/”