Writing competitions can be a fun way to hone your writing skills and, if you’re lucky, get your work published. Plus they may also come with a financial reward – cha-ching! And whilst there’s no magic winning formula I can share, here are a few practical bits of advice about entering.
1) Plan well
You can easily find loads of writing competitions online on sites like Creative Writing Ink, Writers Online and Prize Magic. You may also find them in newspapers and magazines, even ones that aren’t specifically about writing. Wherever you find them, make sure you research each competition so you know they’re legitimate. Take note of closing dates and be realistic about whether you’ll have time to write and edit something in time. If you’ve got old writing stashed away, have a look and see if there’s anything suitable you could spruce up and enter – it can be easier than coming up with an idea from scratch.
2) Stick to the rules
Give the competition rules a good read through and stick to them. Now is not the time to be rebellious by throwing in something with 4,000 words when they’ve asked for 2,000. Competitions with lots of entries will look for any way to quickly cut down the entry pile, and if you don’t follow the rules, you’ll be out on your ear.
The competition rules are for your benefit too. Aside from the basics like closing date, word count etc they can also include eligibility criteria such as if they competition accepts work that’s currently submitted elsewhere. And importantly they should explain what happens to the rights of your work once you submit it or if it’s published.
3) Research previous winners
If a competition has been on before, you may be able to read the previous winner’s work. This is a great opportunity to see what kind of writing the judges have gone for in the past. There’s no guarantee the same thing will win every year and judges do change, but it gives you an idea of the kind of content that does well in certain competitions.
4) Keep track of what you’re doing
If you plan on entering a lot of competitions, it’s worth keeping track of them so you don’t accidentally submit work incorrectly. A simple spreadsheet or notebook is all you need. Include the title of work you’ve submitted, the competition closing date and most importantly the date you’d expect to hear from them if you’ve got anywhere. Once this has passed, you’ll be free to submit that piece of writing again.
5) Expect an entry fee
Competitions usually ask for an entry fee to cover their costs. This can be anything from a couple of pounds to double figures for popular competitions. Always do your research into the competition before you part with your hard-earned moolah. A couple of pounds may not seem much in itself, but imagine that times a few thousand and you can see why it would be an attractive scam – but don’t get any ideas!
6) Be picky – but not too picky
Being selective about the competitions you enter is a good thing. It costs time and money after all so there’s nothing wrong with boosting your chances by picking what you’re best at. But writing competitions can also be a great way to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. I moved away from my usual fantasy/horror roots and attempted romance once (which was interesting). Stretching yourself will help you develop your writing and you may even find you enjoy it!
7) Have fun
Remember what I said at the start? Writing can be hard, but when it becomes a chore, it’s time to take a break. If you’re entering competitions purely to win, you’ll be disappointed but of course, everyone likes a bit of recognition. Don’t forget that judges are people with their own preferences. Just because they didn’t choose your entry doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. Try to focus on your personal development and think of any prizes as just a nice bonus.
Do you enter writing competitions? Got any tips you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!
Good advice here! I’ve entered a few competitions over the years. Once I won a T-shirt 🙂 Your suggestion to research previous winners is important, as well as to research the competition and judges. I’ve heard some stories about contests where the entry fees are collected and then no winner is announced. The competition should have a history that can be easily followed to determine whether the comp is legitimate.