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Friday, 27 May 2011

Should I Enter Writing Contests?

It seems some writers are frightened of entering competitions. There are a number of reasons for this: some believe their ideas will be stolen by the organisers, some think the ‘competition’ will be too strong, some believe results are determined by who you know rather than what you write, and some worry that, without a theme, they’ll never be able to second guess the judges’ preferences.
In reply, I say: no organiser is going to steal your ideas (in which there is no copyright anyway), you can’t compete if you don’t enter and you’ll never know if you don’t try, this may happen in one contest in a thousand but the odds are against it, trying to decide what the judges will like is a waste of time; they’re looking for a strong voice with something new to say, that’s all.
Entry fees are sometimes a worry for some. I know of one USA website, which is very strong on writing contest yet advises writers not to enter if there is an entry fee. Rubbish! How are the organisers going to raise the cash for some of the substantial prizes some of them offer, if they make no charge? My only rule on this is that I would never enter a contest where the top prize was not at least 20 times the value of the entry fee. But you can set your own level. One other point: never, ever enter a contest that demands you sign over copyright to the organisers: no reputable organisation would make such a demand. It’s fine if the organisers wish to produce an anthology for sale and want to include some Highly Commended entries with the prize-winners to make up the numbers. Look on that as a chance to have your work published and to include it on your writer’s CV.
Writing contests are a great way of honing your writing skills and often make an excellent home for those stories or poems you haven’t been able to place anywhere else, no matter how good they are.
As far as trying to decide what the judge will like is concerned: this is a waste of time. I’ve come across judges who are romance specialists in their own writing but who look for anything but romance as prize winners. The only thing you can do is accept that contest writing is always going to be something of a lottery. Just turn in your very best writing; make it fresh and alive and ensure you have a real story to tell, not simply an anecdote wrapped up as a story. Remember; beginning, middle, end. There’s a reason for this rule: it’s been proven to work.
And, finally, many of the competitions will attract the interest of editors and publishers. Don’t you want a leg-up into that magazine or publishing house? If you treat competitions as opportunities and positive challenges rather than as something to avoid or fear, you might just surprise yourself.
I’ve won more money from contest prizes than I have from stories published in magazines. Which reminds me; time to get some more entries in.
Now, if you’re inspired, click on the ‘Writing Contests’ tab above and see if anything amongst the links takes your fancy. I look forward to competing with you for the cash and the kudos. Good luck to all those who try, I say.

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