Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Submissions: A Word on Writing Contests

My take on writing contests was first published in Tiny Lights, but it's been a while so I'm offering this update. A few years ago, at one of my MFA residencies, a panel of three literary magazine editors (from Tin House, Ploughshares, and The Gettysburg Review), unanimously advised: "Enter only free contests, never pay anyone to read your work."    

I wouldn't go to that extreme, but my own rules for entering writing contests are:

  1. Enter only contests that have been around for a while and offer some prestige
  2. Give preference to contests that award 2nd and 3rd prizes and honorable mentions, not just one prize;
  3. Get something out of the entry fee, namely at least a copy of the journal with the winning entries in it, or a critique of your entry.
I think there's merit in entering contests, having a deadline is one, the off chance of getting that recognition is another, but I do think one has to be cautious. Poets & Writers has good standards for listing contests, one being that they never list contests with less than a $1000 prize.

Your chance of winning a contest is much slimmer than your chance of getting a piece accepted if you spent the contest money on postage and submitted the same story to several different literary magazines. That's my new rationale anyway. Simultaneous submissions are standard procedure, all you have to do is keep good record of your subs and if your piece does get accepted somewhere, immediately notify the other publications.

What's your take on writing contests? Any missives you want to add?


  1. For me, they've been a great tool to show me where my writing weaknesses are. I've never entered to win only to learn.

  2. I've always felt that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain if you enter a writing contest. Should you be fortunate enough to place, it's a nice item to add when submitting the same piece to a magazine later on.


  3. I don't typically enter contests, but I like to host them once in a while. I held a short story contest on an online text-based role-playing game and gave away $25.00 for 1st, $15.00 for 2nd and $10.00 for 3rd.

    I don't do it so that the writers will get recognition at the publication level. I do it for the experience and the social fun that is had by all who love to write, especially my gaming friends online.

    We don't typically get a lot of entries when we do things like that, but it's still fun to recognize those who love to write. They aren't as intimidated with so little to risk at this level, and in a closed community like my gaming world, we are safe from scorn and judgement from those out there in the jungle! :)

    Great post!

  4. Great post Annette. I enjoy reading your point of view. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I enter contests frequently and I enjoy the prompts and different lengths of the stories. I find them a good way to get practice and I enjoy a challenge. And... if you win and get money and published, well that would be great!

  6. Shelly - so I'm wondering how you hear back on your writing from a contest? In my experience, my writing and my money usually disappear into Neverneverland.

    Nancy - what you have to lose is money! Most of the contests cost $$ to enter.

    Diane - sounds like you have a nice setup in your own little world there.

    The Desert Rocks - thanks, and I like your comments!

    Halli - Interesting, I don't think I've ever entered a contest that offered a prompt but I can see how that could be fun.

  7. I entered quite a few writing contests but they weren't ones which offered money- they were more for the 'practice' I got out of the contest. I think your rules for what contests to enter are very good!

    Thanks for the link- will definitely check it out.