Congratulations. You’ve just completed the final draft of the children’s story you’ve been working on for months now. You’ve revised it so many times that you can recite it by heart. It has passed through your critique group and they even commented on how your characters leapt off the pages, into their hearts. With adverbs and adjectives at a minimum, active verbs immediately drew readers into the plot. So what do you do now: (1) Pull the “Children’s Magazine Market” from the bookshelf to find the right publisher to submit to, or (2) Enter your story into a writing competition for children. Why not do both?
Competitions benefit writers in many ways. As a novice writer, you might discover, as I did, that you lack discipline in not only completing stories, but also submitting them. Entering writing competitions will keep you on a strict writing schedule and force you to complete projects on time. Unlike fastidious editors and assistant editors, judges read and consider every entry regardless of publishing credits, plus you don’t query before submission, or have an agent.
There are many contests available to writers for children and young adults. If you don’t own publications such as, “Children’s Magazine Market,” “Children’s Writer Guide,” “Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market,” or “Children’s Book Market,” then check your local library. These books not only list book and magazine publishers, but writing competitions as well.
Also, take time to research writer e-zines, magazines, and websites for competitions that interest you, but be careful. There are scams out there. Always compare the entry fee to the prize. If the winning entry wins $50.00, but it cost $10.00 to enter, then it’s not worth the time or money. However, if the prize is worth $50.00 and costs only $4.00 or $5.00 to enter, by all means enter. Of course, the bigger the prize, the stiffer the competition. Always refer to “Writer’s Beware” sections on the Internet for competitions that have earned a bad name. Don’t enter them no matter how good they look. A few good websites to check are:
Here are a few of my favorite places to check for writing contests:
There are many more. Go to your favorite search engine, type in “Writing Contests,” and witness the opportunities available to you.
Create a “Competition File” to keep a copy of guidelines and deadlines of specific contests. Maintain a competition calendar, listing deadlines and result dates. After you enter a specific contest, jot down which story you entered and file it in a “Contests Entered” file. Keep a tracking sheet for every story submitted.
Enter every free writing competition you can. You have nothing to lose. Absolutely nothing.
Read guidelines CLOSELY. Don’t make serious errors by haphazardly scanning guidelines and being disqualified. That can be a hard lesson, especially when it’s a FREE competition. READ THE GUIDELINES, MAKE A CHECKLIST, AND DON’T SEND IT UNTIL YOU’RE SURE IT’S PROPERLY COMPLETED.
Just because you enter a writing contest doesn’t mean your piece is out of commission. Some guidelines may read, “No work is eligible for submission if AT THE TIME OF ENTRY, it has won an award or been published or accepted for publication.” Key phrase is “If at the time of entry.” However, some may read, “All entries must be original, unpublished, and NOT SUBMITTED ELSEWHERE UNTIL THE WINNERS ARE ANNOUNCED.” Each competition is different. Some contests may publish winning entries and therefore reserve first time rights. Others, like By-Line Magazine competitions, allow the author to retain all rights. Read the guidelines very carefully. I can’t stress that enough.
Many competitions are geared specifically for children and young adults, while others have no children’s or young adult division. Don’t ignore invisible opportunities. Three of my young adult stories that covered deep emotional subjects placed in adult competitions. Keep that in mind.
Never enter writing competitions to defeat other writers, but to improve your writing skills. Read and analyze winning entries. What set them apart from the rest? Character? Plot? Technique? Uniqueness? What? Study those entries like you would a classic in school. You’ll be surprised at how much you learn.
The Grand Prize entry in the 2000 Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, which had more than 19,000 entries, was a delightful, humorous children’s story entitled, “Up Ned’s Nose.” Be proud of writing for children and young adults and never feel that your work isn’t up to par. Opportunities are out there, even for the novice writer of children and young adult literature. My résumé was built on winning or placing in various writing competitions, and opened doors to other writing opportunities.
Accept challenges that come your way. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.