Previously published by Net Author, Novel Advice, Gotta Write Network, and Writing Parent

Copyright 2002

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As a writer, do you lack discipline in completing and mailing out stories and articles to publishers?  When you finally do submit, do you receive rejection after rejection, and become frustrated and disappointed?

Discover the wonderful world of writing contests, and your life just might miraculously change.  Mine did.  Now, I am a published author in both print and electronic publications.  I conduct writer workshops, teach creative writing at a local college, and I’m an editor for Gotta Write Network. 

Did writing competitions accomplish all that?  No.  My writing did.  But contests opened a door that had previously been locked, and got my manuscript into professional hands without a writing résumé or publishing credentials.

Preparing for contests has forced me into a strict writing schedule in order to complete a project. I would’ve never written many of my short stories if I hadn’t been writing for a specific contest.  You don’t have to win.  Even an Honorable Mention becomes an award to proudly include in your résumé.

There are hundreds of writing competitions, but, as in everything, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Be wise.  Choose contests carefully, and enter based on the awards, reputation, how long a contest has been in existence, and what rights they claim.  If your entry is to be published, they may claim CERTAIN rights, but never relinquish ALL rights.   As the author, you should retain the rights to your hard earned work.

Here are some tips on researching contests:

1.  Read competition announcements in e-zines, magazines, books, and on websites.  Save potentials in a "Competition File." Choose competitions that are offered by well-known magazines, publishers, or organizations.  After entering, jot down the story you entered, where you entered it, and file the information in a "Contests Entered" file. Maintain a tracking sheet for the individual manuscript, as well as a master-tracking sheet for all pieces out for consideration. On your calendar, mark the date that results are due in so you can follow up.

2.  A few of my favorite websites regarding contests are:



You’ll be amazed at the number of the reputable contests waiting for your submission.

2.  Always compare entry fees to the prize. If a prize is worth $50.00, but it costs $10.00 to enter, forget it. I usually don’t enter contests that have a prize less than $100.00, or an entry fee over $10.00, unless it includes a membership or subscription to a popular literary magazine, organization, or is a well-known publication like By-Line Magazine.  Competitions should offer a monetary prize, not just publication.  Of course, the bigger the prize, the stiffer the competition will be.  Contact past winners (there should be a list of winners and honorable mentions) and feel free to ask questions about the competition before you enter.

3.  Many popular literary publications have writing competitions that not only offer cash prizes, but publication in the magazine as well, an awesome opportunity for new writers.  Every entry is read and considered regardless of past publishing credits. Visit some of these websites for information.

a. (Glimmertrain)

b.  (Zoetrope)

c. (The Amethyst Review)

d.  (Mid-American Review)

e. (Black Warrior Review)

f. (Crab Orchard Review)

g. (Writer’s Digest)

There are many more.  Excellent books that list contests and are updated yearly are Writer’s Market ( published by Writer’s Digest Books, Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market published by Writer’s Digest Books, The Best of the Magazine Markets published by Longridge Writing Group, and, for those young adult and children writers, The Ultimate Guide to Student Contests, Grades 7-12, by Scott Pendleton.

4.  Enter every free competition you can.  You have nothing to lose.

  5.   Check "Writer’s Beware" sections on the Internet for contest scams. A few good ones are:



  6.   Study guidelines. Many good stories are tossed aside and disqualified because of failure to follow guidelines.  Make a checklist and before mailing your entry, check off each item.

  6.  Some guidelines 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 competitions, like the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition, set out: "All entries must be original, unpublished, and NOT SUBMITTED ELSEWHERE UNTIL THE WINNERS ARE ANNOUNCED." Every competition is different. Again, STUDY guidelines very carefully and don’t disqualify yourself.

7.  Be bold.  Don’t be afraid that your writing isn’t good enough. How will you ever discover your literary potential if you don’t release it to the world?

8.  Request contest results.  If winning entries are published on a website, in a magazine, or anthology, read and analyze winning entries.  Determine what stood out and why they might have won.  I have learned so much doing this.

Okay, so you didn’t win or place.  Now what?  Evaluate your piece.  Was there something lacking?  Were the characters memorable?  Did the story flow?  Was it original?  Did you show instead of narrate?  Judges look for good opening lines, active verbs, strong believable characters, and flowing dialogue.  But if spelling, grammar, and sentence structure are poorly done, your manuscript will likely be rejected regardless of how good it is.  Be as professional as you would in business.  Revise your piece and enter it into another competition.  A large percentage of contest entries are from fairly new writers and unpublished writers—just like you.

I read an article by a writer who refused to enter contests because winners were based on “one judge’s” opinion.  On the same note, publication is often based on “one editor’s” opinion.  Again, what have you got to lose? 

All writers start somewhere. Competitions are a great place to begin.

Richelle Putnam is a former writer for All Headline News.  She has been published in Common Ties, E2K Literary Journal, World Wide Writers, Orchard Press Mysteries, Southern Hum, The Copperfield Review, Cayuse Press, Writer’s Journal, Obadiah Press’s Living By Faith Anthology, A tribute to Mothers Anthology, A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Daughters, and more.  Her children’s literature has been published on the Institute of Children’s Literature’s website, Writing Korner, and Wee Ones, Boy’s Quest, Appleseeds, and Hopscotch Magazine for Girls; Her work is soon to be released in Flashquake, Fireflies in Fruit Jars Anthology, and GCWA “Mississippi” Anthology. Her novel, Fallout, was released in 2000; She is the Founder and President of Mississippi Writers Guild.