Is It Worth Entering Writing Competitions?

Updated on January 5, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I teach creative writing to adults and I love helping my students improve their writing skills.

Are you at the top of your writing game?
Are you at the top of your writing game? | Source

Choosing the Right Contest

There are so many writing competitions to choose from. How do you know which ones to enter? Does winning one help or hinder your writing career?

Think like a detective and weigh the evidence. Does the competition organizer have any ulterior motive for running the contest? Look for clues, especially those buried in the small print.

Is a Particular Writing Competition Worth Entering?

Look Out For
Questions You Should Ask
Who are the judges? What are the prizes? Who can enter? How often is this competition run? Do you keep the copyright? Read the small print carefully.
Does the organizer profit from the sale of a “special” anthology? Who profits from entry fees? Does it target naïve writers? Is there a charitable purpose? Is it run by a genuine publisher or is a vanity press behind the contest?
Reach for the best prizes. Frontispiece of the 1922 edition of Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg.
Reach for the best prizes. Frontispiece of the 1922 edition of Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg. | Source

Is the Prize Worth Winning?

Before you start writing your potentially prize-winning short story or creative poem consider this. Why do you want to enter a writing competition? Is the prize really something you want to win?

I would want either a monetary prize or else the opportunity to gain public recognition of my work. Sometimes I support a charity’s writing contest because my entry fee will help raise money to support their aims.

If you are interested in winning a cash prize, is there anything in the small print that limits the payout? Perhaps it says prizes are only awarded if x thousand entries are received (where x is a large number). This indicates the contest is more about making a profit for the organizers than to recognize genuine talent.

How about your desire to be recognized as a writing genius? If this is your goal you need to review the judging panel. Are there well-known authors, poets and celebrities in the team? Are they writers you recognize and want to emulate? It is easy to check out their professional standing by doing a search on the internet.

Some writing competitions do not name their judges. Be suspicious. Maybe there are no famous names on the list. There may be just an inexperienced intern who has been told to sort through the slush-pile of entries. That kind of contest win could damage rather than enhance your writing reputation.

The video below shows a kid’s writing competition in the UK run by BBC Radio 2. It is one of the better ones and is well respected. Entry is free. The prizes are books for the winners and their schools. However, the real prize is the publicity and prestige that accompany the event. Many children enter the contest for the chance it offers to gain a foothold in the literary world.

BBC 500-Words Children's Writing Competition

In It to Win It

Some people love the adrenaline rush of competing. To them the thrill of sending an entry is enough. They never really expect to win. Occasionally, such a person wins and when this happens they deserve it. All their failed entries have been a kind of writing apprenticeship. Their “overnight” success has come after years of practicing their craft.

Diana Bretherick is one of these success stories. She won The Good Housekeeping Magazine New Novel Competition in 2012 beating 7,000 other competitors. Her prize was to receive advice and help to get her novel published. She is an enthusiastic writer and says entering so many writing competitions over the years increased her skill and confidence. She has the following tips for aspiring contest entrants.

1. Read the entry form with care and obey the rules.

2. Choose your competition with care. Target competitions that are compatible with your own style and genre.

3. Be prepared. Keep a bank of pieces available to enter competitions with short deadlines.

4. Know your judge. If they are authors familiarize yourself with their work. It could help you to understand what they are looking for.

5. Read previous winning entries to gauge the standard.

6. Keep an eye on the prize.

7. Never give up.

— Diana Bretherick author of City of Devils

Other Routes to Fame and Fortune

Authors are often stereotyped as being shy and retiring. In fact, writers enjoy a wide variety of temperaments. Performance poets are a case in point. They are writers who love being in the limelight. If you enjoy being in front of an audience, there are plenty of talent contests you can use as a way of getting known as a writer.

A English poet who achieved fame through appearing on a TV show is Pam Ayres. In 1975 she was a contestant on “Opportunity Knocks”. She did not win the competition, but her memorable comic performance resulted in invitations to publish and perform elsewhere. Her website boasts:

“Since 1975 Pam Ayres has sold many millions of books, record albums, CDs, and DVDs. She is one of the few authors who has had books in the Sunday Times bestseller charts in almost every decade since the 1970s. She is the author of several best-selling poetry collections, including The Works, With These Hands, Surgically Enhanced and You Made Me Late Again! Many of her poems are in school textbooks around the world including the UK, USA, China, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, South Africa, Ireland and Singapore.”

Poet Pam Ayres Reads Her Comic Verses

Further Information

Here is some more information about the competitions mentioned in this article.

The annual BBC Radio 2’s 500-word children’s short story competition is only open to residents of the UK. Entries are grouped by age (5-9 and 10-13) so young children have as good a chance of winning as the older ones.

The Good Housekeeping Magazine is just one of many magazines that run short story and new fiction writing competitions. Their requirements are usually very specific (length, topic, closing date) so you should follow your favorite magazines on social media to get details of current contests.

“Opportunity Knocks” is no longer on air but there are similar shows in production. If performance work is your forte then check out the websites of TV companies for the latest opportunities.


Submit a Comment

  • Eric Calderwood profile image

    Eric Calderwood 5 months ago from USA

    You are right about the contest organizers who just want to sell you an anthology of the winners. Some try to get you to pay for the anthology up front or you won't get one. This way they get a lot more orders by pressuring those who enter into thinking that they can't get one if they win unless they buy it now.

    I look for contests put on by a reputable name like Writer's Digest or some other recognized name.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 6 months ago from Queensland Australia

    Another interesting hub on the subject of entering writing contests, Beth. I have entered a few. The first couple I paid an entry fee but now only enter free ones.

    I did actually win one where I had to submit a love poem. It won the competition and the prize was to have it recorded as a song by a British/Isreali singer Tally Koren. She recorded a demo last year and sent me a copy of the CD, and in March this year she recorded the final version at Abbey Road studios.

    Another time I had a short story accepted for an anthology about post war stories and poems by and about veterans. I was paid $40 and given a copy of the book. So there are legitimate ones out there.