It’s probably going to come off sounding a bit condescending, but we wanted to take a minute to congratulate you. To us, there’s very little that’s more heartwarming than to see a younger person interested in writing. Now, we have no idea if you’re writing as a hobby or writing to ignore your math instructor. But regardless of your motive, you’re writing.
We’ve all been in your situation before. You’ve got this great thing that you’ve written. You’ve probably shared it with just one or two other people, but they’ve said it’s great. A story, a poem, a news article, whatever it is, you think it should be published somewhere. But where’s the market for that? News outlets want writers with experience, publishers demand a whole list of criteria that you likely don’t meet.
You’re smart in looking at fiction writing contests as an outlet for your writing. And because you’re reading this, we know that you know this. But just humor us as we tell you a few tips for entering writing contests for teens.
Ignore the Prizes
Whether you’ve got a job or you’re in school full time, you could probably figure out what to do with money you win from a writing contest for teens. Depending on the size of the contest, you could win anywhere from a magazine subscription to a couple grand. You’ll be tempted to enter contests based on the prizes available.
Don’t. You’ll do yourself no good by entering a fantasy fiction contest if you’re a poet. Choose the fiction writing contest that your talents are best suited for.
Think About your Reputation
This is one that we as experienced writers struggle with. There are so many publications out there that have less than pristine public images. We’ll tell you right now: choose your publications wisely.
Your reputation as a person is attached to whatever you put your name on. Do not attach your name to anything your grandma wouldn’t read. You hear? Don’t do it. We’re talking adult content. If you absolutely must do this, choose a pen name that no one will ever know, and then forget the name yourself. You can revisit the genre again later when you’re a more established writer, but steer very clear at this point.
Most fiction writing contests for teens will not include adult content, and will probably even reject submissions that contain it. But we can’t stress it enough: check the publication first.
Know your Audience
Okay, it’s pretty much one of the cardinal rules of writing, but in this case we’re referring to sending the right entry to the most appropriate writing contest. Like we mentioned before, you wouldn’t send fantasy to a poetry publisher. It’s a waste of time, both yours and theirs.
But knowing your audience can extend a little further than that. Is there a way that you can get your hands on entries which have won in the past? Do it! Knowing what the editors and judges are looking for is the first step in submitting a winning entry. Every publication has a preferred writing style. Some prefer a casual and friendly style while others cater to brainiacs who cherish 10 letter words.
It’s going to take a little research on your part, but it’s well worth it. You’ll become familiar with a broad range of styles, too, and learn something in the process. Reading does nothing but make your writing better.
Entry fees can be good things or they can be terrible. In most cases, a contest’s prize will be funded from the entry fees it receives. In fact, if you come across a contest with no entry fees, we’d suggest you check it out a little more closely.
That said, you’ll have to determine what you can afford. We know you’re writing’s good, but contests really are a gamble. For all you know, the judge’s second cousin’s nephew has entered the contest and is guaranteed to win. We’re not saying that judges are dishonest, we’re just saying that it could happen.
Determine what you’d like to do if the entry fee is more than you can handle. Are you going to wait until next year? Or are you really excited and want to ask your family for help.
Stay Away from the Big Books
We’re not going to mention specific publications, but there are several writing fiction writing contests out there that you should stay away from. They receive literally tens of thousands of entries each year, and guess what? Everyone gets published. That might seem like a win-win scenario, but your name is lost. You’re one of 20,000 other “writers” who have been published in the book, and you’d need a microscope to read your entry.
You’ll know these contests when you see them. They have “advertise-y” looking websites, and the sites serve no purpose other than to sell the Big Book. Just skip those. They’ll do you no harm, but they’ll serve absolutely no benefit.
A Few More Tips
Alright, just a few more things. First, make sure that you have someone look over your submission. Doesn’t matter who it is. You could hand it to your English teacher, show your mama, or get feedback from a friend. And don’t get mad if they offer you feedback, either. The truth is that you may have been staring at your story for so long that you don’t know up from down anymore. Get a fresh perspective, and even if you don’t make any changes, consider the advice.
Secondly, don’t let it hurt your feelings if you don’t win. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with what you’ve written. It only means that they preferred someone else’s. We have all been rejected at least a dozen times. Every one of us. Make sure that you still retain the rights to your piece, and just submit it somewhere else.
Which brings us to your rights. It doesn’t really matter if you retain the rights to your work after you submit it or not. That’s up to you. But just make sure you know what’s up. Some publishers will keep the publishing rights to it forever. Others will release the rights back to you after a period of time. And still others, though these are rare, will only have one time publishing rights to what you’ve sent them. Find this out before you submit, or at the very least before you try to publish it elsewhere.