Writing Contests and Writing Competitions

Writing ContestsIt’s nice to summon the competitive spirit. As writers, we’re often huddled over a laptop, casting our thoughts and words to the digital wind. Our sole competitor remains ourselves and overcoming the challenges that an ever-shifting modern world has in store for those that dare put down the written word. But let’s consider something optional to our careers, and possibly the most overlooked. However, it may be the most important secret to bump your career up a notch or two.

What is it? Consider this: How often do writers get the credit we deserve? You may have wonderful bylines that lead to lucrative work, but how often do you meet the best in your industry? Better yet, how often do we test our mettle and skills amongst our peers to gain recognition for our literary works—fiction and non-fiction—that deserve a wider audience? That’s why you can’t afford not to enter writing contests and competitions.

Writing Contests: Reasons to Compete

If you’re on the fence about whether you need to give competing against your fellow writers, let’s look at some reasons why you might want to throw your hat in the arena:

  • Social proof: If one professional organization likes you, it makes you more credible to the common reader. You stand out from the crowd of other award-less writers—your social value is raised. Those laurels do compound, much in the way that wine that has won ribbons and copious accolades separates it from the others on the shelf. It must be good because they say so! (I can’t dispute that…)
  • Ego Boost: Mark Twain once said, “I can live two months on a good compliment.” It’s nice getting public recognition for our accomplishments. It bolsters our other work and self-confidence to make progress in our business. Winning an award might seem like a hollow need, but writers tend to be solitary. By winning a contest, it shows that someone thought that the quality of your work was better than other submissions and therefore worthy of praise. Plus, it puts a little pep in my step.
  • Fame and Credentials: Don’t forget that there’s the whole “professional angle” to this, as well. When wielded positively, fame can move your business in a better direction. Winning awards raises your social standing and your writer’s platform. It can lead to professional opportunities, where you can detail your methods by teaching courses, monetizing your blog, or speaking publicly.Awards function as a supplement to your portfolio. They also look impressive on your CV/resume/LinkedIn profile. Furthermore, like social proof, awards help dispel the initial doubts that clients tend to have when deciding whether you could be useful for their business.Additionally, if you’re seeking traditional publishers or a literary agent, it can’t hurt to have a particular award’s shiny gold-embossed emblem on the cover of your next bestseller.
  • Cash and Prizes: Last, but not least, is that these contests do pay writers for their submissions. Some offer lucrative prizes; Writer’s Digest’s Annual Writing Competition has a grand prize of $5,000, which the runner-up receiving $1,000—this is also not to mention interviews, discounts on membership (if not free), and so forth.Other well-intentioned award-givers may not be as well-funded, but how often have you taken the time to research how much a writer was paid for an award they’ve listed? You may receive token payments, but it still can fund another pot of fancy New Orleans-styled chicory coffee from Trader Joe’s.


How to Enter

I’d normally give you a recommendation and tips, but I think we’re all pretty good readers by default (you’ve read this far, haven’t you?). That being said, follow the guidelines to a “T,” boys and girls. And remember, not all awards are open-submission or free, either. You’ll either have to pay your dues or throw some money into the pot. Also, most contests and awards are given to previously-unpublished works. No double-dipping!

That’s all I say for now, unless you’re looking to sway then odds of winning in your favor. Then I firmly emphasize bribery. Fruit baskets work like a charm. What literary critic doesn’t like flower-shaped pineapple in a watermelon pram? I rest my case.

Where to Find ‘Em

So, we’ve discussed your motivations for entering the competitions/contests and covered the basics of how to enter. Now, it’s time to find the proper venue to host your impending success.

Let’s start with the most obvious and important location to begin our search for critical acclaim. The book that should be on every freelancer’s desk (or hard drive) is Writer’s Digest. Besides being the definitive resource for working freelancers in just about any type of writing-related endeavor (and also a handy nutcracker in a pinch), it also contains a fairly-extensive section called “Contests and Awards”. In this section, prizes are subdivided by genre. Here’s a list of what’s included:

  • Playwriting & Scriptwriting
  • Arts Councils & Fellowships
  • Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Writing for Children &Young Adults
  • General
  • Journalism
  • Translation
  • Poetry
  • Multiple Writing Areas

Whether you’re looking to put your poetry out there or get recognition for your translation work, there’s an award out there for you.

One great online resource is Poets & Writers online submission calendar. There’s no shame in sending your work far and wide for consideration, and P & W’s comprehensive calendar breaks down deadlines for contests by month, providing links to the awards pages, and making the task of submission a cinch. P & W also has their own series of sponsored awards, so it is wise to begin your search on their website.

Don’t forget that local community organizations, like non-profits, libraries, Elks, and so forth offer contests that cater to residents or those with submissions related to their cause. One quick Google search of my current state’s location (Colorado) yields a literary award called the Colorado Book Award for novelists. I’m sure you’re perfectly capable of finding these awards anywhere.

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Hopefully you’ve broadened your understanding of writing contests and writing competitions by getting this far in the article. I’m sad to say that this very potentially-prizing winning master that I’m just-about-finished typing and you are soon-to-finish reading will unfortunately be excluded from the professional arena. I know, I’m sad too.

The world is not fair. However, feel free to send any compensation my way via PayPal, (tom.senkus@gmail.com) or even your own success stories of how you made your mark in the literary world by winning.

Until next time, see you on the best-seller list!

(As a side note, I do accept fruit baskets.)

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