“Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.”
—Hunter S. Thompson

Should You Enter A Writing Contest?

Recently I was shocked to discover that I am a finalist for the Marlene Contest!  It’s a contest sponsored by the Washington Romance Writers (WRW) chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA) and the category was “Romantic Elements” meaning the manuscript did not necessarily have to be all about romance but had to have romantic elements.

trophiesPhoto by Snap (Creative Commons)

Should you enter a writing contest too?  Below are a few things that I learned that may help you make a decision.

Writing Contests May Help Build Your Credentials

I am a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and one thing the group offers is a link to sample query letters that worked.  I was surprised by how simple the letters were, which made me ask myself—what made them stand out?

The answer was credentials.

Many of the writers had been published in literary journals or elsewhere.  But just as many were winners and finalists of writing contests, which is great for newbies like me!

Yes, you must win or become a finalist to get the credential, but I still think that’s logistically easier to accomplish than getting a short story or article published (if you don’t have connections).  Why not give it a try?

Writing Contests Allow You to Receive Professional Feedback

In most of the contests I entered, the prize was a free review of your manuscript from a professional author or editor.  Still, for a lot of contests you don’t need to actually win to obtain this feedback.  Often (if not always) the comments the contest reviewers made on your entry during the judging process is returned to you.

This is no small thing.

Getting a professional eye on your work can be an expensive feat and therefore a great bonus.  That said, as with any beta reader, you never know the extent of the feedback they will provide.  Still, before entering a contest, I definitely suggest that you check to see if  marked-up entries are returned to all contestants.

There May Be Other Perks

The Marlene Contest is a small contest sponsored by a very specific group; however, because I was a finalist I got first dibs on the agents/editors who will be attending the WRW’s annual retreat (where the winner will be announced).  This means that I will have ten minutes to pitch my story to some people I never would have met otherwise.  I actually didn’t know this was a perk until after the fact, but I’m really glad it is!  Who knows what other perks are out there?!

But…

The contest route may not work well for everyone.

First, while there are a lot of options for those writing romance novels or novels that otherwise have romantic components (most chapters of the RWA have contests), this is not the case for every genre.

In the Romance world, contests are great because you can increase your chances by finding the one that is the best fit for you (in terms of location, timing, categories, etc.).  However, if your manuscript is not a love story, I don’t think there are quite so many options.

But there are still contests out there!  Poets & Writers has a decent list.  I also suggest googling associations, contests, etc. in your specific genre or city–not everything makes it on to these consolidating websites.  And within the RWA chapters you may look for “romantic elements” categories that simply require that the manuscript have a romantic subplot of some sort.

The other issue is that writing contests cost money.  I didn’t see any that required more than $30, but that’s more than free.  So it’s not easy to employ the strategy of just entering as many contests as possible because that will add up quickly.

And There May Be Risks [Update]

A reader of The Write Practice made the fair point that many writing contests have fine print worthy of consideration before submitting an entry.

Some contests require you to grant the rights to your manuscript.  For example, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, which I briefly considered entering, requires entrants to grant exclusive first publication rights to their entries in all formats to Amazon in the “Grant of Rights” section of the official rules.  I am not an expert in this area of law so my advice is given solely as a writer and not a lawyer, but still–make sure you read the fine print before submitting your entry.

The blog Writer Beware has written posts about questionable contests on its blog.  As with anything that requires you to spend money, there is always a risk that it’s a scam, and that blog may be worth searching before entering.

Are you considering entering a writing contest?

PRACTICE

All this talk about romance makes me want to read some love stories.  Take fifteen minutes to write a scene with romantic elements.  Share with us below!

About Monica M. Clark

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

  • Normandie Fischer

    The Marlene offers great feedback, Monica. Congratulations!

    • Thanks! I can’t wait to get my comments back!

  • Chloee

    I jumped in the puddle my pink rain boots splashing water everwhere. I held on to my morthers hand as she walked up the steps to my friend Hunter house. The classic sound of the bell rang through the house and I stared at the door. “CJ!” He screamed. “Hunter!” I screamed back. He jumped up excitedly his floppy black hair moving in motion. He grabbed my hands and draged me upstairs to his bedroom. Superheros filled his wall. After playing like the excited drunk on juice six year olds we were we crashed on the beanbags. “CJ your pretty cool for a smelly girl”. He said grining. “Your okay for being a stupid boy”. I said. “Lets never ever stop neing friends okay?” He said sersouly. I looked at him and his big eyes. “Okay.”

    Fast forward 10 years.
    I stared at the big oak tree in my back yard the summer brezze drifting in the house. Hunter walked into my room with a football. “Want to go throw the fot ball aroond CJ?” “Sure.” His cocky grin grew wider. He gabbed my hand and lead me down the stairs. His black hair in a curly mess. So I was thinking of asking a girl out. “Really?” I said my face turning red. “Yeah.” “Who is it?” “Ummm maybe Sarah.” He said. His eyes darted across the yard. “Her!” I grew angry. “Why I mean come on Hunter she’s so stuck up and bossy and prissy.” I threwn the ball harder. It all made sense Hunter had stopped coming over to my house as often as He did. “WHY does it bug you CJ?” He asked. “Never mind just leave me alone.” I dropped the ball and walked away. “CJ Come On!” “No!” “Please I was joking!” I turned around. “What?” “You heard me.” “You were?” “Yes.” He came closer to me. “Really.” “Of course.” He was soon only about three inches wawy from me. “Sorry for blowing up like that.” I said sheeplshy. His brown eyes looked into mine sending a wave of what? He pulled me closer to him gently stroking my red hair. “It’s fine.” He leaned in locking his lips with mine. I slowly relaxed and threw my hands around his neck. After awhile He let go. I looked at him. “You know you a pretty good kisser for being a stupid girl.” He laughed. “Your a pretty good kisser for being a smelly girl”

  • Allow me to offer another reason to enter writing contests: you never know what might happen. Two months ago I entered a writing contest for the first (and so far only) time. After the contest I was contacted by one of the judges. She happened to be Content Editor-in-Chief for an indie publisher and asked me to join them. Two days and some emailing back and forth later, I had a publisher. 🙂

    • Wow! That’s awesome. Yeah, I think contests are also just another way to get exposure.

    • Brenda

      Thank for sharing that Jeroen. Congratulations. It certainly shows you never know whats around the corner, or in this case who is going to be reading your work. Awesome

  • Nita Couch

    My marriage was going down the drain rapidly. I was working my butt off and my wife spent every penny I made. Besides the money thing, she fought against me constantly about her sons and their behavior which I didn’t approve of.
    My only escape was through my contact with a friend on the internet that I had been corresponding with for about five years. She would listen to me and not form a judgement. It was so comforting to have someone I could talk to who really listened with an open mind and heart.
    After a stressful day at work, I came home to a barrage of complaints and accusations from my wife. I had all I could handle so I left the house and got a friend to take me to the airport.
    I called Rebecca and she agreed to meet me in New York City. I didn’t know what would happen. Would she even show up? Would I like her as much as I thought I would? There were a lot of questions going through my mind as I waited at the airport for her to show up.
    Finally, I spotted her coming through the gate. She was as beautiful as her picture. She almost took my breath away. I held my arms open waiting for a response from her. Suddenly she spotted me and she ran into my arms.
    All of my fears and worries floated away like a wisp of a cloud on a wonderful spring day.

    • Joanna Aislinn

      Hmmm. Would like to see how you would take this story further, assuming it’s a story. 😉

    • Thanks for sharing!!

  • Julie Davis

    I have had a mixed bag of experiences with submitting to contests, more positive than negative. Shortly after I started submitting short stories, I was contacted by the chair of one contest committee. I had come in the top ten but they were only giving awards to the top five. However, she wanted to know if she could submit my story to a journal she knew about. I said yes and I was published (although it was an online journal that didn’t last very long). After that, I read and researched and submitted and lost $10, $15, which started to add up. I NEVER got any feedback. So for the time being I’m going pfffffbbbttt! to contests.

    • I hear you, but that first story is pretty great–entering the contest got you published! But I think you’re right…it’s hit or miss and requires some research.

  • LisaYang

    Jack has a great job. He loves it, but if I were truly honest, I think I love it just a little more than he does. Or maybe what I really dote on, am infatuated with, can’t-get-it out of my mind in love with is the combination of him and his work, which suits him so perfectly.

    Jack likes writing at night and so I stay up late as well, but secretly of course. I watch him through the half closed door to his office. It’s beautiful to watch, all this passion that streams from his amazing mind and heart to his fingertips, manifesting itself on piles of paper.
    I am addicted to the silent scribbling noise of pen on paper, the sight of Jack caught in inside his own thoughts, a vast, infinite network of ideas, overflowing with creativity.
    I know that I am sharing my husband. He is not entirely mine, but I don’t mind because he was never meant to be and never should be. His gift is in charge of him, he is a lover, a writer drunken with love. Jack hides powerful words inside him, words he has yet to discover himself and I cannot wait until these words develop into a sentence, into a paragraph, into a story.
    There are times when I can’t contain myself. I approach him from behind and wrap my arms tightly around his neck, burying my head in his soft hair. Then I plant a kiss on his stubbled cheek and whisper a secret message into his ear: “You are amazing.”

    • Luna

      Absolutely love this!

      • LisaYang

        Thanks!

    • So beautifully phrased! Great story. Lots of great lines.

      • LisaYang

        Thank you Mirel!

    • Joanna Aislinn

      This peace exudes feeling. I was so there with this wife and how deeply in love and enthralled she is with her husband. Excellent.

    • Sweet. And very relatable. Thanks for sharing!

  • Congrats, Monica! That is so exciting!

  • Joanna Aislinn

    My first (of two) forays into contests netted me second place, a certificate, a check, a judge telling me to “go forth and publish,” and some brandy-new hutzpah to do exactly that.

    Landed a contract for my debut novel within a few months time.

    Not sure I would have taken that step otherwise.

    • Love it! And way to pay it forward by judging.

      • Joanna Aislinn

        I’m happy to do so, and keeps me connected when I go off course on other projects.

  • Monica, I’ve entered plenty of respected literary contests (happy to say one of the pieces received the finalist notification) but never once did they offer any sort of feedback as a prize. They just tell you whether you’ve been selected or not, and in some they say nothing at all. I wonder if it’s a specific niche or type of contest. Would you mind listing a few of the competitions that offer review or feedback as a prize?

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  • Eliese

    I know this is late, but the contest that I have found to be great is needleinthehay.net. It is free to enter and they have competitions going almost all the time. So in this case I would say that yes it is worth it.

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