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?!


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?


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!

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).

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