Are Writing Contests Worth the Effort?

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By Sabrina Berndt

I know some authors, mostly those without publishing credits, wonder if it’s worth the effort, time, and money to submit their work to various writing contests. They see their author friends submitting their work and earning cash prizes or publishing contracts, but may be wary about copyright issues or about the cost. Other writers, who may be writing contest veterans, may feel discouraged about their writing if their submissions constantly come back with rejections attached. If you’re one of these cautious authors, no worries. I’ll give you a few benefits and drawbacks and let you make your own decision.

Pros

Writing contests are excellent opportunities to obtain publishing credits, which can be helpful when submitting queries to potential agents. Agents want to see authors that are working towards their goal of getting published and feel confident about their work. It’s always a positive thing to enhance your resume! Additionally, a lot of writing contests will have judges that provide feedback on your work, allowing you to narrow down issues and correct them before shopping for representation. Although authors should invest in an editor regardless, contest judges can provide helpful critiques on major and minor issues with your manuscript, which can be a good guidelines for revisions. 

On a different note, I’ve noticed that some authors are afraid to submit to contests due to copyright concerns. I would like to assure those authors that the majority of legitimate and established contests will not distribute submitted material unless given permission. Leaders and judges of established contests can be trusted with your content.

Cons

The main criticisms I hear about writing contests are the cost, the time-consuming process, and conflicting feedback from judges. Contests can range in submission costs, from completely free to up to $100 per submission. The cost can add up for authors, especially those who submit to as many contests as possible to gain recognition. The process can also be extremely slow, sometimes taking several months. Not only is the time spent preparing, editing the submitted partial or manuscript and taking time to perfect the synopsis, but also spent waiting for a decision, which can take several months. Furthermore, feedback can be helpful, but only if it’s consistent. For example, I know an author who almost always gets conflicting advice from contest judges, especially regarding the manuscript’s genre. It can be frustrating and sometimes disheartening, but it shouldn’t deter authors from entering other contests.

While winning contests can certainly boost your writing resume and your credibility as a writer, it does not guarantee a future of being traditionally published. If you’re wary of starting the lengthy process, I would recommend starting with small contests to get a feel of the process. On the other end of the spectrum, if you find yourself frustrated with constant rejections, don’t get discouraged. There are many authors who consistently win contests, but still do not have a contract. It’s important to remember what your end goal is– are you writing to win contests or to become published?  

Sabrina is an assistant at Holloway Literary. Follow her @SlbBerndt.