You May Already Be a Winner

Posted on 19 January 2011

In continuing my recap of my presentation this weekend, I’ll briefly cover what I said about contests. (Janet Reid and I must be on the same wavelength, because she just did a post on contests, too.)

Contests aren’t for everyone. I get it if you don’t want to spend money to submit your work. Everyone has to make his or her own decision regarding contests, but I happen to think they can be a good thing for literary writers. (Of course, I might be biased since my upcoming book publication is the result of a contest.) You can get some recognition and maybe even money just by being a finalist.

Some tips and my personal preferences:

Obviously, make sure it’s a legitimate contest. There really are scams out there, but they shouldn’t be too hard to spot. You should have contact information and/or a contact name, address, etc. How long has the contest existed? Can you locate any of the past winners? Find out who’s judging (the editorial staff? A guest judge?) and exactly what the contest terms are.

Make absolutely sure you’re submitting polished work. Remember what I said yesterday about only submitting to journals when your work is truly ready? That goes double for contests. It’s bad enough to submit something not fully cooked in general, but when you’re paying to submit it, give yourself the best shot possible.

I like to enter contests held by lit mags that I’m familiar with and would like to support. That way, I consider the entry fee a donation to the journal.

I also like lit mag contests that include a year’s subscription with the entry fee. Then, if you don’t win anything, you at least get some reading material out of it. (Which may help inform you on whether to enter the same contest again in the future.)

Are the entries judged anonymously? I prefer to enter contests that are judged blindly.

The entry fee should be reasonable. I wouldn’t go higher than $20 for a $1,000 prize (sometimes $25 if it’s a book contest). Most legitimate contests are in the general range of $15-20 for that kind of prize.

Read any and all fine print carefully and definitely don’t give up any rights or to your story or passively agree to anything else weird just by entering.

Finally, if you lose, it’s perfectly natural to Google the winner’s name. Fun fact: After notification went out about the James Jones Fellowship winners, I received a lot of new blog traffic from visitors who had searched for my name and my novel’s working title as listed in the notification. I also got plenty of hits from people looking for the winner’s name (which I mentioned on this blog). So if you feel like you’re stalking the winner, at least you’re in good company.

Good luck!

Photo: 3n

3 responses to You May Already Be a Winner

  • glasseye says:

    Another great post, Laura. And I was shocked to hear about that contest Janet Reid referenced on her blog. Pay? To sign over all rights to your own work? That’s insane!

  • Downith says:

    More great advice. Thanks.

  • lisahgolden says:

    This is great! A couple of people have asked me if I’ve looked at entering contests, but I have held back because I was afraid they were out of my depth or scams. This helps me understand what to look for. Thank you.

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