There’s always a struggle in deciding how much time you need to focus on your “break out” novels versus writing shorter works for competitions. I hear you asking, “I want to be a serious author, so why waste time entering writing contests when I could be pitching to agents?” Well, dear reader, simply because it’s worth it.
Satisfaction. There’s no other feeling in the world quite like that warm fuzzy feeling you get when someone likes your writing. It’s so much greater when someone likes your writing above hundreds of competitors. You worked hard on something, and recognition is the greatest flattery a writer can get.
Publication. Whether it’s a national periodical or a small online magazine, being published is not an arbitrary thing. You can list it on your query letter, use it to leverage further publications, and brag about it in your mother’s Christmas newsletter. Besides the status of being an official published author, you get to enhance your readership.
Readership. Growing your readership is one of the best things a new writer can do for their writing career. The more people are exposed to your work, the more likely they’ll recognize your name when they see it again and will want to read your next story. So when you finally get a publishing deal, you’ll already have a fan base waiting for you.
Assessment. Some judges will give feedback on your work, and a lot of times those judges are acclaimed authors themselves—maybe even one of your favorites. What an honor to get some feedback from one of your idols, even if it’s just a short critique.
Another way writing contests’ assessments work in your favor is that competitions are judged without names attached to the submission. This means that your piece is judged right alongside popular, successful authors without having their names influence their score. You can truly see how well you stand up against the polished craft of a professional. It’s skill against skill, no pageantry involved.
Relationship (with an editor). This one is a hit and miss, I’ll confess. But sometimes, if you win or are a finalist in a writing contest, you get to meet the editors of the publication. I’ve heard plenty of stories of how writers have met editors through competitions and through that introduction started a long relationship of writer and mentor, ultimately benefiting their career because of their compatibility.
Deadlines. I’ve talked about the importance of deadlines in a previous post, but writing competitions are a tangible date to race against if you’re having a hard time setting a personal deadline. Knowing that you have to submit your finished story by December 16th is just the kind of fire under our pants we sometimes need.
WHAT KIND OF CONTESTS ARE OUT THERE?
There are all kinds of contests out there for writers! Just search “writing contest” into your browser and hundreds of submission sites will pop up. Worried that you don’t write “contest worthy” material? Don’t be. There’s a contest for every genre, of every medium, in every word limit imaginable.
The most popular form is still the short story (1,000-7,500 words). Some magazines specialize in science fiction and fantasy, while others accept general fiction submissions or even creative essays. A medium on the rise in the writing contest world is flash fiction (100-1,000 words). Flash fiction is a great way to tell a powerful story in a compact form. Plus, they take a fraction of the time to write and garner just as many readers (some would argue more) than short story contests.
YES, YES—BUT WHERE DO I FIND THEM?
Like I said, it can be as easy as searching Google for a competition that fits your style. However, there are some sites that host a list of various contests you can enter. And in case you didn’t click on any of the links above, check out some of them below. Good luck writers!
Poets & Writers’ Submission Calendar – an excellent go-to source for submissions of every kind all throughout the year. They keep their calendar up to date and are constantly updating it, though it isn’t an exhaustive list.
The Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition – unfortunately this year’s submissions are closed, but look forward to 2017! Check out the guidelines and the cool prizes you can win.
Writers of the Future – attention all Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers out there! This is the contest for you! You must be an amateur writer to enter, but winning this award is an almost guaranteed career-starter.
The Writer Magazine – the site hosts its own short story contest, but also links to other contests that may interest you.
Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize – from the website: “A $12,000 advance and publication by Graywolf will be awarded to the most promising and innovative literary nonfiction project by a writer not yet established in the genre.”
The First Line – for each season, writers are given the first line of their story story. Everyone then submits a story inspired by this line, and the most creative win the contest and get published! It’s pretty neat, open to any genre.