Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Should You Enter A Writing Contest?

I've been seeing a lot of calls for contest submissions lately. It brought to mind an article I wrote for a writers website awhile back. Thought it might help you sort out whether to submit your work to a contest or not.

 Contests Calling—Should You Enter?
By Nancy Julien Kopp
 Have you ever wanted to enter a writing contest but talked yourself out of it? Ever convinced yourself you weren’t good enough to enter a writing contest? Maybe the answer is yes to at least one of these questions, possibly both.

But why enter? What’s in it for you if you don’t win? What happens if you do win?

Many considerations come into play when I send my finest work to a writing contest. I’ve entered a good many contests, and I’ve won in several--not always first place, but a
place. Even Honorable Mention is a winner. You may have noticed that I stated
“…sending my finest work….”  I try to send the best qualifying piece for that particular contest.

I look for writing contest announcements in writer’s newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. Some require a fee and others ask for nothing more than the prose or poetry I plan to submit. Many offer terrific prizes, while others promise only publication of the winning entries. Publication may be prize enough, especially for beginning writers.

I didn’t enter any writing contests in the early stages of my career. For one thing, I didn’t have enough confidence and secondly, I knew my work was not professional enough at that point. As time went on, I began to get acceptances for some of the articles, stories and poems I submitted to editors. Oh sure, I got plenty of rejections, but my confidence level moved up a notch with each acceptance. Once my work began to sell, I thought more seriously about entering contests.

I submitted my first contest entry at the district level of my state authors’ organization. I competed against only a couple dozen people. It proved a good place to begin. I entered something in several categories, and to my great surprise, I placed with everything I’d entered and won small amounts of cash. The state contest offered bigger cash prizes, but also greater competition. I entered my prize-winners from the district contest, and when the winners list arrived, my name was absent Though disappointed, I continued to enter the district and state contests in successive years, and while I nearly always won at the district level, it took a few years before I saw results at the state level.

 One year, I entered a poem in the theme category of the state contest, even though I have no formal training in poetry. When I sent it in, I wondered why I even bothered. I feared it was a waste of money as I had to pay a small fee for each entry. Imagine my surprise when my poem won first place. If I’d talked myself out of sending the poem, hadn’t wanted to waste that entry fee, I’d never have had the pleasure of winning nor of cashing the very nice check that arrived with my Award Certificate.

I’ve entered poetry contests at a couple of websites. They required no entry fees so I had nothing to lose. I won first place with a poem about my granddaughter at a writers’ website, and I won third place and two Honorable Mention awards at another website’s poetry contest three successive years. I learned that you can’t win if you don’t enter.

Besides the prizes, recognition comes with publication of the winner’s work. Editors sometimes look at winners in contests and offer to purchase the entry for their own publication. The first time I attended our state authors’ convention, more than one person remembered my name from the prize winners lists of the previous years.

Some contests call their entry fee a reading fee, but it’s the same thing. Some are nominal, and others seem quite high, but usually the higher the entry fee, the greater the prize at the end but also stronger competition. Each writer must decide if it’s worth the fee to enter. If I enter a contest every week, those fees will add up to more than I might win. But if I’m selective, an occasional entry fee would be worth considering.

Adhering to contest guidelines is important. I know if I don’t follow them to the letter, it’s more than likely that my story or article will get tossed. Time and effort go into
the entries, so I check guidelines carefully and give my work a winner’s chance. If there is a theme to the contest, I try to make sure the entry fits. If single-spaced, non-indented paragraphs are called for, I don’t send a double-spaced manuscript.

Want another reason to enter contests? If I pen a winner, it’s a great addition to my cover letter when I submit the piece to an editor. Most will take note of such an announcement and may look a little more closely at the submission since it proved to be a winner. It’s helpful but doesn’t always ensure a sale. For example, one of my stories for children won at the district level of my state author’s group, it won at the state level, and it won at another online contest. A couple of critique groups praised the story, too. But, so far, it hasn’t sold.

So what are you waiting for? Check out the myriad writing contests and send your best work. If you don’t make it the first time, try again. Read the winning entries and ask yourself why it won and yours didn’t. Entering contests is no different than submitting your work to an editor. Both require patience and persistence. Start with the smaller contests and before you know it, you’ll be ready to enter bigger ones. There’s nothing to lose, and the payoff may be a prize or an impressive clip for your portfolio.

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