Friday, March 25, 2016

Should You Enter A Writing Contest?

Today's post is one that I wrote for an online writing site. The information is still pertinent today for those who have thought about entering a writing contest but didn't follow through. Also for those who have done so a time or two but not on a regular basis. The three little guys above have the right attitude. One thing I should add to what is below is that you should try to check to make sure the contest is legitimate.

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? What’s in it for you if you don’t win, or what if you do win?

Many considerations come into play when I send my finest work to a writing contest. I’ve entered many contests and won in several--not always first place-- even Honorable Mention is a winner. You may have noticed that I stated “…sending my finest work….”  That’s important.

Find writing contests in writer’s newsletters, magazines, online and newspapers. Some require an entry fee. Many offer terrific prizes, while others promise only publication of the winning entries.

I didn’t enter writing contests in the early stages of my writing world. I didn’t have enough confidence and I knew my work hadn’t reached a professional level. Later, I sold some of the contest entry 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, competing against only a couple dozen people. I entered in several categories, and to my great surprise, I placed in each 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, but when the winners list arrived, my name was absent. Even though disappointed, I continued to enter the district and state contests, winning often at 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, though not a poet. I feared it was a waste of money as I had to pay a small fee. Winning first place surprised me. 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.

Since then, I’ve entered poetry contests at a few websites-- 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.

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.

A reading fee is the same as an entry fee. Some are nominal, and others seem quite high, but they offer a greater prize at the end as well as stronger competition. Each writer must weigh the options. Be selective, and an occasional entry fee is worth considering.

Adhering to contest guidelines is important. Time and effort go into the entries, so I check 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 more closely at the submission. It’s helpful but doesn’t always ensure a sale. For example, one of my stories for children won in three contests. But to date, 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 and analyze the winning entries. 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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