Like me, many of you have probably, on more than on occasion, stared blankly at your laptop and thought to yourself, should I throw my hat in the ring?
I am talking about writing competitions. There are many different types of contests out there for emerging writers. They include:
· Book contests (for chapter books, and unpublished full length manuscripts)
· Poetry contests (for individual poems)
· Short story contests (for individual stories)
· Essay contests (for non-fiction)
· Local/Regional contests (for writers from a certain area or country)
· Identity-specific contests (for writers of under respected groups in the community)
Most writing competitions work like this: You pay a small fee to submit your work. The fee goes towards the contest payout. Some are free to enter. You submit your work and wait to hear back. The submissions are read by the judges, which may include agents, editors or publishers. Often, it’s the slush readers that are used to filter the best work up to the editors. When the outcome is announced, winners are contacted and those who didn’t make the cut are rejected. Most competitions are run annually and the winner usually receives either a cash prize, mentorship, or publishing deal.
This is one genre where competitions can be a godsend in way of getting your work out there. I will tell you why. This is the kind of writing that is otherwise, often hard to get traditionally published.
It would cost them more to publish an experimental book of poetry because it’s much harder to market. Publishers would be asking themselves, who is going to buy this? If you are not a celebrity or an already well established author with a great following, it would be near impossible to be picked up for publication. If you are a poet who is querying, you would have noticed how many agents accept poetry. It’s close to nil.
These competitions accept submission of one shorty story. This may also include flash fiction and there is often a theme. There is usually a cash prize and publication of your short story.
When deciding whether or not to enter one, consider how well known the competition is? If it not widely known, it is unlikely to draw attention to your writing from agents or publishers. Granted it will be a huge ego boost, but no one will notice you.
One way to get your short stories noticed is to submit widely and often to literacy journals and magazines. Build a name for yourself that way. If you were to consider publishing a compilation of your short stories somewhere down the track, agents can see that you have been published in reputable magazines and journals.
This takes a lot of work, but can be better than spending lots of money on competitions.
Breaking into traditional publishing is tough. Getting a toe in the door is difficult, never mind a whole foot.
The traditional route involves querying agents in the hope of representation. The agent then pitches your book to publishers, hopefully landing a publication deal. You can also send your unsolicited manuscript into publishers’ accepting submissions, but lets be honest, you have more of a chance of winning the lottery than being selected for publication from the dreaded slush pile.
Competitions where the prize is a mentorship, manuscript assessment, or publication deal, can be one way to get past the gate keepers and have your work read by an editor, agent, or publisher. A few examples of these types of competitions include;
· Pitch Wars
· The Richell Prize for Emerging Writers
· Banjo Prize
· The Fogarty Literary Award
Most competitions are split into pre-publication and post-publication. Pre-publication is for unpublished manuscripts and post-publication usually involves entering a book published in the previous 12 months or so.
If you’ve published a book in the last year, I strongly suggest that you or your agent/publisher send it to award contests for published books. This is a great way to get noticed. If you are self published, winning one, or even being shortlisted, can help you find an agent.
How do you know the competition is reputable?
SFWA’s Writer Beware is run by Victoria Strauss and is a great resource for checking out contests. If the contest is red flagged on this site, stay clear
Is the website professional?
Are the guidelines clear?
Who are the judges?
What do you get if you win?
Avoid ones with high fees. A fee over $50 is a bit steep
What makes a good competition?
What makes a good competition is what you stand to get out of it: not financially, but in relation to skill development. How far out of your comfort zone will it take you? Will it challenge you and help hone your skills as an author? If it will and it’s within your budget, then in my opinion, it’s worth a try.
So, if you have decided to enter a writing competition, I wish you all the luck. I intend to enter Pitch Wars myself next year. Got to be in it, to win it, right?