There are as Many Contests as There are Mythical Monsters
Just as Medusa is different from Cyclops, each writing contest has is its own quirks. Knowing what type of contest you want to enter is a crucial first step.
There are four ways to identify a contest:
1. By Format (Fiction/Nonfiction/Poetry/Essay) then Genre (Sci-Fi/Romance/Children’s/Etc.). Many contests span the spectrum and can potentially offer several ways to participate. (For Example: The Bridport Prize) Sticking with your comfort zone isn’t a bad strategy. However, sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone can strengthen your writing. (See my interview with Michael Grabell)
2. By Contest Sponsor. Each type of sponsor provides a different feel.
d. Clubs/organizations/libraries (NYC Midnight)
e. Contest websites (Fanstory).
ALERT: Dark creatures and vandals are looming. Be sure to research the validity of any contest sponsor.
· Pay attention to how long they have been around
· Do they post past winners?
· Do they explain what they do with your writing once you submit it?
Retreat quickly if you note anything suspicious.
3. “Open” vs. “Themed”. Open contests will take writing on any subject and with any style. Most contests allow you to write anything you want (Gemini Fictions contest). Many will have a few restrictions like no erotica or children’s fiction. ALWAYS READ CONTESTS GUIDELINES.
Themed contest provide some sort of prompt and participants all have to relate their writing to that prompt. (Fanstory [http://www.fanstory.com/], On The Premises [http://www.onthepremises.com/]). While both contest types require high quality writing and great stories, the themed contests add the extra criteria of how well you can incorporate the prompt.
4. By eligible participants. Contests can discriminate as much as they want. At the most open end of the spectrum, you have international contests, open to anybody. As an example of a more restrictive example, you might find a contest that is only open to women living in a small town in Maine, above a certain age. The more restrictive end of the spectrum is the hidden gem of the writing contest world. The writing contests that get the most attention will be the ones that get the most participants. By virtue of math, the more people you have in a competition the odds that you win go down. However, if you can find a niche competition, you might only be competing against a few dozen or so, and it can be a relatively easy way to get some resume boosters.
Your Writing Contest Oracles:
With all the assortment of writing contest, where do you begin to look? Thankfully, there are several great sites out there, and I detail each one in my blog.
· Winning Writers provides many niche contests.
· Poets and Writers is a treasure trove of literary journals.
· Just a Contest will send you email updates.
· Finally, Funds for Writers features helpful advice and warm editorials by C. Hope Clark.
· Add to this list your local library, and you will have a wealth of resources to guide you.
Expect to be Torched by Dragons and Wowed by Wizards
There are hazards in the writing competition world. Your work might be torn to shreds. It might not win, or worse, not even make the short list. You might get critiques that make you want to reconsider writing altogether. Do not fear. Do not lose heart. Use these opportunities as a metallurgist uses his furnace to forge a mighty weapon. Allow the heat to sharpen your edges. After all, these hairy beasties do not lurk only in writing contests; they prowl throughout the entire writing land.
Then scrutinize the victors. What ingredients did they put in their potion that made them so effective? Sometimes fate interferes (for example- if both the writer and judge enjoy chocolate covered bacon, and that’s the subject of the writer’s poem). More often, it is a risk that the writer took, or a voice, or a twist in the narrative that separates winners from the pack. Writing warriors are everywhere, and you can either let them push you aside, or push you forward.
Paying the Ferryman
If you are like me, you treasure your gold coins. Paying a fee seems like a good way to waste $25. I want to comfort you, and put your payment in some context.
· First, if you ever see a contest that offers feedback on your writing, that can make a fee worth it. Most editors start at $25 an hour.
· Second, paying a fee is something you feel, so it adds that much more incentive to write better.
· Third, if you wanted to attend a class at a university to learn to write, you would have to pay a lot more.
· Finally, prize money has to come from somewhere. Consider it good karma to make your contribution to the writing contest world.
If you want to know more about contests, judging, meet some winners, or anything else contest related, please contact me [email@example.com]. I wish you all the best in your quest. May you reign supreme.
Nate Worrell is the creator of The Competitive Writer, a blog about writing contests. He's been published in The Binnacle, Marco Polo Literary Journal and From the Depths. If he were a character from the Lord of the Rings, he would be an Ent.
Image Credit: By Boxiness (Painting using tablet PC.) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons