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What’s your take on writing contests?

During the course of this year, you’ll see notices about dozens, perhaps hundreds, of writing contests. Organizations like Writers of the Future (now in its twenty-fifth year), offer their winners big prize money and prestige. 
Smaller competitions like last year’s 15th annual Graversen Award, run by the GSHW, can’t hope to compete financially, but although they offer far less money, they provide three, brief critiques to all entrants – invaluable to newer writers [not sure if they plan to do that this year, but I hope they will].
Magazines like Writer’s Digest and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine run monthly flash fiction contests, usually with a set theme or picture prompt.
Online, sites like Every Day Fiction hold regular micro fiction competitions too (I believe their next one takes place in February), offering contestants the chance of online publication and (I believe) a token payment. 
There’s no doubt that writing competitions are popular, but which, if any, should we enter? 
I’d love to know hear your thoughts on the subject: 

Poll #1515477 What’s your take on writing contests?

Do you ever enter writing contests?

Sure, but only if there’s no fee involved.
Contests shmontests. They don’t interest me at all.

What do you hope to get out of a writing contest? Please select one or more answers from the list below:

Bragging rights
Useful feedback
Seeing my work in print or posted online
Something else, which I’ll comment on below.

What, if anything, would entice you pay an entry fee? Please select one or more answers from the list below:

If it was for a prestigious organization/magazine.
If I was guaranteed to get something useful out of it, even if I didn’t win.
If it wasn’t too expensive.
If I could submit my story and pay the entrance fee online.
I would never pay an entry fee.
Something else, which I’ll comment on below.

Aside from an entry fee, what might put you off submitting a story to a writing contest? Please select one or more answers from the list below:

Confusing/ grammatically incorrect rules.
Unfriendly sounding rules eg: “If you ‘X’ your entry will be disqualified”, as opposed to “Remember, if you do ‘X’, we won’t be able to accept your entry.”
I had a bad experience with a previous entry to that organization.
I don’t trust the people running it.
Something else, which I’ll comment on below.

If you received an individual email, inviting you to take part in a the latest version of a contest you’d entered before, would you be:

Offended that you were directly approached.
More inclined to check out the details of the latest competition.
Less inclined to check out the details of the latest competition.

As for me, I already plan to enter two writing contests this year. I’m expecting the GSHW to announce entry details for this year ’s Graversen Award soon, but in the meantime, I’ll have to get to work on my drabble fu if I’m to retain the first place I won for my 100-word short fiction, Snake Eyes, at last year’s Write Stuff conference.   
How about you?
Which writing contests do you plan to enter in 2010?


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( 57 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Deleted comment)
Jan. 23rd, 2010 07:08 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I think having an option to pay via PayPal is extremely useful. One day I'd like to enter Writers of the Future my own self, if only to be able to say I did ;)

Thanks for sharing, Barbara :)

Jan. 23rd, 2010 06:36 pm (UTC)
I don't really do writing contests, for the most part. I don't like the idea of entry fees ("money should flow to the writer", after all).

Those contests I have participated in were among friends or markets I really respect (ex. Fantasy Magazine's "Blog for a ..." series and their Micro Fiction contests).

I've heard of some rare cases where a contest helps make someone's writing career, but those stories are few and far between. I prefer to have my stuff published in established markets where they will be seen by more than a handful of judges.

Just my take on things...
Jan. 23rd, 2010 07:25 pm (UTC)
I'm the same as Barbara, above. If there's an entry fee, I'd have to have an ulterior motive.

As a proud member of the GSHW, I entered their contest last year, partly to get three critiques from slush readers (which I though was a great idea), but mostly to help the group.

I doubt I'd pay an entry fee elsewhere, unless it was to help that particular organization and/or to help the people involved.

Thanks for the input, T.J. :)
(no subject) - southernweirdo - Jan. 23rd, 2010 07:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 23rd, 2010 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heleninwales - Jan. 24th, 2010 10:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 23rd, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
I don't do contests. They usually have these rules that turn me off, like mentioned above: your entry must be about..., must not be longer than..., cannot be accepted if...

I write what I want the way I think it should be done and I usually am not interested in the prizes they offer either.

And let's not talk about entry fees. How is a contest with an entry fee different from a lottery?

ETA: how is recognition different from validation? I know they are not the same, but I can't put my finger on it when I see them side by side like that.

Edited at 2010-01-23 06:50 pm (UTC)
Jan. 23rd, 2010 07:28 pm (UTC)
'How is a contest with an entry fee different from a lottery?'

Lol, I would hope the winning stories aren't selected at random :)

RE: recognition/validation

For me, recognition is external - someone else acknowledges you as a story teller, whereas validation is more internal - it's to do with how you feel about yourself.

Others may have different thoughts.

Thanks for sharing :)
(no subject) - nathreee - Jan. 23rd, 2010 07:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 23rd, 2010 07:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nathreee - Jan. 23rd, 2010 08:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - Jan. 23rd, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 23rd, 2010 10:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 23rd, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
I plan to keep entering WOTF until I win. (Yes, we cats are that vain). ;) I hope that my results so far (2 entries/ 2 HMs) are a sign that I'm in the right path.

Might try PARSEC as well, but that's a themed contest and I've got nada on this year's theme so far.

I entered another contest once, one with a fee that's no longer happening, and I didn't place at all. Oh well, move on. Only some time later I received a mass email from the contest coordinator. An angry email, replying to who knows whom why thair story didn't place, saying things like "no serial killer/ first contact/ [insert theme here]" stories. Not only was this unprovoked, mass email insulting, but if he didn't want to see said themes in the contest, he should have said so in the GUIDELINES. And he hadn't. One of my stories fit one of those themes he didn't like, and I felt cheated because I didn't know in advance.

And I hope that makes sense. It's late here.
Jan. 23rd, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
Persistence will win out. My GSHW friend, Pat Lundrigan (aka dandyfunk), won WOTF on his twenty-first attempt :)
(no subject) - silverwerecat - Jan. 24th, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 24th, 2010 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 23rd, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)
I think there are a lot of scams and glorified self-publishing schemes (like the anthology one you mentioned) out there.

I agree with you about that American Idol thing. When I used to go to Monmouth Writer's group meetings, we did 1,500-word readings followed by a round-the-table verbal critique. Most people at least tried to be helpful, but there was always the odd one who thought he/she was the Simon Cowell of the literary world.

(Deleted comment)
Jan. 23rd, 2010 07:47 pm (UTC)
It's a shame when slush readers/contest judges can't leave their ego out of a critique. I've always thought the goal was to catch someone doing something right and point out what you thought they did wrong, along with a suggestion for fixing the problem.

Mind you, I got three critiques for my GSHW story entry last year. They were all helpful to some degree. I might post them some time (they were all anonymous), just to show the difference in three people's opinion of the same story.
Jan. 23rd, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
My first novel (eventually published as STORKY) won the San Diego Book Award for Best Unpublished Novel. Though I got only $100 for winning, the contest helped me enormously. It gave me confidence in my writing, gave me some credibility when my manuscript was sent to publishers, and best of all, gave me a very useful critique that I used to improve my manuscript.
Jan. 23rd, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
Belated congratulations on that award :)

Useful critiques are worth their weight in gold. One of the things I like best about Flash Me magazine and Every Day Fiction is that they both give three (albeit brief) critiques for every story submitted. It's a great way to find out whether you're even on the right track, don't you think?

Edited at 2010-01-23 08:01 pm (UTC)
Jan. 23rd, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
I think any writer who enters a contest should know what they are getting into. Not all contests are created equal, IMO, Writers of the Future is the best contest an aspiring writer can enter.

As far as entry fees go, I'm strongly against them. Usually contest with entry fees have low payouts, so the contests ends up pocketing most of the money from the entrants.

You may also want to research if the way the contest is set up, especially if it's online, can result in the story using up its non-published status.

Any writer who enters a contest should know what they can get from it and know what they risk losing.
Jan. 23rd, 2010 08:07 pm (UTC)
I'd rank Writers of the Future up there with Asimov's so far as prestige goes, possibly higher.

I'm all for writing groups trying to raise some extra funds by running pay-to-enter contests, but they have to have access to experienced slush readers (the GSHW has plenty, in case you were wondering) and contestants will probably have to have some sort of 'connection' with the organization, whether directly or through someone else, before they're likely to enter.

Do you plan to enter WOTF this year, Aaron?
(no subject) - a_r_williams - Jan. 24th, 2010 11:18 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 24th, 2010 07:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a_r_williams - Jan. 24th, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 23rd, 2010 07:57 pm (UTC)
You probably know I've entered a contest before. In fact, I entered WOTF twice. But I didn't think of it that way...

Actually, I thought of WOTF as a 'pro' market, and simply sent a story when it got to that point in my submission path for the story. I got lucky, and one of my submissions won.

I'm not big on contests. Nothing against them (particualrly the ones that don't have an entry fee, are well-judged, and pay well), but to me a contest is simply another submission venue...and the lower paying, the farther down the list.
Jan. 23rd, 2010 08:09 pm (UTC)
'Actually, I thought of WOTF as a 'pro' market'

It certainly pays well :)

I never thought about it before, but you're right. We should think of contests as submission venues.
(no subject) - j_cheney - Jan. 23rd, 2010 08:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heleninwales - Jan. 24th, 2010 11:03 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 23rd, 2010 08:12 pm (UTC)
The only time a contest should have a fee is if a) it is explicitly stated as a fundraiser for a service or magazine that I support or b) there is a significant cash prize for the winner(s) and it is explicitly stated that the money goes into the prize pool.

When I first got started, I always entered the Glimmer Train and Writer's Digest competitions, vastly overestimating the "exposure" I'd get from being one of twenty finalists. Then I figured out that was how those magazines stayed in print... but it was never stated, "We make our living off unpublished authors."

If, for example, Duotrope or Ralan said, "We're broke, so we're running this short-story contest to raise money so we can stay online and free, and we've recruited Famous Author 1, 2 and 3 to judge so you'll get a critique," I'm there. If they said, "We're charging $10 an entry so that we can give the winner $1,000," I'm there. Other than that, I smell scam.

Also, I want to see previous winners' stories and genres listed. If the same ten people win every year and/or every story seems the same, I'm outta here. I like to win awards; I have a few of them and they are shiny. But the award is only as good as its reputation and intent.
Jan. 23rd, 2010 08:21 pm (UTC)
Fair points all.

I'm with you on the Duotrope thing too :)
Jan. 23rd, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
I participate in two contests yearly: writers of the future,and the Jim Baen Memorial competition. The criteria that helped me decide to submit to those two are: 1. Publication in a SFWA quality publication, 2. pay. The reputation of a competition doesn't hurt, but I steer clear of competitions that ask for money. The worst of which give the winners a fraction of the money, honorable mention to all other participants, and keep half for themselves.

I've been at conventions with writers who have no credits, but a large collection of awards from such contests and have fooled themselves into thinking they've made it. I figure that too many competitions are just aids in helping the writer fool themselves.
Jan. 23rd, 2010 09:36 pm (UTC)
'...too many competitions are just aids in helping the writer fool themselves.'

True, very true. When all's said and done, there's no substitute for a regular publishing credit.

Thanks for sharing, Tracy :)
Jan. 23rd, 2010 10:21 pm (UTC)
I have entered a writers digest contest - but mostly I don't do a lot of contests.
Jan. 23rd, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
I think those writing prompt contests are good for practising story-writing, even if you don't actually enter, but just use the prompt to get the old brain going :)
(no subject) - bodgei - Jan. 24th, 2010 03:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 23rd, 2010 11:03 pm (UTC)
Fair enough.

Thanks for the input :)
Jan. 24th, 2010 03:19 am (UTC)
Another excellent post! Okay, I have entered several contests, specifically, the one run by the Pikes Peak Writers Conference (I entered several times and got a 3rd place twice and a 2nd place once). I also entered a romance contest, I think it was called the Golden Heart or something like that, but that was mostly to test the waters of the genre, as it were. I entered the Amazon ABNA contest twice (didn't even make the first cut the first time, made it to the quarter finals the second time). I also entered a short story in a Writer's Digest contest.

Here's what I look for in a contest:

Is it a mill? That's what the WD contest was, I've decided. Yeah, they publish the winners in a book, but even with the low entry fees, they get so many entries, the contest is a real money maker. I will never do that again.

Is it run by a reputable group? Both PPWC and the romance folks were groups of other writers who rely mostly on volunteers to run the contest. The PPWC folks charge a fee, but they do award cash prizes. I don't recall details about the romance one, but I had no sense of being bilked.

What does it cost? If it's free, I'm less inclined to be picky.

What could I win? In the PPWC contest, if you make it to the finals, an editor or agent in your genre will read and judge your entry. That's worth something to me. In the ABNA, the winner gets published by Penguin, but the chances of a genre novel ever winning are pretty damn slim.

Is it specific to my genre or does it offer a category specific to my genre? If you write spec fic, you will have a hard time in a mainstream contest.

But the best thing about entering a contest, for me, was it forced me to refine my hook. Most of them have you enter only 15-20 pages, so you need to be sure you've got the reader hooked by then. That's exactly what you need to get an agent's attention, too.

Jan. 24th, 2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
'...it forced me to refine my hook'

That's useful.

As for writer mills, I wonder if some of them are started by writers who want to publish their own stories in an anthology, but can't afford to do so by themselves.
Jan. 24th, 2010 04:02 am (UTC)
Thanks for a very interesting post, I've never entered a contest before, and have learned a lot from people's replies. It seems that there are reputable contests such as WOTF, but there are also a lot of scams one has to watch out for. One thing I'd definitely do is to research the contest first to make sure it's going to be worth my while.
Jan. 24th, 2010 07:37 pm (UTC)
If you're dollars' aren't going to help a group/organisation/publication you care about, I definitely think you should look to get something out of the contest, other than just the chance of winning.
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