Sunday, November 20, 2011

Have You Tried Writing Contests?

In a world filled with instant publishing opportunities, plenty of writers have opted out of the lengthy process of submitting to traditional publishers. Given the increasing number of authors who are choosing to self-publish short fiction as well, I’ve been wondering if authors are also giving up on submitting to short fiction contests.

Although novel writing has kept me from working on much short fiction these days, I still love short stories. One of the best things about short fiction are the many opportunities to submit to contests. Writing competitions, regardless of the length of your work, have many benefits that include:

. Finishing a piece. Many new writers have trouble finishing and polishing a work to the point where it’s publishable. Contest deadlines are great motivators.

. Stretching yourself creatively. If you like to read other genres besides the one you write in, what about writing in another genre?

. Gaining valuable feedback. Some contests provide feedback, which can be really helpful. Most of the stories I’ve had published were first rejected by an editor who offered helpful comments and asked to see the piece again.

.Winning cash, or even placing, shows that you’re on the right track, and who couldn’t use some extra money?

. Gaining publishing credits for your CV. Editors and agents do take these into consideration when you’re submitting work.

. Selling the piece elsewhere. Some of my favorite contests are those that will offer a cash prize, but not publish the work. If you win a cash prize, great! But it’s even better if you are free to submit your piece to other paying markets.

. Building a collection of short fiction. Over time, you might want to consider publishing a collection of your work, particularly if you’re building a readership.

. Working with editors who might accept your work in future. Creating a professional relationship with an editor is a good business move. Even if your piece doesn’t win, or place, helpful comments and a possible invitation to submit other work is a foot in the door.

There’s always been debates about whether to submit to contests that charge fees or not, and I’ve done both, depending on the contest. As a general rule, I submit to contests if the fee is reasonable for my budget, and if the prize money is substantially more than the fee. In other words. A $10 fee might not be worthwhile for me if the prize money is $100 for the winner but nothing for second or third place finishers.

If the magazine sponsoring the contest is new or unknown, do your research to see if there are past winners, or if there are red flags. Some contests (and poetry has been notorious for them in the past) are nothing more than scams. Be sure to study the contest deadlines. Many are understandably strict about word length, whether the work is previously published (and that definition can be different among contests), and submission date. If you’re submitting to a number of contests, keep detailed records, as it’s often up to you to know when the results come out. For many contests, if the results announcement date has past and you haven’t heard anything, you didn’t win. Some will email you a list of winners, but not all of the contest coordinators do. Contests should be specific about when results will be announced. If they aren’t find out. If they won’t tell you, think twice about entering.

Be professional. Don’t argue with the judges's decisions, or complain about it on social networking sites. Contests are subjective, with perhaps one to three people judging. You can write a great story, follow the guidelines, and still not even place. But so what? You’ve still gained more than you lost. You have a polished piece of work you can either submit elsewhere, or build into something you never dreamed of before the contest began.

There are too many contests to list here, but if you Google contest guidelines for your genre, you’ll find a good start. Many writers’ organizations have websites with links to contests as well. They’re not hard to find with a bit of research, so go for it, and good luck!

THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, now available for iphones, iPads, and iPodTouch at Also available in paperback at

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