The Ins and Outs of Writing Contests

Writing contests are great for writers for many reasons. Here are some of the top benefits:

  • You can add a final, short-listing, or win to your resume.
  • You can get your work in front of an editor or judge. If you have been targeting an editor and they are on the panel judging a contest, this can be a way of getting his or her attention.
  • You can receive useful advice. Don’t always expect feedback from judges, but if you get it, it can be invaluable.
  • Winning or placing in a writing contest can be profitable. Winning a paying prize can earn you anything from a few dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • They can motivate you. Writing contests very conveniently provide you with a theme, an audience, a recommended word count, and a deadline.
  • Submitting to contests is good practice. Following instructions and submitting stories in an appropriately to agents and editors will improve your chances of favorable responses.
  • You can use the publicity from a contest win to promote your previously published work.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t win or you are not shortlisted for a prize. Not placing doesn’t mean that your work wasn’t good. It tells you that there was competition.

And remember that the winners of most writing competitions are chosen subjectively. Your work may not have connected with a particular judge this time, but next time it may. Your work may have been too thematically similar or dissimilar to other work accepted by one contest, but another contest may need a story just like yours.

How to Improve Your Chances of Winning a Writing Contest


Judges’ number one complaint about submissions is a lack of proofreading. Check spelling and grammar. Ask someone to read your story through before the judge does.

Eliminate excessive backstory.

Judges will be reading a lot of stories. You can make yours engaging by avoiding lengthy scene setting and character histories. This is not to say that you can’t set the scene or describe your characters; only that you can do so at the same time as moving the story forward.

Get to the point.

Get to the heart of the story quickly. Use your characters’ actions to tell us about them and drive the story at the same time.

Describe your setting succinctly. Have your character interact with the environment to tell the reader about both things at once.

If you’re writing a romance, don’t leave it until the last paragraph to have your characters meet.

Enter the correct genre.

Your speculative fiction idea is probably not suitable for a memoir contest. Reading contest guidelines carefully and following the instructions will put you ahead of much of the competition.

Finally, be aware that some competitions exist solely to make money from entrants who are asked to purchase copies of the anthology. They offer little in the way of compensation.

Look out for reputable competitions that have been going for a few years or are associated with reputable sites, magazines, and judges. With some research beforehand, entering writing contests can be a great way to hone your craft and promote your work.