5 questions to ask before plunking down money for a writing contest


If you’re a writer, you’ve seen them advertised online and in magazines…contests offering money and/or publication for stories you’ve written.   For aspiring authors, these contests may sound like a way to break into the publishing world and earn a few ‘published’ credits, but are they worth the effort and in many cases, the entry fee that can range from $5 to $100?

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before plunking down the money.

1.  What is the prize?  Make sure it’s something you really want.  Also look at the prizes for 2nd – 5th place and see if you would be happy with those prizes as well.  Avoid contest with high entry fees and cheap prizes.

2.  How much does it cost to enter?  First, consider your budget.  Contests are like gambling, so don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.  Short story contests fees can run upwards of $40 or $50 for each entry.  Book entries can run closer to $100.  Before investing, research the publisher/magazine.  See if they are reputable and what their track record is.  Also make sure you read the fine print and make sure you’re not relinquishing all your rights to the story or novel.  Some unscrupulous publishers will do this.  As to fees, rule of thumb is try not to spend more than $15 for a short story or more than $35 for a novel.

3.  How prestigious is the award?  Does the magazine or publisher publish everything they receive?  If they do, it may not be the contest for you. Try to stick with well-known and/or well-respected magazines or publishers.   They have a reputation and will only print stories worthy of that reputation.  It will also boost your ego a bit more as well as provide a more reputable publishing credit.

4,  If you don’t win one of the prizes, do you get anything for your entry fee?  Some magazines provide 3, 6 or 12 month subscriptions to their magazine or journal.  If this doesn’t matter to you, then you can check this one off your list, but if you’re like me and would like to have something for your buck, you may want to consider some sort of ‘consolation’ prize.

5. Who are the sponsors, organizers and judges?  If you can’t find information you need in the “About Us” section of the contest’s website, email the organizers and ask for details.  If they’re reputable, they’ll respond. If they’re not, odds are you won’t get an answer or at best, it will a very vague one.  Also, if you can find out who the judges are, that may also determine if you enter.  If the organization is unheard of but Stephen King or J.K. Rowling is one of the judges, you may want to consider entering.

So have you entered any contest?  Have you won anything?

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8 thoughts on “5 questions to ask before plunking down money for a writing contest

  1. You’re right, contests can be a…. Not exactly a waste of time, but a distraction from the project you really need to work on. Writing to the contest can be like teaching to the test. At the same time, it could be a fun challenge, to see what you can do with a particular theme.

    But, as you said, it’s always a case of buyer beware. You can spend quite a bit of money and not get much for it.

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  2. I’ll add something, as I was a judge in one of these contests last year.

    Please, Please, Pleeeeeaaaase have someone beta-read your submission before you send it out. Be realistic. If your story does not have a story arc, a plot, or a character’s journey of any kind, then it is NOT a story. Don’t waste your money. I was dumbfounded that people actually paid to enter, with very little concept of craft.

    I’m not saying that craft cannot be learned. Everyone is at a different point in their journey… But why throw your money away unless you are ready to enter something like this?

    End rant. Sorry. I just hate thinking that people would enter contests when they are not ready.

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  3. Good questions to ask and consider when it comes to competitions. I’ve entered a couple myself, but only after really looking into the comp host and checking over the details. My short story, Final Flight, won first place for my state’s short story division, back in 2012. 🙂

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  4. I generally stay away from contests, especially pay to play ones. Mainly because I want to get paid. 😉 the contests to avoid–if you’re just looking for publishing cred–are the ones with cash prizes only. Sure, the money’s nice but you can’t claim it for anything and if you had to post it to a public forum, you just lost first publishing rights.

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