Think of writing contests like your favorite board game. They should be fun to play and even more fun to win. But like Monopoly, if you don’t have a solid strategy, you may end up broke. Alright, enough with the metaphor, let’s dig in to some writing contest strategies and considerations:
For free contests, my advice is simple: SUBMIT! You have nothing to lose. But, do keep in mind that free contests often draw large numbers of submissions, so your chances of winning are slim. For paid contests, there are a number of considerations that you should weigh before deciding if you should submit or not:
1. What is the cost-to-winnings ratio?
Do you have to pay $20 for a chance to win $200? Or do you have to pay $5 for a chance to win $5,000? That’s a big difference.
2. How well do you know the organization or publication hosting the contest?
It’s best to have a solid understanding of what the organization stands for, the type of writing they publish, and what they are looking for in a contest submission.
3. How does your writing compare to past winning entries?
If available, read past winning entries. Is your writing up to par with past winners? Does your writing have similar themes or forms?
4. How many submissions will this contest receive?
Check for submission caps. If the contest is limited to a specific number of submissions (say 300 or 500 submissions) that is potentially a lot less than a contest without a cap. Some writing contests receive up to 2,000 submissions. Obviously, the chances of winning decrease when the number of submissions increase.
5. Does this contest recognize only one winner or multiple? Do they post a long list and a short list?
When contests offer multiple prizes/winners instead of just one, this increases your chances of winning something. You can also check to see if they announce a long list and a short list of entries. Being recognized in the long list or short list can be a writing resume boost, even if you’re not selected as the top winner.
6. How does this contest handle things like deadlines and notification of entrants?
When contest organizers continually extend the deadline for the contest, it’s a way to increase the number of submissions (decreasing your chances of winning).
Additionally, contest organizers should notify entrants of the status of their submission via email before announcing the winners on social media or their website.
7. If there is a guest judge, what do you know about that person?
You'll want to find out what you can about the judge and read some of their work to get an idea of what they might like. Consider if your work is a good fit with their preferences.
8. Is your potential submission (poem, story, essay) the best that it can be?
As a general guideline, I don’t submit something to a contest unless I feel it is one of the best things I’ve written, and it has been reviewed by at least three other people.
9. How much money do you want to spend on contests?
When deciding if the money is worth it, I often ask myself: Would I rather spend this money on things that could improve my writing, such as a craft book or toward a writing workshop or class? I have a rule for myself that prevents me from overspending: I only spend money on writing-related things if it is money that I have earned from my writing.
I hope when you finish your game of Monopoly, you have a ton of fun and a nice stack of cash too. Good luck and happy submitting!