Writing Contests: A Gamble Worth Taking
For those of you who don’t know my current writerly story, allow me to fill you in on the basics. I’m not published, nor have I begun the crazy, insane querying process—at least, not really. But more on that to come.
Basically, you could say I’ve been floating in the #amediting limbo. For years.
But that’s all changed. And, why, you may ask? Well, that’s simple. One thing, above all others, has escalated and moved my #amwriting world forward by leaps and bounds. And that, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by the title of this blog, is writing contests.
So, I decided to do a blog on these bad boys. I know, before I figured out how to find them and what they were, the concept eluded me. I heard people referred to as “award winning authors” yet couldn’t figure out where they’d earned that title. How did one enter such a thing that could earn them such clout? Could unpublished writers enter, or was it reserved for published authors and the books that had earned them that title?
If you’re anything like I was then, read on! I plan to give you the down and dirty on the contest world—at least, as far as I understand it. I’m sure there are more knowledgeable humans out there who could give you more than I’m about to share, but at least it’s a start, am I right?
Where can I find contests to enter?
Romance Writers of America Chapter Contests
My personal favorite contests—and these can be for both unpublished and published authors, you just have to look at the fine print—are sponsored by Romance Writers of America. Various chapters run contests of their own throughout the year, so at any given time there are at least a few open for entries. You can check out what’s currently open by clicking here. This page is updated as contests open and close for submissions, so check back regularly!
If you notice, they very clearly denote which contests are open to unpublished vs. published authors. Some are even open to both! They also give all the information you need to submit your entry. Pay close attention to the rules because every contest is different and submitting something other than what they’re requesting could result in a disqualification—and rarely do they offer a refund.
Wait, refund? Does that mean you have to pay to enter these contests? Yes, you do. But, keep in mind… these contests serve as fundraising opportunities for the various RWA chapters. They’re also extremely time consuming and involve a lot of work on the coordinators’ and judges’ end of things. They also have to locate “celebrity” judges for the final round. (By celebrity, I basically mean most RWA contests have a panel of actively acquiring agents and/or editors as the final round judges… sometimes they also throw in a published author to spice things up.)
In addition to these chapter contests run throughout the year, RWA also sponsors what I personally refer to as “mega” contests. Currently, they’re known as the RITA and the Golden Heart. However, as things change up within the RWA world, these contests are in the process of being phased out, hopefully to be replaced by something similar in the very near future!
If you have a contest ready manuscript, be sure to check out the RITA (for published authors) and the Golden Heart (for unpublished). They’re both opening for submissions soon (the RITA actually opens TODAY, November 1st!) and they fill up fast!
This is a newsletter I subscribe to that sends a listing of current contests straight to my inbox. It is a fantastic resource to discover different opportunities, most if not all of which pay cold hard cash as part of the prize.
Many of these contests tend to be of the on-demand variety. By that, I mean they have such a specific or niche requirement that I’m sure most authors write a piece specifically for the contest. They’re often for poetry or shorts, occasionally with required prompts to follow or other specific instructions. However, sometimes there are novel length contests, which are the kind I personally keep an eye out for. I’m not much into writing spec on-demand stuff. My muses rarely cooperate to that level.
The Write Life
This is a website that occasionally posts updated blogs with some of the best legitimate writing contests with cash prizes. The most recent one was posted in April of this year. These are some great opportunities, so read through and see if any of them fit for you!
Poets & Writers
This is a Writing Contests, Grants, & Awards Database that includes details on contests in all the following categories: poetry, short stories, essays, full-length novels, and more! They vet each contest before posting it, and some have some seriously amazing prizes! They even have a search that allows you to narrow the extensive list to fit with the areas you’re most interested in competing in.
I’m sure there are more avenues to discovering contests out there—and if you know any, leave a comment below for the benefit of future readers! But, for now, this is my exhaustive list.
So, now that you know where to find contests, let’s discuss why you should enter.
For contests such as those sponsored by RWA, entering is a fairly “cheap” way to support your local chapter. Or, if you’re like me, you can branch out and support chapters across the country! Most of the contests range from $15-30 to enter, and there’s usually a discounted price if you’re a member of RWA.
I decided to start entering contests while working on edits because I figured, if by chance anything came of them, it would be a boon to add to my query letters. Even finalist status looks awesome and could bump your query up a few notches. You don’t even have to win to get the benefits!
However, the contest world proved to be rather good to me, and I started finding myself not only final-ing in contests, but actually winning some! But the best part, in my opinion, isn’t the “bragging rights” associated with finalist status or even those that come with placing first. No, the best part is, after the first round of judging—which is usually done by authors of the pubbed and/or unpubbed variety—your MS finds its way in front of actively acquiring editors and/or agents.
This, folks, has been where I’ve truly found the most awe-inspiring benefits from my contest entries. Even those that resulted in runner-up status rather than first place awarded me full requests. At least one per contest, sometimes two!
Yep, that means… even though I hadn’t started the querying process, I suddenly found myself ahead of the game! I had editors and agents requesting my full manuscript for review!
Now, I’m still at the stage where I’m waiting to hear what came of the publishing houses who requested my fulls, but something big and exciting has already happened. I can’t officially announce yet, as the contract is currently being reviewed by my lawyer, but I got an offer for representation by an agent who I fell in absolute LOVE with on our phone call!
So, there you have it, folks. Contests aren’t just for “bragging rights,” nor are they something out of reach for those of us still working toward that first publishing contract. In fact, if you have a manuscript that’s at least somewhere close to query ready, entering contests before you query is an excellent way to give yourself a little nudge in that department. You know that author bio section of the query? Tell me you wouldn’t love to have a contest finalist or even winner status to add in there? You know it would pique more than a few agent/editor’s interests and get your awesome manuscript seen rather than lost in the slush pile.
Plus, who knows? Maybe one of the agents/editors judging the final round will fall in love with your book and you, too, will find yourself with a new and exciting relationship to move your writerly career forward!
Best of luck to you all!
Until next time,