The Cost of Competitions

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To pay or not to pay?

Have you ever paid to enter writing competitions; either for short stories, poetry or even submitting a novel? Or perhaps you’d never contemplate having to pay for competitions? 

The topic of writing competitions came up at our last meeting of the local writing group and I was surprised at the varying opinions.

A couple of people seemed genuinely surprised that most competitions charged and that these were successful – I then had to admit to entering some myself with one win, a shortlist and a couple of long-list to my name. 

oldieimageAt first I was overjoyed to have my work professionally validated and deemed worthy to be read in print and it was the confident booster I so desperately needed. The deadlines, themes etc was a great incentive to sit down and write, producing a story in a day or two – then a few more days to re-write and edit. However, as I entered more and more competitions I quickly became disillusioned. Not only was it expensive but entering the competitions was eating into my novel time. Instead I took a break from them and concentrated on writing the first draft of my book; the thought of competitions filed away in the depths of my brain. Until the discussion. Until the latest issue of Writing Magazine (a top-selling magazine in UK aimed for all level of writers in all genres). Once again many competitions tempted me, my creative desire to write short stories rejuvenated. 

However, are paid writing competitions a scam as sometimes is implied? 

Starting out, my initial reaction was the same as some of my writing group members who were shocked you had to pay for them. However, at the same time I appreciate there is a cost to running them, the administration alone for example. Also the judges take considerable time and work to read through the entries. In the process though some competitions have become prohibitively expensive as they fight for prestigious writers to join their panels.  Free competitions can be great, particularly if you have researched them well although I think paid ones are here to stay.

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If you are interested in entering competitions, whether free or fee-paying, I quickly learnt there are several important issues to consider.

  • First of all, check out who runs the competition? Is it reputable? Will your work be published in print / online?
  • What is the prize? Sometimes just recognition and being in print is enough, just be aware of this in the first instant. Another point to consider is that if it is a famous prestigious competition, such as the  internationally famous Rubery Book Award or the BBC Short Story Award, it will attract thousands of entries from across the globe and your work will have less chance to make an impact. 
  • Is there a particular topic/theme to the competition? It is important to submit work targeted to the particular competition and not be tempted to recycle old entries that nearly but don’t quite match the prerequisites.
  • There are some excellent free competitions, the Writers & Artists Yearbook Short Story Competition is one example and well worth entering and this year for the first time there is no specific theme. However other free competitions seem more set on getting your personal details for promotion. Just be aware.
  • Take the time to look up the judges. This can be more helpful than initially imagined. What type of books / poetry / stories have they written or promoted? What can you learn about them from their social media exposure? Perhaps your style and content is not something that would interest them and your entry would be better placed elsewhere. 
  • Do check out the previous winners. This piece of research can pay dividends in the long run and its importance cannot be emphasised enough. Early on I made this mistake and only too late, after submission, read some previous winners and realised that my story had no chance of winning. Very frustrating and I chastised myself for this lapse. Also if hoping to win a magazine competition read not only the previous month’s winner but also a few back issues to help establish a feel of the target audience.  
  • Reading the T & Cs (many times and preferably underlining!) is vital.  Always make sure to follow the rules of the competition – this is not a moment to rush ahead without reading the small detail. How should the submission be made? Post? Electronically? If the latter, in what format? In an attachment or part of an email? What are the font / spacing etc rules. What is the word count – and stick to it! The number of words, means just that! Unfortunately an entry can lose out for this reason alone and I know of one such case. Also send the correct money, in time! Also make sure you take note of any restrictions – for example there may be an age band or locality to consider. Finally be aware of the deadline. This is in itself an excellent incentive to complete your work for but do make sure the submission is in at least a few days ahead. Posting on the deadline date is not accepted by most competition rules. 
  • It is a good idea to consider how relevant is the prize for you? Financial reward is always welcome no doubt! Specific prizes such as a free book cover design will only be attractive to those with a book ready. Writing course prizes, such as a week on the prestigious Avron Writing course offered by the Bridport Prize, are also popular but again not ideal for everyone.

Hopefully by following these points you can save both money and time by ensuring your entry will be considered by the judges. 

oxoLately, some competitions have expanded their remit from pure competitions to helping others, whether locally or abroad. For example the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize  promises to plant a tree for every entry. The trees are planted in Bore, Kenya. Furthermore the competition money will help fund an extra classroom at a school nearby. Personally I cannot help be moved by their efforts but at the same time wonder if it is a bit of a gimmick, a con? 

Novel writing competitions are some of the most expensive ones on the market, often starting at £20. The Rubery Book Award costs £36 to enter with a prize of £1,500. Is this too much or is the possibility of a break into the publishing world worth the cost? Some offer feedback for an extra outlay. Is this worth it?  

Recently I have noticed an increase of competitions on blog sites and whilst initially sceptical I have followed some and seen their success. The writing is of a superb quality, the winners receive public recognition as they are published on the blog and shared further and the entry fees are far lower than anywhere else but still retain the incentive of a cash reward. As the number of entries are considerably lower than national competitions ones the chance of a win is exponentially improved. 

puppetWhat are your experiences with writing competitions? Have you entered any? Many? Paid ones or only those for free? Are you perhaps running a competition on your blog? Could you share your experiences? Have you ever been asked to be a judge for writing experiences? What was this like? 

I would love to hear from you and hope a lively discussion will ensue.

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Finally, in addition to the competitions already mentioned the following are just some of the many which have caught my eye and these should give you a feel of the range, expense and prizes out there.

  • Cinnamon Press runs competitions for Poetry & Short Stories.
  • The Telegraph newspaper runs a monthly ‘Just Back’ Travel writing Competition.
  • An audio transmission of the winning story is promised in this free and unusual competition run by soundwork
  • The Rialto is running a pamphlet competition. 
  • The London Magazine offers a prize  consisting of a number of pounds sterling equal to the current year (£2016 for year 2016)for the best Short Story submission. 
  • mslexia magazine, one of my favourite writing magazines, runs four competitions, open to women writers of all levels of experience from prose, Short Story, Novel and Poetry. Winners have gone on to secure publishing deals and literary agents.
  • Inktears Short Story / Flash Fiction competition.

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