Yippee! Some wonderful news I’ve just received gave me the idea for this blog. My story made the shortlist for a prestigious writing contest … and … no, hang on, excuse me while I do a happy dance. [Leaves desk, prances around room in unseemly manner, returns exhausted.] Ah, that’s better. Anyway, as I was saying, it made me think about the reasons why aspiring writers should enter. Here they are – along with an important warning that my legal training compels me to include!
1 It helps you hone your skills
Writing is all about practice. The more you write, the better you get. When you write for a contest, rather than simply for your own pleasure, you have a clear goal and a deadline. A great way to stay focused and keep the procrastination bug at bay.
2 It makes you write to a brief
Most writing contests have guidelines. The story might need to be on a certain topic, or about a given stimulus. Almost certainly there will be a restriction as to its length. Whatever the requirement, writing to fit the guidelines is good practice for the day when a publisher asks you to write to a brief. Yes, it can happen!
3 For the feedback
The more desirable competitions provide detailed feedback. Check this out before you enter, because this alone makes it worth the entry fee. The judges might be editors or authors, agents or previous winners. They might be academics or teachers. Even if you don’t win, a judge’s well thought out feedback can help you rework your story into something saleable.
4 For the prize!
It might be money. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. It might be a copy of a book that your story will be published in. It might simply be a little certificate saying you have won, which is also fine. But it might be something else entirely, and this is where your scam sensors need to be on the alert.
Some competitions offer ‘winners’ a copy of the book containing their story, but only if they pay some ridiculously high price. It’s normal to pay a (reasonable) fee to enter the competition, but be wary if you have to pay for your prize! Similarly, watch out for contests run by agencies that promise to represent you, but only if you fork over large sums. Reputable agents will take a percentage of your earnings for deals they negotiate on your behalf – they won’t ask you to pay an upfront fee.
5 For the exposure
Regardless of the prize, a contest win is something you can use to promote yourself as a writer. Brag on social media and add it to your CV. It gets you noticed. Some competitions are more highly regarded than others, naturally, but any win in a genuine contest is worth crowing about.
6 For the networking opportunities
The winners may be announced at an award ceremony. A good way to meet other writers, the sponsors of the competition, and the judges. Go along, slap on your best smile, and take your business cards.
7 For the confidence
This is probably the most important benefit, even if you’re not consciously aware of it. The path to publication is long and slow, and a few competition wins along the way give you an incredible boost. Even if you don’t win, you can chart your progress over time by tracking your contest feedback scores and comments – tangible proof that your work is improving. It’ll give you the motivation to keep going, on what can otherwise be a journey fraught by self-doubt. Which reminds me – time for another happy dance! The award ceremony is on Saturday … horray … don’t know if I can keep up all this dancing until then …
Share your experiences
Have you ever entered a writing competition? Was it a positive experience for you? Did you win a prize and if so, what was it? Feel free to brag – or moan! – in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.