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The Pros and Cons of Writing Contests

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The question before us today is whether or not you should enter a writing contest. The idea is enticing and borderline thrilling. What if you win? Beyond the monetary prize, you’ll have won something even more important: prestige. However, what if you lose? Beyond the entry fee, you’ll have lost momentum and maybe a tiny bit of your courage. It could ding your self-assurance and cause you to doubt your writing ability.

Is the risk worth it?

In today’s post, we highlight the major benefits of writing contests. But, to make it fair and give you something to chew on, we’re also tackling the biggest drawbacks of writing contests. Weigh the following benefits and the drawbacks to determine the right move for you.

The Benefits of Writing Contests

Let’s start with the good news and reasons to consider entering a writing contest:

You Get Money*

*If you win.

Money is a powerful motivator, whether it’s $20 or $20,000. Yes, it’s about the craft blah blah blah, but we all need money to survive. That prize money can pay for your next laptop (I can’t be the only writer with a busted keyboard, right?) or even support your lifestyle while you churn out your next book.

Benefits of Writing Contests

You Get Inspired to Write

Yes, honey, money is muse, but the contest itself can also be an inspirational spark. Some writing contests impose a theme or topic that can inspire you and lead to your next great idea.

The contest can also motivate you to act immediately instead of nursing an idea for the next few years.

You Get Bragging Rights

If you win or even if you almost win, you get to tell others about it. Winning anything is worth bragging about. True story, I once bragged in a literary magazine that I won a “clean plate” award from a local fast food joint. Winning is winning. #Shameless

Of course, winning a literary award holds much more weight. You can use this distinction in your author bio to impress others and further your literary career.

You Get Published

As part of your prize, some contests offer publication. This is especially true for short stories or excerpts of longer works. You may land a spot in an anthology or magazine.

You Get Validated

This is a tricky benefit. You are a valid writer as soon as you write. Validation should not come from without but within. That said, for many writers, winning a contest proves that their work resonates with others.

You Get Noticed

Perhaps the only souls to see your work have been your mom and your cats. By entering a writing contest, you increase your exposure. Others will read your work, especially if you win or become a finalist.

You Get Acquainted With Deadlines

Deadlines are an ever-present misery for writers. However, deadlines are necessary because they motivate you to act.

By entering a writing contest, you force yourself to work toward a deadline.

You Get To Do Something New

When you enter a contest, you’ll have to focus on the task at hand. This means that you’ll likely need to put other creative work on hold. Writing for a contest can be a nice distraction from your other work, such as a novel that you may be working on currently.

Another bonus is that when you return to your former work, you’ll have a refreshed mind and can then attack the work with vigor.

You Get Invited to an Award Ceremony

Win or lose, you'll likely be invited to an award ceremony for the writing contest. Here’s where you’ll be able to network with other writers, and meet with publishers and literary agents who frequently attend these events, too.

You Can Likely Enter Multiple Pieces

Why enter just one when you can enter multiple pieces? Double-check the rules. However, most contests allow multiple entries provided that you pay a separate entry “reading” fee for each. This is a benefit because it increases your chance of winning.

The Drawbacks of Writing Contests

Writing contests sound awesome, right? Here are some negatives to consider before entering a contest:

You Can Lose Money

Most contests require an entry fee. Boo.

Well, the prize money has to come from somewhere, right? Generally, the contest entry fee is a nominal amount that’s meant to cover administrative costs and go towards the prize. The fee amount depends on many factors, such as the size of the prize, the reputation of the contest, and whether it’s local or international.

Whether you’re paying $10 or $100, you won’t get that money back if you lose.

You May Not Get Anything Even If You Win

Not all writing contests offer a cash prize. Even if they do, that may be all that you win. That and a small boost to your ego. Winning a literary prize from a no-name, no-cred association won’t impress a literary agent or discerning audience. It may not impact your career at all.

You Get a Small Reward

After the hard work and time invested, your prize may not be worth it. If it took you 40 hours to create your winning masterpiece, and you collect a $200 prize, you’ve just made $5 per hour. It may be an insult if you think of it in those terms.

You Can Get Stuck

Some writing contests demand exclusivity. In other words, you can’t submit your work to them and to other contests simultaneously. You may also be prohibited from publishing the work while waiting for the results of the contest.

The deliberation process may take months. This exclusivity clause will affect your ability to make money off of your work while you wait for the results.

Benefits of Writing Contests

You May Get Distracted

Writing contests distract you from your other work. This can be both a positive and a negative. If you get off-track easily and get frustrated with that part of you, be careful. It may be difficult to return to your primary creative work after you’ve finished your contest entry.

If distractions frustrate you and lead to unfinished work, only consider entering a writing contest with a completed piece.

You Will Deal With Rejection

Just like deadlines, rejection is a constant companion for every writer.

In a contest, only one person can win. The odds are always against you, and these odds increase with the number of entrants.

You also open yourself up to criticism as people tear apart your creative work. Losing a contest may be the biggest criticism and disapproval of all, and it’s particularly injurious because you probably won’t get feedback on why you lost.

However, you can turn this negative into a positive. While no one goes into a contest to lose, it’s not a statement against you or even your work. A loss simply means that your work wasn’t meant for this particular panel of judges.

You May Get a Questionable Judge

Speaking of judges…

Let’s talk about this for a second.

Many writing contests have volunteer judges who simply appreciate reading (maybe). They may not know much about your genre or its conventions. They may not be writers themselves and have no idea how difficult it is to offer your creativity up for judgment. They may know a lot about literature or they may think they know a lot, but whatever the case is, the opinion is subjective.

It’s important to keep that in mind.

One person’s approval or disapproval of you doesn’t validate or invalidate your writing career.

One person’s approval or disapproval of you doesn't validate or invalidate your writing career.

You May Give Away Your Story Rights

Always read the rules and never relinquish your rights.

Some scammy organizations trick entrants into handing over their rights. While you think you’re entering a contest, they’ve relieved you of your rights and are then able to publish your work and make money off of it without handing over a dime in royalties.

Should You Enter a Writing Contest or Should You Avoid It?

Aside from your entry fee, you don't have much to lose and potentially a lot to gain. You can walk away from a writing contest with new work that, even if it doesn't win, is still yours and can be shared with others. Go for it! But keep your eyes open.

Over to You

Have you ever entered a writing contest? Let us know about your experience in the comments section below!

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