My Not So Secret Formula for Winning Writing Contests

Tuesday, December 04, 2007
By Janet Paszkowski

When I called to tell a writer friend that my story had won an honorable mention in the WOW! 2007 Summer Flash Fiction Contest, she congratulated me with a yawn and a question . . . what’s your secret for winning so many writing contests?

Admittedly, I have won a number of contests, but it’s no secret; It’s a formula.

When it comes to entering writing contests, always submit your best work. That doesn’t guarantee you’ll win every time, but the quality of your submission is the first of the three factors in my formula for winning writing contests that you CAN control.

The second factor is also something you CAN control: Persistence. It is very important that you do not take the rejection of your work personally. Procrastinating or refusing to submit your best work because it might be rejected is NOT a winning option. Let me put it this way, as someone who has judged, as well as entered, a number of writing contests, I strongly suspect that the number of talented writers who never submit their finely crafted work—for fear of rejection—far outweighs the number of writers who dauntlessly submit their unpolished work.

The third factor is . . . dare I say it; Luck! Writers devoted to their craft are often reluctant to admit it, but luck occasionally does factor into winning writing contests. Case in point . . . last year while attending a local writing conference, I was hoping to win a prize for the first chapter of my novel. Actually, I was more than hopeful, I was feeling downright smug about competing in a regional contest, because earlier in the year my novel’s first chapter had received 2nd place in a national writing magazine contest with 320 entries. But, in the regional contest, my novel’s first chapter didn't even snag an honorable mention in competition with barely two dozen entries. Instead, I came home with the 1st prize in the poetry portfolio contest. Here's the rub, I entered the poetry contest at the last minute, submitting the same portfolio of my best poems that I had submitted the previous year, but had failed to receive any honors. The same poems—different judge–resulted in 1st prize.

Trust me on this . . . if you always submit your best, and you don't give up, you CAN make it to the winner's circle, even if the third factor of winning writing contests does occasionally involve a bit of luck, which is the only factor you CAN'T control.

Attention to craft + persistence + a bit of luck = winning. That’s my not so secret formula, and it WILL work for you too.

Janet Paszkowski


Anonymous said...

Great post, Janet. I followed your link to see your impressive list of contest credits and other work, Very inspiring!

Thanks for sharing your tips! I'm entering a contest this month. Wish me luck. :)

J.Alpha said...

When you wrote . . . wish me luck, I knew in an instant that you "got" the main theme of my post.

There's nothing wrong with a writer admitting that luck does play a role in some of the ups and downs of a writing career--of course only if "said writer" works hard on their craft. Nothing riles me more than when writers who submit less than their best work whine about contests being "fixed" or categorically state that the entry fees are a waste of a writer's money. But, I'll save that subject for another post :-)

In the meantime, GOOD LUCK with your contest entry this month!

Cher'ley said...

I followed the link too. Nice.
I think you're right about the luck. I'm still pretty new to writing, but I know it's a fact in Fine Art shows and contests.

Also what many of the judges didn't like were some of my best sellers on the market.

I would even venture to say that what a judge didn't like one year, they may relate to the next.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Great post Janet!

It's so true...there's a LOT of luck involved. Especially in a prompt-based contest like we run at WOW!

If you've never been on the opposite side of a prompt-based contest, think of it this way: hundreds of writers take one look at the prompt and create a story with the exact same storyline. Unbelievable? No. It happens ALL the time. So, from the judges standpoint, the first stories with this storyline, submitted early, stand out, and the ones submitted late in the game become tiresome. As a reader, who wants to read the same plot line over and over? That's where the "luck" comes in. You have judges who are tired already, and when stories come in at the finish line, only the truly unique and outrageous will stand out. Make sense?

That's why I always encourage contestants to get their entries in early! They have no idea of what the back-end looks like. After reading months of entries, judges are extremely exhausted from pouring over countless words to get their scores in on time. It's quite an experience. And even though we have a stable of round-table judges for preliminary scoring, when they're forced to drop everything at the very deadline of the contest and read 50,000+ words... I mean, yikes!!!!

So, for all you ladies submitting entries to the flash fiction contest, please do yourself a favor to hedge your bets and your "luck" --submit early. You'll be lucky you did!



Anonymous said...

Hey Janet
Enjoyed your not-so-secret formula for winning writing contests. Seems like it's true for just about every contest: persistence gets you there --to the game as it were-- but luck plays a big part when it comes to succeeding. So Bon Chance, Buena Suerte, and best of luck.
Amy Smith Linton
(Also a Wow! Runner-Up-er)

J.Alpha said...

Thanks Amy, and congrats to you too, on placing in a WOW! Flash Fiction Contest.

As the new team leader and managing editor of WOW!'s Premium Green Newsletter (See . . . all sorts of interesting things can develop when a writer takes a leap of faith and enters writing contests) I just have to tell you to stay tuned to WOW! for some exciting new Flash Fiction Writing & Marketing features we have planned for this new year!

Janet Paszkowski

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