Win Writing Contests! (Or What I Learned From My Mistakes)

Saturday, January 12, 2013
I've always loved contests. Though technically, what I love is winning contests. So imagine my surprise when, as a newbie writer, I found writing contests! I couldn't wait to enter all of ‘em! My little eyes lit up and my fingers flew and I sent in my scathingly brilliant entries and fees, and waited to see the word I knew would pop up in my email subject line: Congratulations! didn't happen quite that way. In the beginning, I made a lot of mistakes. (But I learned valuable lessons.)

1. One of the very first contests I entered involved a HUGE payoff and a fun prompt. Terrific, right? Only it was a very specific (as in “incorporate these specific characters and this name-brand product into your story”) prompt. I spent hours, HOURS, writing my witty story, and not to brag, but it was pretty darn witty. Imagine my surprise when I did not win. All those hours, and all I had to show for my effort was a story that I could never submit anywhere else. That’s when I learned not to expend too much time writing a story to a limiting prompt.

2. Also among my list of first contests entered was a very literary, la-ti-da contest wherein I sent in a not so literary la-ti-da story. I would have known that my story didn't fit the contest if I’d spent just a little time, researching to get a feel for the contest. I suppose I was too busy researching how I was going to spend my winnings. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I did not win. That’s how I learned not to skip my homework before submitting my entries.

3. And speaking of that literary contest, I paid a hefty entry fee, too. And it was one of those contests like the Highlander: there could be only one. Winner, that is. It just goes to show that possibly, I could’ve used a little humility where my writing talent was concerned, and definitely, I could've used a little lesson in figuring odds. (Just one more reason why one should pay attention during math class.) I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when I did not win that one, solitary prize. But I did learn to pay attention to numbers, whether it was the entry fee, the prizes, or both.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I made more writing contest mistakes than the three I listed. But eventually, after learning a thing or two (or twenty), I spied that email subject line that read “Congratulations!”

Imagine my surprise when I finally won.

(Now that you've learned from my mistakes, you’re ready to try a writing contest! Check out WOW!’s Winter Flash Fiction Contest—an open prompt, twenty prizes, and info about the guest judge provided. Perfect, right?)

~Cathy C. Hall


Stacy S. Jensen said...

Good tips.Thanks.

Lynn said...

Great post. You make me want to try and win a writing contest!

Angela Mackintosh said...

I'm sure SO many writers have traveled down this same path! (I know I have.) WOW used to do prompt contests but found we didn't get enough entries to cover the prizes because out prompts were so specific. Our first contest's prompt was: You receive the pom-pom that you thought you lost ten years ago in high school. There is no return address on the box.

We ran prompts for the first two years and I had a blast thinking them up, but heard from some writers that they weren't inspired by a certain prompt or thought they could never write about the subject. It makes it so much easier to judge though! You wouldn't believe how many of the same exact storylines we'd get from writers.

You definitely mentioned some things writers should be aware of:
- choosing the right type of contest for your voice and genre (reading previous winners' stories will help you a lot)
- how many winners? Only one and your chances are pretty slim. WOW has 20 winners and only 300 entries max. Most of the time we receive a bit less than that. So checking out how many entries a contest allows is important too.

Great advice, Cathy! It looks like you racked up a few certificates!! :)

Val said...

Such good advice. Being a gambler, I've always played the odds. And being a bit obsessive, I check out the type of writing that has won a contest in the past before I consider entering. I've had moderate, though not monetary, success.

Margo Dill said...

My first publication ever was because I placed third place in a writing contest. My critique group used to do them a few times a year, too, and what these did for me is MAKE me produce something AND often times think outside the box. I can't say ENOUGH GOOD THINGS about contests. I haven't entered them in years, but I am getting ready to enter some more for a conference I am going to and I can't wait. It will be so fun--okay, it will be more fun if I win. :) LOL Cathy, love all your certificates.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--Perhaps I can use some of your tips as I craft a story for the Highlights contest?

Thanks for the post.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Oh my gosh, Angela--the pom-pom prompt--I remember that! (Or should I say, I remember not being able to come up with anything???:-)

I hope y'all include contests when you're making your first-of-the-year writing budget! And good luck!

Donna Volkenannt said...

Thanks for the tips, Cathy. Entering writing contests can be a path to publication. I especially like contests where judges give feedback.

BECKY said...

Thanks for the great tips, Ms. Cathy C! You DO have quite a few certificates in that photo, but I'm sure you have plenty more, too. I made the same mistakes as you when I first entered contests....and had the same feelings...WHAT? I didn't win?! LOL. I just posted some Contests and Calls for Submissions on my blog. Hope on over, and check them out!

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