Why Should I Enter That Contest? This Post May Just Convince You!

Thursday, July 30, 2020
Why should I enter that contest? You’ve probably thought this while reading a contest announcement (maybe even WOW!'s Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest with a deadline of 7/31!) and thinking about the entry fee. Maybe you’ve been eyeing a contest for your novel or for a format or genre you don't usually write to try something new and get some feedback. Whatever your reason for entering a contest, they can build your confidence, improve your craft, and give you publishing credits all in one!

As you know, writing is hard work. It’s easy to become discouraged with each rejection letter. Contests can help ease the pain. One exists for almost any genre, at any ability level. Many come with publication and prize money. When more prizes are offered in any given contest (honorable mentions/runner-ups), more writers receive acknowledgement for their hard work. A winner’s certificate, framed and hanging above your desk, can help remove the sting from an editor who rejects you. Success in a contest can keep you going when publications are lacking.

Not only can contests boost your confidence, but also they can expand the genres you write and improve your skills. Contests are a great place to try that personal essay about your mission trip or a poem about your beachfront home. They give you a reason to type the words in your mind and a deadline to follow. With the deadline looming closer, excuses for not writing—Facebook, watching TV, doing chores —may disappear with a goal to work towards and an ending in sight.

Work on your craft while creating the entry. Try first person if your novel is written in third. Contest pieces are generally shorter and a place to experiment with dialogue or sentence structure. Try a flash fiction competition. (WOW! has one here!) Flash fiction challenges you to write an entire story with a small amount of words. These stories can help you cut out unnecessary adjectives and adverbs that bog down your manuscript.

Remember the slush pile you fear and dread? When you enter a contest, there isn’t a slush pile. Your entry will be read and considered seriously. It doesn’t matter if you have an agent or if you’ve only published stories for your family. Everyone has an equal shot at having her voice heard in a contest.

The greatest benefit to contests is they may provide you with credits to put in a cover letter or in the bio of your indie published book. If you entered chapter one of your novel in a yearly competition, and it won first place, tell the editor in your cover letter or your newsletter followers in your latest edition. This win means three things: you can complete a manuscript, you care enough to polish it and send it off, and someone, besides your mother or significant other, thinks your writing is good!

Just a few tips before you go contest crazy. Read the guidelines carefully. Many judges narrow their entries before even reading because one rule, such as a misplaced heading, wasn’t followed. Watch out for contest fees that are high, but the prizes are low. Finally, make sure if the prize is publication, you want your work to appear in this media. When you enter, you are usually agreeing to have it published.

The other day, I received an email from one of my WOW! novel writing students, and she asked me if I knew of any writers who were having trouble focusing during the pandemic. Her particular query was riddled with anxiety because she said she seemed to have more trouble now (five months into it) than at the beginning. I wrote back immediately and told her, "You are not alone!" So while writing this piece for today, I kept thinking: if you're having trouble writing--you can't bring yourself to work on your memoir or your novel is dysopian and real life is too similar--see if you can find a contest for a short piece and work on only that for a while. As I've been saying since March, you have to give yourself grace during this time because you've literally never faced life during a pandemic before. Maybe this is the time to try your hand at writing a flash fiction piece and entering it in a contest. Then you can go back to your novel.

The next time you are thinking, Why should I enter that contest? Remember, winning may be the encouragement you’ve been looking for or the break you’ve been waiting on.

Margo L. Dill is a writing coach and instructor (and managing editor) for WOW! Women On Writing. Check out her classes on the classroom page. The next one starts on August 7. She is also a judge for WOW!'s contests. Find out about her own writing here


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--For once (and it's seriously not an exaggeration) I worked ahead, and submitted my nonfiction essay contest submission (with critique) on July 7.

Do you hear the musical lines from "Fiddler on the Roof" playing right now? Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles... That's what is sung when Sioux actually does something early, when she doesn't procrastinate.

Entering a writing contest is a no-risk way for a writer to stretch their wings--to think (and write) outside the box.

Margo, I hope you nudge people to enter the contest--maybe not the one that has tomorrow as a deadline if they have nothing polished. I hope they also pay the small extra fee for the critique. After all, when do we get any feedback from an agent, and editor or a publisher? Rarely. Usually, we get either no reply (which is an unspoken, "Thanks, but no thanks") or a simple emailed rejection. Getting a written critique--what worked and what didn't--is an incredible opportunity.

Great post, Margo. Writers--note that nudge from Margo and write, so you can submit.

Margo Dill said...

Thank you, Sioux! :) I'm glad you got that entry entered so far in advance.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Thank-you Margo for this great post. You have made me excited about entering contests again.

Margo Dill said...

Oh, Jeanine, I'm so glad!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Thank you for the nudge! It is just so easy to delay and find excuses. We need reasons to get writing and submitting instead.

Margo Dill said...

You are welcome, Sue!

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