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  Entering contests can offer authors many benefits,
from winning money to gaining exposure
to professionals in the publishing industry.

Enter Contests to Expand Your Platform

  Writing contests can be an important marketing tool for your book. They can offer you exposure to publishing professionals, including agents and publishing company acquisition editors. Additionally, they provide authors the opportunity to receive important critical feedback and can inspire you to improve your writing. Oh, and did we mention the possibility of cash prizes?
Sure I wrote a book, but it's not really contest material...

Really? YOU. WROTE. A. BOOK. Now you're telling us that it's good, but it's not that good? Then why are you trying to sell ilt to anyone? If you wrote your book the right way (strong message/story, professional editing,Writing contests can help you expand your author platform. quality cover design, etc.), we promiose it is contest worthy. If any of those things is lacking, you might want to consider overhauling it before entering your book in a contest, but it's probably already better than you're giving yourself credit for. You wrote a book. And published it. And presumably have sold at least a few copies. Why should entering a writing competition scare you? Think you're up against thousands of other authors with tons more experience than you and that your entry will be ceremoniously dumped into the trashcan? Think again.


You wrote a book, so entering a writing contest shouldn't be any more daunting than writing a query letter or picking up the phone to call a prospective agent. In fact, given that there are thousands of contests out there actively seeking your submission, entering a contest should be less intimidating than waiting for that first review to show up. Not to mention that some contests have very few entrants, so your chances of winning (or being named as a finalist) are actually quite good, regardless of how good (or bad) you think your book may be.

Aren't writing contests just scams to make contest hosts rich?
  Quality contests usually have fees associated with them which do two things: (1) eliminate those who aren't serioius writers and (2) help defray costs. While there are bad ones out there, most contests in the Internet age are legitimate.

According to Nick Daws, of Nick Daws' Writing Blog, "As someone who has been involved in organizing and/or judging many contests over the years, I can confirm that there is no way running a writing contest is a money-making proposition." First, prizes are usually awarded from the entry fees; the higher the prizes, the more entrants (or higher fees) necessary to cover them. Not to mention that writing contests are time- and labor-intensive productions. Magic elves don't build the websites, advertise the contests, find and pay the judges, read the entries, determine the winners, or provide the prizes. People do those things.

And it takes time and money to establish, coordinate, promote, judge, and award prizes for a writing contest. Most contest organizers don't do it for the money, but to generate publicity and good exposure for their organizations.

A contest with no entry fee is a red flag, particularly those claiming to offer large prizes. Often, it means that you will be encouraged to buy a book of the "winning" entries. What you might not realize is that everyone who buys a book is a winner. This is a classic scam of poetry contests, in particular.
So what are the benefits of entering writing contests?
  Of course the best outcome from entering a writing contest is winning a prestigious contest that lands the author an agent and/or a book contract. However, you don't have to win to benefit from entering writing contests. Often, simply placing as a finalist is enough to get you on a published list that will generate interest, attention, and exposure for you and your book. Better still is winning money, but there are many other benefits to entering.

  1. Break down the publicity barriers. Unless you're already well-established and highly visible in another career, it can take some time to build your platform and create renonwn as an author. However, by entering just one highly acclaimed contest, you can win cash, make invaluable connections, and catapult yourself into the spotlight in a way that might have otherwise taken years to achieve.

  2. Establish yourself as an authority figure and increase your exposure. Whether you win, place, or receive an Honorable Mention in a writing contest, that award gives you recognition — both as an author/writer in your genre and/or an expert in your specific field or industry. People will begin to recognize you as a writer in your field, which can lead to exciting new writing, speaking, and other opportunities.

  3. Get objective feedback inexpensively. Virtually every writer can use outside feedback (beyond your mom, spouse, or best friend) before hiring a professional editor and pursuing publication. Contests can be a way to receive some objective initial feedback.

  4. Learn how to handle negative feedback. Regardless of how good your book is, chances are that someone who reads it won't like it. If you intende to publish your book and make available for sale to the public, you're going to have to develop a thick skin, including the ability to deal with negative reviews and feedback. Contests generally have a panel of judges who read each entry, often offering feedback on the writing, whether they like the book or not. Learning to receive constructive criticism is an essential aspect to growing as a writer.Winning is only one of many benefits to entering writing contests.

  5. Find out how you stack up, compared to other authors/writers in your genre. Most contests have a point system by which they rank writers' skill levels in a variety of areas. Your results can reveal where you fall in comparison to the others in your genre and/or category. Lower to average numbers may indicate that you still have quite a bit to learn, while higher numbers may mean that your skill level is approaching readiness to publish.

  6. Use it as a means of cost-effective marketing. Entering a well-written, professionally designed book into larger, better established contests is a tax-deductible way to get your name and book(s) in front of influential publishing professionals and judges who may talk up your book to others.

  7. Toot your own horn with a media release. Write and distribute a media release about your win to help build your brand and expand your platform. You will want to send this to your local paper, alumni association publication, and mailing list, as well as distributing it via a web service and adding it to your website's media room.

  8. Add your wins (and finalist placements) to your résumé. Winning a writing contest (or placing as a finalist) is no small feat. If you win, you can proudly add that information to your résumé, LinkedIn profile, blog, and/or website. Of course, the more reputable the competition, the better.

  9. Give your confidence a boost. Though we must learn to be our own best (not worst) critics, sometimes it's outside validation that can really help us jumpstart our writing careers. Judges who take the time to offer thoughtful criticism can offer a huge confidence boost to a new author. Sure, they may tell you about plot or structural problems in your book or manuscript, but they may also tell you they really like your story/topic and think you've taken the right approach. If nothing else, you now know that you have the skills and motivation to write more articles, enter more contests, and finish your (next) book.

  10. Enter for the practice. Entering writing contests is good practice because it encourages you to focus and put forth your best effort in attempt to win. If you're still toying with the idea for your book, a writing contest can be a great way to test the waters, get feedback, and begin to develop a body of work.

  11. Experminet with a new genre. Are you well-established as spiritual or motivational author but ready to try your hand at historical fiction? Entering a contest can provide the opportunity to practice your new genre, experimenting with themes, ideas, characters, and plotlines before you take the plunge and commit to writing a complete novel.

  12. Improve your ability to set a schedule, adhere to deadlines and word counts, and deliver content on schedule. One of the biggest challenges new writers face is dedicating time to their own writing projects. When you pay money to enter a writing contest, you will be more likely to stick to a schedule, learn to meet deadlines, take notice of word counts, and deliver your manuscript on time.

How do writing contests work?

Contests generally break down into two broad categories: those for published authors and those for unpublished authors. Some have further distinctions, like traditionally published vs. self-published books and

eBooks vs. printed books.

Most contests for published authors require the book to be copyrighted within a year of the contest close date. Contests for unpublished authors generally just require submission of the first 15 to 30 pages of a manuscript. Some don’t even require that the book be complete before entering.

Published authors are usually required to submit between two and five copies of their books for the judges.

Contest fees usually depend on the format of work being submitted.

 • Poetry contests usually have entry fees of $2 to $5 per poem.
 • Article, short-story, and novel chapter contests usually have fees between $5 and $25 per entry.
 • Fees to enter contests for complete books can run from $25 to $50, sometimes higher.

Contests within these entry fee ranges and which receive several hundred entries generally offer levels of cash prizes from $25 to about $300.


Make sure you retain your rights! You might want to think twice about entering contests that have fees and post every entry to their website, either for judging or for the general public to read. By entering these contests, you are paying to help the site build their content and are relinquishing your abilty to sell first rights to your material because it's considered "published" as soon as it goes up on that website.


Read the fine print! If a contest states in its rules that the host retains the rights to publish all entries, they are claiming all rights to your work with no plans to pay you for it. This is radically different from granting one-time rights for an anthology printing.

What do contest judges look for?

Contest judges are invited to judge contests presumably because they have some skill at literary critique or experience judging. These are people who know their stuff when it comes to writing. Sure, they will bring their biases and preferences to their judging, but the fact remains that quality writing, like cream, will rise to the top. Here's some general information about what contest judges are looking for in a winning work.



Where does the story start? A good judge can tell the skill of the writer from the very first page. Does the opening paragraph immediately draw the reader in, intrigue them, catch their attention? Anytime a story begins with the main character thinking, remembering, moving through their day-to-day life, orWhat do writing contest judges look for? waiting for something or someone, the reader is generally not hooked. In most such openings, the writer could have flashed back to the crucial point their hero or heroine was remembering or cut straight to the thing they were waiting for.


Is there appropriate drama and conflict? Even if the story starts in a good place, does the writer introduce the conflict early enough? Is it consistent with the starting point and well developed throughout the story? How well is it resolved by the end of the story? Is it obvious, or does the reader have the opportunity to learn and discover something new with each succeeding chapter?


Are all the characters' points of view adequately expressed? Well-written fiction distinguishes between primary characters, secondary characters, and tertiary or other peripheral characters. Are your characters adequately developed for their importance to the story? Does the reader understand their motivations and perspectives?


How is the pacing of the story? Is your story a political thriller? Does it move at a quick pace, or do you spend pages and pages on unnecessary details or background? An historical romance will likely develop at a slower pace. Is your story paced appropriately?


Does each character/scene work to further the plot? Sometimes we fall in love with characters, lines, and/or plot points that just don't fit. Rather than taking a hammer to them and trying to force them to work in your story, be brave enough to cut them. This can be understandably difficult if they're especially good pieces. Don't delete them, though; save them in a file on your hard drive for possible use in a future work — just don't force them into a story where they don't belong.



Is the book well-ogranized? Is your book organized into appropriate chapters, subchapters, parts, and/or sections? Are they in the proper order (beginning, middle, conclusion) to deliver your premise, analysis, conclusion, and call to action?


Are all graphics and illustrations essential? Does every graphic or illustration advance or explain the meaning of the text? Is each one appropriately referenced and/or captioned?


Are footnotes or endnotes formatted properly? Not every book needs footnotes or endnotes, but for those that do, it's essential that formatting is appropriate to your genre of book.


Does your book contain an index and appendix, if necessary? The author must decide whether they will include an index in their book. For most nonfiction books, an index is a good idea to help readers find specific information. Rather than paging through chapter after chapter hunting, an index sends them to the proper page. Should you decide to include an index, however, make sure it is complete and properly formatted.



Does the author favor exposition over description? Too much telling and not enough showing is an easy way to lose your reader's attention and interest. Rather than have Joe tell Martha about the argument he had at work yesterday, write the argument occurring and Martha asking Joe why he has a black eye. This is as important in nonfiction as it is in fiction. Use live case studies to illustrate specifics in a nonfiction book, rather than generalized descriptions.


How well do the words flow? Are the sentences well crafted, smooth enough that the reader forgets they're reading, or are they so clunky that they pull the reader out of the narrative? Writing that flows occurs one of two ways: (1) a well-practiced writer with years of experience and/or (2) a professional editor who can smooth out the awkward bits and give the writing the polish it would otherwise have lacked.


Does the author use correct grammar, syntax, and punctuation? This part should go without saying, but you might be amazed how many books are submitted to agents, publishers, and contests rife with easy-to-correct errors. You can't hope to win a contest if your book has ridiculous errors, even if they are just typos.


Is the book professionally formatted? Just because your book is self-published doesn't mean it has to look less than professional. Be sure to follow all the guidelines for professional formatting (or pay a professional to do it for you).


Does the author overuse adjectives and adverbs and/or lean too heavily on the passive voice? Stacey batted her long, mascara-covered eyelashes as she deliberately swished her waist-length blond hair over her left shoulder in a blatant attempt to attract the attention of the dangerously handsome stranger at the bar. Don't write this crap.


Has the author dotted their I's and crossed their Ts? From the entry date to font and word-count requirements, every contest has rules each participants must follow. So FOLLOW them. Blind entries mean none of the author's contact info should appear on the cover or in the manuscript headers. Does the contest require a cover letter? Have you paid the appropriate fee and paid in the appropriate manner? Are you submitting in the required format?

  What we can do for you...
  Whether it's searching for appropriate contests for you to enter or submitting and managing your submissions, Write | Market | Design can help you make contests a viable aspect of your book marketing strategy. Call us or email us today to begin. 602.518.5376

Ready to begin? Let's Get Started NOW!


The real contest is always between
what you've done and what you're
capable of doing. You measure yourself
against yourself and nobody else.

— Geoffrey Gaberino



LAURA ORSINI | Freelance Writer | Editor | Designer | Marketer | Social Alchemist | BLOG

@WriteMarketDesign.com • 602.518.5376 • PO Box 40273, Phoenix AZ 85067



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