19 August 2015

Writing Contests...Why Bother?

Is there a point to writing contests? Are they just an enormous waste of money and time, or can they really help a writer’s career? I have been asking myself those questions quite recently as I evaluated whether to enter my upcoming book into any contests. There are plenty of them available for both unpublished and published authors. Writer’s Digest has several throughout the year. Readers’ Favorite has an annual contest. Even Amazon has one…the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. 

Most writing contests for published authors require the book to have a copyright of the preceding two years. Unpublished writers only seem to be required to submit the first 15-30 pages of a manuscript, and for some the book does not even need to be completed. Each contest usually has an entry fee of anywhere between $55 to $90 (sometimes higher). Published authors are often required to send in three to five copies of their book(s) for the judges unless digital copies area acceptable. But what benefits are there to entering a contest? 

Of course, everyone entering a contest hopes for at least a finalist spot, which can help a writer’s career in many different ways. My Afghanistan Campaign Diary was nominated for two book contests, alas it failed to even final.  But in case you’re wondering…yes, even finaling has benefits. There are not always monetary prizes to be had, but the recognition alone might well be worth it. Becoming a finalist, and of course winning, can help propel writing careers forward for all writers, published and unpublished, but unfortunately not everyone will final or win. In fact out of all those entries, only a tiny percentage final or win. So, does that mean contests are a waste of time and money for the majority who enter? Are there other benefits a contest can offer to writers? Here are a few of my thoughts… 

Benefits of contests for the unpublished: 

- A relatively inexpensive way to get objective feedback. I do believe that every writer needs to get outside feedback, from beyond their circle of family or friends, before pursuing publication. Freelance editors are a viable option but can be quite cost-prohibitive. Contests, on the other hand, can be a way, to get some initial objective feedback. 

- Learn to handle negative feedback. In many cases, contests have a panel of judges who look at each entry. It’s highly unlikely that all the judges will find nothing wrong with a manuscript. Learning how to decipher their feedback and receiving criticism is all part of the process of growing as a writer. 

However, I feel I must caution the unpublished when entering contests: 

- Entering too soon in our writing careers. The judges need to be honest, as well as kind. When we’re too new in our writing, even tactful feedback can seem overwhelming and overly critical. 

- Putting too much effort into the contest entry and not enough into the rest of the book. It's relatively easy to polish the first couple of chapters for a contest. But it takes even more work and skill to get the rest of the book just as polished. You might be tempted to spend far too much time focusing on the contest entry, but then lose steam along the way and are unable to apply the same effort to the rest of the book.  

Benefits of contests for the Published: 

- You might gain new readers. The contest judges may become fans and talk up your book to others. 

- A writing contest entry fee is often a lot less than an advertisement, but can get your name in front of a number of people and is considered a tax-deductible business expense.

What is your opinion about writing contests? Are they a giant waste of money, or do you think there are benefits even to writers who do not final?  And if so, what are they? 

In the meantime, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Living with Canine Epilepsy will do better in contests than my earlier works.  =)

Piper is the author of military lifestyle books and RV travel journals. When she isn't busy typing away on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookGoodreads and Google+


  1. This was a great article. I've already indie published,and I kind of written contests off. This makes me rethink that stance. Maybe I'll give a contest a try.

    1. Thank you, Devlin! I'm glad you enjoyed the article.