Whether you’re already published or just starting out, writing contests can be a great way to get your work noticed. They can also work well as motivating tools, especially for some of the more reluctant writers – deciding to enter a writing contest can help you get your butt in gear, get that story finished, and get it submitted. If you work well under pressure, a deadline can be a beautiful thing. 🙂
That said, be careful which contests you choose to enter – especially if they’re asking for an entry fee. Always do your best to make sure the publication or organization running the contest is reputable. Check how long the contest has been running, and do a little research to find out whether agents and publishers view the contest as respectable. Also, take into account the prizes being offered: are they rewards that will help you take the next step in expanding your writing career (e.g. money, exposure, one-on-one attention from agents/publishers), or just something to make you feel special and encouraged about your skills (certificates, winners’ names published in a special magazine issue, etc.)? Either one is fine, depending on what you want to get out of the experience.
To help you get started, here is a teensy-tinsy sampling of some of the contests available. The first two are free (best kind, in my opinion), the third one is a reputable contest with a reasonable entry fee:
For the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Writer:
Writers of the Future Contest
This contest has a big range of allowable word-counts, and has four entry periods (and four first-place winners!) per year. Prizes include a $5,000 grand prize, $1,000 first-place prize, and publication in an illustrated anthology. Cool stuff! My tips: enter early in the quarter, enter electronically (you’ll get your results more quickly), and don’t check the forums – it’ll drive you mad when other people start getting results and you still haven’t heard anything…Other notes: The Contest Administrator, Joni Labaqui, is super-helpful and she will always write back quickly to answer any questions you might have.
Find out more:
For the Literary Short Story Writer:
Three-Minute Fiction Contest
All stories here must be 600 words or less, so put on your flash fiction hat. Prizes for this one vary, but usually include having your story read aloud on National Public Radio, and getting interviewed on the air. Finalists also have excerpts from their stories read on air. Tips: enter early (as always), and read the previous finalists’ stories (they’re all available on the website) to see what the judges are looking for. Again, don’t check the website all the time, unless you enjoy going crazy. Other notes: This contest tends to focus on literary stories. The best definition I have found for a literary story (and there are some really bad, super-confusing definitions out there) is the following: A literary story is a story that cannot be easily categorized, a story you will be thinking about for a long time after you read it, and a story that can be interpreted in multiple ways. So, think deep!
To find out about the current round, or when the next one starts, go to:
For the Short Short Story Writer:
The Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest
This is a contest for short stories of 1,500 words or fewer. I think all genres are eligible, but you may want to check out the previous winners’ stories (I think you can read them somewhere on the website) just to see what type of thing the judges are looking for. I’ve never done this one, but Writer’s Digest runs reputable contests, and their support staff if also very helpful and responsive. The entry fee is $20 and the deadline for entries is November 15. Winner gets $3,000 and a trip to the WD Annual Writing Conference. 2nd through 25th place stories also get various prizes and recognition.
To get more info, go to:
Best of luck!