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February 3, 2016

Back in 2011, I did a piece on writing contests. I didn’t hold a very high opinion of them. It’s been a few years. Have things changed? Lately, I’ve been reminded of them as they’ll pop up once in a while on our Henderson Writer’s Group Facebook page. Someone will hear about another contest and post it. I want to say something, but usually bite my tongue.

Before I go further, I’d better let you see the original article.


Step right up! Pay your $10, your $20, your $50. Submit your story to our writing contest. See your name in print! Win big!


How many of you have been tempted by writing contests? How many of you have seen them advertised? If you’re a writer, you’ve seen them around. They’re as tempting as heroin. A naked girl to a horny teenager. New shoes to a girl! A sports car to a middle-aged guy! Pick your metaphor.

To put this bluntly, most writing contests, especially when they ask for money are a great way to spend money. Period. I could’ve used a much more graphic metaphor, but you get the point, and I have to keep this family friendly (more or less).

I made the mistake of being drawn in to one of those boondoggles once and got burned. I lost $10 in the process. Luckily, it was only $10 but it could’ve been worse. What was the result? I’m getting ahead of myself.

This contest was from a no-name publisher out of Orange County, California. They were just starting out and wanted to sponsor a contest for full manuscripts to find “the next big thing.” Since most contests were for short stories, I figured $10 wasn’t much to charge for a full MS, so what the heck! After all, the sponsors have their costs too, don’t they?

Said contest organizers probably received several hundred manuscripts. Whether they actually made any money off of it, I have no idea. Let’s just say that every single submitter lost their money except for one. That one got the publishing deal. The prize? A published book by a firm that failed almost immediately. The book? Uh… I can’t even remember and I’m pretty sure it dropped like a lead balloon. Since the publisher went belly up within a few months of publication, the poor author probably got stuck with a garage full of books unless they managed to slip into a deal with someone else. What it boiled down to is that one author got something for his $10, but every other author just donated $10 to that author’s publishing contract. Is it starting to become clear now?

Short story contests are almost as bad. The fees vary, but when you consider how many people submit to them, then consider who the judges might be. If you don’t make the cut, you’re just helping to pay for the winners publishing fees. Now consider if you happen to be one of the lucky ones. What do you really think you’re going to get? Sure, maybe a publishing credit, but consider my thoughts:

I’d rather spend that $10-$50 on postage and printing to submit my short story (or novel) to legitimate publishers on the off-chance they might actually like my story. If so, it might be published in a legitimate publication that will actually be seen by the public.

Think also of this. How often do you go to the book store and see a short story compilation or anthology (or a novel) on the shelf that came from a writing contest?

Okay, I’m waiting…

What would you rather spend your money on?


Every year, or when I feel like it, I submit a story to the annual (it used to be every two years) short story anthology put out by the Henderson Writer’s Group. The stories are submitted to a judging system and the best ones are picked for publication in whichever version of Writer’s Bloc is set for publication that year. In a way, that’s sort of a contest, but I don’t really consider it that way. I certainly don’t pay any money for it. I also don’t consider it a competition either. Not really. Maybe it’s because I’m not a jock. It’s like submitting a story to a magazine. If they like it or have room for it, fine. If not, oh well, on to the next thing.


Another thing that rubs me wrong about writing contests, or singing contests, or battle of the bands, or anything that involves competition and art, is that people are taking something artistic and potentially beautiful, and turning it into something ugly and competitive. That’s something that just rubs me wrong. It goes fundamentally against my nature as a human being. Art is in the eye of the beholder and what art touches one person, may not be the same for anyone else. Sure, a story that touches more people has the potential for more sales, so in that respect, it “wins” the contest of a competition. Then again, I have yet to see anyone who has won one of these story competitions go on to be a best seller. I’m sure some best-selling authors have won story contests. However, that’s no different than from the thousands of them that never got anywhere near a contest. Or, the authors that won lots of contests but never sold a handful of novels.


If you must enter a writing contest and subject your art to sport, at least don’t pay for it, except maybe postage if they don’t accept e-mail submissions! If you have to pay a fee to submit, think of those alarm bells that should be ringing in the back of your head. Think of all the excuses people are probably going to tell you about how they have to pay for the staff to edit, judge and pay for this and that. Get highly suspicious. Then move on to the next free one.

You’ll save a lot of money.

One more thing. I’ve seen a few “wins” mentioned in author bios and have never had an urge to look them up. I was more interested in what I was holding in my hand. They didn’t always live up to their hype!

Happy writing!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2016 12:49 am

    The submission fees charged by many magazines are not an “entry fee” to a contest, per se. The collected fees are used to pay the authors for the rights to print the chosen works. But, don’t completely discount “contests.” They can be worth the entry fee, depending upon what you receive. One that will have a qualified judge (for lack of a better word) reading and sending a critique can be worth its weight in gold. Having an expert in literature “grade” and remark on the work will give an author insight on a great many things such as structure, grammar, syntax, etc.

    • February 18, 2016 2:25 am


      Thanks so much for the feedback and the different viewpoint! While what you suggest is entirely possible with some contests, many of them, from my experience never offer any feedback. If one were to pay anything, I strongly suggest the writer look to make sure they WILL get feedback. At least they can get something for their money except a cancelled check or credit card line. However, to me it’s a lot cheaper to read to a writer’s critique group. Sure, it’s they may not be literary experts, per se, with the clout of a magazine, but you never know if these contest people really have one on staff to do the judging or not.

      Just my take.

      Being a magazine contest, there IS a small shot of getting your story in print, but you might do that without paying by just submitting anyway.

      I’m so glad you wrote though to give my readers another view to consider.

      Rock on Paul!


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