Writing Contests: Do Your Research Creative Writers.

What You Need To Know

A lot of aspiring writers will get their start through various online strategies (i.e. submitting to literary magazines and entering writing contests). The internet is a huge deal in the writing industry now, and many people prefer it over print. It’s convenient. You can pull out your phone and be reading anywhere. You can Google new literary magazines to follow or find a fun, new blog to enjoy. The internet is great. Unfortunately, there will always be people who are seeking to take advantage of this outlet. Since many unknown writers are desperately trying to find new ways to get published, it can be easy to feed off that energy and, well, take their money and/or waste their time. I did some research on writing contests and what to look out for so we can all try to avoid making that mistake.

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Research is super important. Basically, you need to do some digging before you enter a contest. You want to make sure that winning will benefit your writing career, that you won’t waste your money on a scam, and that you don’t lose time. Submitting your favorite story and not being able to send it elsewhere can eat up time. Sending your manuscript to an unknown magazine or one that doesn’t utilize social media and their website to promote the winner could lead to a victory that doesn’t beef up your writing portfolio.

Don’t Talk to Strangers

That sounds a little funny, but it’s true. You (probably) won’t personally know the person reading your submission, but you should know the person’s name and their title with the magazine/company. In the details, there should be a clear process of who reads the work and how it is judged. It’s also good to know who’s judging so you know what they like. Let’s be real, we need to submit a story that has a fighting chance of winning. If the judge likes fantasy and you send him/her a story about a teenage romance (that doesn’t involve vampires or witches) then there’s a good chance their heart will not be compelled to choose you. It’s just how it goes. You should never change your art for anyone, but you can cater your work for something like this.

So check out the publication or contest before you enter. Read past fiction submissions. Be sure that your poetry submission fits the style of the past winners. Online magazines have different targets, and it may be that you need to submit to a different one. It’s okay. You can’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

Will submissions be judged blind? How many submissions do they accept or generally receive? Looking into the judge and contest style is important, but you want to be sure that the magazine/company is a good fit for you in all aspects. It’s nice to know what you’re up against, right? It’s a Hunger Games moment where you want the odds to be in your favor.

Personally, I feel that submissions should always be judged blind. (Hey, I work on Chantwood!) It’s fair. The basis of criteria is ONLY the writing in front of the judge and nothing more. Personal conflicts and interests are not part of the decision. The work speaks for itself.

Cash Flow

Sometimes contests charge an entry fee. Sometimes that’s a red flag, but not all the time. Be sure they tell you where the money goes. If it goes towards the costs of the contest (advertising, for example) and the prize, that’s okay. They may have brought in a popular, well known judge to vamp up the contest. There could be different reasons the cost is higher.

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If it’s a large sum of money (generally the fee shouldn’t be more than $25 unless it’s a well known contest or if there are special circumstances) then hit the brakes. Many companies will hold a bunch of contests in quick concession with high fees in an attempt to make a buck. If there is no information about where the fee is directed, don’t enter.

Also, check up on how the money is awarded (PayPal, check, etc) and be sure that you are comfortable with it. How and when the winner(s) get paid should be made transparent in the details of the contest.

When and How You Will Be Notified

Okay, so you entered—now what? There should be a clear procedure for notifying both the winners and non-winners. First, especially as an emerging writer, you don’t want to keep your work tied up for too long. If you’re not going to find out for 6 months whether or not you’ve won, you might want to look elsewhere.

Find out how you will be notified. Non-winners should receive an email or some form of communication letting them know they didn’t win. I read a great blog about this. Nathaniel Tower over at The Juggling Writer wrote about his experiences and expertise with contests since he was once in charge of one himself.

Dig, Dig, Dig

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There are many things to consider before you enter a contest. Above are the points I felt were most important, but I found several great articles to reference for advice. Another good one was Victoria Strauss and her suggestions on how to make the right decision. She’s a writer for both adults and teens and full of wisdom and that she shares openly on her site.

Be sure to keep Chantwood Magazine in mind while submitting to online magazines! While we do not currently run any contests, we would sure love to read your work. We appreciate the time and effort that you put into your art, and we carefully read all submissions.

A little inspiration before you go: “Words disappear in the air, but writing remains. If you want something to be remembered about you, write it down” - Bangambiki Habyarimana, Pears of Eternity.


Check back again soon for more great tips and tricks straight from us to you!

Thanks for reading!