Question: Are writing contests a realistic way to get published? How can you tell which ones are legit?



It’s always nice to have someone acknowledge your hard work, and it’s especially encouraging to be recognized with an award or honorable mention for your book. Receiving this recognition can be a great boost to your writing career (and confidence!). There are many types of writing contests, some more prestigious than others, so it’s important to understand what each can offer. While most writing contests won’t directly lead to a major publishing deal, being a finalist or winner can definitely help you on your publishing and book marketing journey. Here are the main types of writing contests available:

Short Form Fiction Includes flash fiction, micro fiction, genre-specific, and anthology contests.

Full-length Fiction Includes both pre-publication and post-publication, literary, and genre-specific contests.

Poetry A popular category for contests since poetry can be challenging to publish and market otherwise. Includes both single works and collections.

Nonfiction – Includes creative nonfiction, essays, life writing, and memoir.

Local/Regional – For writers within a certain geographic area, often sponsored by local or regional writing groups and organizations.

There are several benefits to participating in writing contests, but these are the top 3 in my experience:

There are many benefits to winning writing contests.Strengthening your resume and credibility – A contest win communicates to the publishing industry that you are committed to your craft. It can also attract attention from agents, journalists, reviewers, librarians, and buyers. These decision-makers receive hundreds of books every week, and your award says, “You can be assured that I'm a quality book worthy of your attention.” A contest win, even a local contest, adds a marketability factor to your resume. It can also help you secure speaking engagements and other opportunities where credentials are reviewed.

Enhancing your promotional efforts – As an award finalist or winner, your online discoverability increases when you are recognized by the award program online. And, by sharing this recognition through your website and socials, you can further increase your footprint while also creating some excitement for your work. Award winners often receive artwork or stickers that can be added to the book cover. Seeing an award on the cover of a book can influence a reader's purchase decision.

Providing validation and improving self-confidence – Contests are often judged by industry professionals and a win can give a writer a real boost of confidence. Confidence translates into any future work and helps create a stronger presentation package. A contest win may also inspire you to take more risks as you progress with current projects, and motivate you to keep pushing forward when self-doubt tries to creep in. Believe in your writing and be very proud of these achievements!

Other benefits may include a monetary reward, publication in a collection of work or in a print or online magazine, and bragging rights. If getting published in an anthology collection or in an edition of a literary magazine is your goal, then seek out those contests that specifically offer that as the prize.

How to make sure a writing contest is legit

Not all writing contests are created equal, so it’s important to do your research. Here are some things to consider when reviewing a contest opportunity:

-Who is sponsoring the contest? Are you familiar with the literary magazine, organization, or group?
-Is there an entry fee, and if so, does it seem reasonable?
-Who is judging the contest?
-What is the prize structure?
-How long has this contest been running, and who are the past winners?

Writers get suspicious when there is an entry fee for contest submission, but many reputable contests require a small fee that ultimately goes toward the prize payout. If the entry fee is under $30, it's probably reasonable. If there is a steep entry fee, dig deep with your research and answers to the above questions. Only be willing to pay more if the event is extremely prestigious or the cash prize is large.

When in doubt, check with your writing peers. Chances are if they haven’t heard of the contest in question, it’s probably something to pass on until you can find out more.

An important tip: always read the fine print of the contest rules and regulations, and make sure you aren’t giving up any rights to your material. Even if you win the competition, you should still retain your rights. Some organizations may request to license your work for publication on their website or in a published collection as part of the conditions, but you need to be aware of this up front.

If you’re looking for ways to build your resume and credibility as a writer or get recognized for your craft and storytelling abilities, entering writing contests might be a tool to consider. Winning book awards may not make your book an instant bestseller, but will enhance your overall author platform. You can find contest directories on the ALC’s Writing Resources page.