Winning Writing Contests
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Winning Writing Contests
by Lee Masterson

Writing contests are a wonderful way to get your name in print and in front of hundreds, even thousands, of potential new readers. They are also great professional credits to add into your growing writing portfolio. Maybe you're only entering for the lure of prize money or you need a break from your regular writing. Maybe you just like the thrill of winning!

The odds of winning a writing contest are not terrific, but there are certainly plenty of things you can do to improve those odds, and stack them in your favor.

Where possible, try to enter only those contests which do NOT charge a reading fee. It is true that some publications charge a reading fee to cover the cost of the prize money being awarded to the winners, but there have been cases in the past where writers have parted with their hard-earned money, and no one but the contest organizer has "won". Choose your intended publication carefully.

Where there is a fee involved, compare the potential prize to the entry fee. If the entry fee is $10, but first prize is only $50, then it's hardly worth your time entering that one. But if a reading fee of a couple of dollars could possibly be rewarded by a much larger prize, then obviously the small fee is an acceptable risk.

Check "Writer’s Beware" sections on the Internet for contests or organizations that have earned a bad name. Don’t enter them, no matter how good they might look, or how wonderful a prize the might be offering. A few good places to check are:
Writer Beware
Preditors and Editors
Speculations Rumor Mill

Read the guidelines for the competition you want to enter, then read them again. Then follow those guidelines to the letter. Word counts really do count. Genre is important, and if a theme is specifically chosen, do not add one sentence about that theme, simply to fit into the intended range.

Write something specifically for the contest you chose, and be very careful about the "submission policies" of the organizers. In some cases, the contest rules will state that you may not submit your work elsewhere until the winners are announced. Pay careful attention to the rules, or you may find your entry is disqualified.

Learn from the Winners
Don't just read the work of the past winners, really scrutinize the story. Not just first place either, read the runner-up stories and honorable mentions as well.

You should begin to notice similarities in style and theme. Do the judges lean towards vivid action scenes, or flowery romantic prose, or original, experimental ideas? Do they prefer a lot of dialogue, or more narrative? The winning stories should tell you a lot about the judges preferences, and can also teach you much about your own writing style at the same time.

This works especially well with themed contests. Try to find and unusual twist or original angle, and write your entry from there. Never go with your first instinct. Chances are a hundred other people also thought of the most obvious pitch for a particular theme too. If your story stands out as being the original among a hundred other clones, then the judges will be looking your way.

Before you submit your masterpiece, take the time to go through it carefully one last time. Spelling, grammar and neatness are all important factors. They mark you as professional and capable - regardless of whether you've been published before or not - and also make your submission easier to read.

Early bird
Enter your story as early as possible, and definitely well before the closing deadline. Some contest judges read entries as they come in. Early submissions would obviously have an advantage, as the judges are more engaged. Put yourself in a judges shoes - how alert would you be after reading 500 entries?

Numbers Game
Increase your odds of attracting a judge's eye and enter as many times as allowed. If your odds of winning were one story out of a possible 500 stories, then enter 5 pieces and reduce the amount of competition down in your own favor. Only try this if the guidelines state that more than one entry is okay.

Be brave!
Go ahead and post it out. Here is where so many newer writers come unstuck. They simply don't have enough faith in their own ability. Tell yourself as often as you need to that "All the great writers were once beginners too". That didn't help? Try reminding yourself that "You're writing for the love of the craft, not for an intended critic".

Do whatever it takes to make you realize that your submission is not going to go too far sitting in the bottom drawer. Your writing is just as valid as that of Hemingway, or Grisham, or King. It just hasn't been discovered yet.

And besides, as they say, you have to be in it to win it!

Finding Contests
Type "Writing Contests" into any search engine, and a surprising number of results will return.

Fiction Factor offers a listing of fee-free contests, updated regularly.
Writing world.com also has a contests listing.
Manuscript Editing has a large contest listing page
Writers-Editors also show listings for creative writing contests

These are but a few of the many places which list current contests for writers and poets. Happy hunting.

And Good Luck with your submissions.

Copyright Lee Masterson. All Rights Reserved.

Lee Masterson is a freelance writer from South Australia. She is also the editor of Fiction Factor (http://www.fictionfactor.com) - an online magazine for writers, offering tips and advice on getting published, articles to improve your writing skills, heaps of writer's resources and much more. Check out Lee's books, here and jump-start your writing career.