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Writers@Work: Contests are one of a Writers Best Tools by C. Hope Clark

Today, I have a real treat for you. Our Write Now! Mastermind guest author, C. Hope Clark, blogs about contests! If you read this and want more information on making money from multiple funding streams, don’t forget to attend the Write Now! Mastermind class next Wednesday, September 26 at 12:00 noon (central time). Sign up here to attend.

In addition to all this great information, we have a contest for you! Clark has offered to give away either a copy of her new book, Low Country Bribe or a one-year subscription to her Total FundsforWriters package (winner’s choice). Enter the contest by commenting on the blog or tweeting about the post (or both). (Instructions are below).

Contests are one of a Writer’s Best Tools by C. Hope Clark

When I speak at conferences and speak of contests, I can see the room divide in differing opinions. Half remain open minded. The other half instantly thinks scam or waste of time. In one fell swoop, loaded with facts and motivation, I make it my goal to win the room over, bringing everyone to the same sheet of music: Contests are a Great Tool.

Contests aren’t sweepstakes. They are challenges. They judge writing quality and reward those with talent. What’s wrong with that? Let’s dispel the myths of writing contests and see if I can bring you around.

MYTH #1 – Contests are scams. The overwhelming majority of contests are legitimate events. If you aren’t certain about the validity of a contest, do the following:

  • Google the contest and look for negative reports on forums and sites;
  • Study the contest sponsor. If it’s reputable, so is the contest;
  • Look at the previous winners. Google their names for contact information then e-mail them to ask for advice;
  • E-mail the contest and ask your questions. A decent contest sponsor will make sure you receive a prompt, accurate response.

You find as many contest scams as you do publisher, agent, magazine and blog scams. Heck, you’ll probably find more publishing scams. Contests are used by sponsors to raise awareness of their publication or company as well as support the writing community. They look marvelous in your query letter or book proposal, on the cover of your book or on your website. They give you authenticity. They can even serve as barometers for your work as you’re finding your way. When you start placing in contests, you realize your writing is growing.

MYTH #2 – Entry fees mean contests are scams. Entry fees are needed for most contests that do not have a charitable supporter footing the bill. Contest sponsors charge entry fees to cover expenses such as:

  • Prize money;
  • Advertising;
  • Publication of the winners;
  • Fees for judges;
  • And in some cases, an awards presentation.

Some writers see entry fees as simply a reading fee, but in reality, contests are time consuming and not cheap to manage. The man-hours to log in entries, distribute submissions to judges, and select the winners can be extensive as well as expensive. Frankly, contests that do not charge an entry fee catch my attention more, as I wonder where they got their prize money, and if they’ll be able to pay in the end. Big magazine names like Real Simple, Seventeen, or Esquire Magazine have the bank account for prizes, but a literary journal would not. Again, a lot hinges upon the contest sponsor.

MYTH #3 – Contests play favorites. It’s amazing to me that writers can be skeptical about contest nepotism but not think twice about a magazine, publisher or agent giving preferential treatment to someone they know or a friend of someone they know. Contests usually require blind judging, meaning that your entry is identified with a number instead of the author’s name. Contests have reputations like any other entity in the writing profession, and they cannot afford for disgruntled applicants to ruin their good names over accusations of favoritism. The writing community is pretty close-knit, and word spreads rapidly about such occurrences. After all, most writers are Googling a contest before entering, and those negatives tend to float to the surface.

Literary competitions can serve you well, my friends. Placing in competitions can open doors like you wouldn’t believe. In the thirteen years I’ve managed contests via my website FundsforWriters, I’ve seen the following opportunities occur for contest winners and runners-up:

  • Publication – Many contests provide publication, whether on a website or via a book contract complete with royalties;
  • Money – I earned $750 in contest wins for my first mystery manuscript Lowcountry Bribe. One of my readers won $5,000 and another $1,500 and a trip to Scotland to claim his prize;
  • Recognition – My agent admitted that my contest wins caught her attention before she signed me on as a client. Recently, my first mystery release Lowcountry Bribe won The Silver Falchion Award at the Killer Nashville Conference, and my publisher intends to use that on the cover of my second mystery release, Tidewater Murder;
  • Credibility – Your writing may be good, but until you’re judged and deemed worthy, it’s hard to make a name for yourself in this competitive industry. Contests are a way to break in before you break in, so to speak. Place in a few contests and you might be amazed at how many publishers, agents, or bookstores are willing to give you a second glance.

Give contests a chance. As you’re struggling to become a writer, or if you’re changing genres and breaking in anew, or if you’re trying to weigh if your writing is professional enough to publish, you might find that contests help catapult you faster up the ladder. As a minimum, they serve as strong encouragement to keep you committed, and we can all use that little shove.

Your turn: How have contests supported your career as a writer? Any advice for readers? Leave your comment below

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About the Author: C. Hope Clark is founder of , chosen by Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 12 years. Her newsletters about contests, grants, markets and publishers reach 35,000 readers, and she regularly speaks across the country at conferences and writing clubs.

She is also author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series. The debut Lowcountry Bribe, was released by Bell Bridge Books in February 2012, and the second release Tidewater Murder, comes out in early 2013.






34 Responses

  1. Hi! Subscribing to fundsforwriters opened my mind to entering contests. I am sure my train of thought was that of many writers: scam, scam and more scam! After I read some testimonials and felt comfortable with the fact that the listed contests were part of the FFW newsletter, I have entered at least 3 contests. Note: I did my research on them as well. I have not heard anything back as this can take some time but my fingers are crossed. Not only does it give the chance to have my work reviewed but it allows me to experiment with styles and genres that I may not typically be involved in. My advice is to try at least one. If you don’t want to pay a submission fee, there are many contests out there that do not require a fee. Thanks!


  2. Thanks, Hope, for this informative article. For the last three years I’ve placed in the top 100 of the Inspirational Category of the annual Writer’s Digest Competition. I just learned that this year I placed fifth — and I’m honored. (And I assure you, I know no one on the editorial staff at WD.)

    But here’s my thought/comment: I’ve been a professional journalist and writer for more than 35 years. I’ve won some very prestigious journalism awards and now, semi-retired, moving into my creative writing career.

    I’m absolutely thrilled at the latest WD win. However, there doesn’t seem to be much of a book market for inspirational writing. And thus far, none of my awards have translated into getting an agent — which I do want — or getting my first novel published, which is now in the hands of agents. How do I leverage all my background and awards in a way perhaps that I’m not??? Ideas anyone???

    (PS: As an aside, I’d like your readers to visit our blog, Birth of a Novel, and write a blurb about their published novel or work in progress. It’s our way of trying to help writers. Many thanks!)

  3. Thank you for this article Hope. I am just beginning writing and am hesitant to enter contests that require a fee, not because I see them as scams, but because I’m too cheap. You have now made me rethink entering contests because of the possible benefits placement could have on my writing career.

    1. Good, Valerie. You don’t have to invest a lot. Just pick one a month, or every two months. Limit your fees to $5 or $10 per month. But they can open doors. And don’t forget the free ones as well. They give you purpose, and when you place in one, it’s remarkable.

  4. Marilena,

    I’m amazed that your level of competition wins has not garnered you an agent! I would not give up. Took me 72 queries to land one. Sometimes it’s pure timing. You might look at your query letter as well as research the agents more to find ones more in tune with your genre. There are many inspirational publishers out there, though I admit many of them require an agent. Keep at it. My guess is you’re on the cusp of landing one.

  5. Hi Hope,
    I enjoyed your post. I have entered several contests, but no wins. I did get a grab bag prize about how to write e-books. As a result, I wrote and published my first e-book in 2006. I received some royalties from it. However, I would have never considered the e-books until I received the prize. Lately, I have stopped looking at contest listings, but your post has inspired me to keep at it. Thank you.

    1. Rekaya
      I’m glad you’re reconsidering contests. They can help. As a minimum, they make you write and focus on the parameters of what you write. So many don’t enter, and so many others throw something they’ve already written into the mix. But used professionally, contests can be stepping stones to a career. Thanks for reading!

  6. Barbara Hollace

    Hope, thanks for sharing your wisdom about contests. Contests are a great motivation for me because they set a definite timeline to get a piece done. Whether I win the prize or just improve my writing skills through the experience, I’m a winner. I’ve also found that contests help me dream big. The question is, why not? Not, why me? Your success brings hope ( no pun intended) to us all. Thanks!

    1. Barbara

      YES!!! I love what you said about contests making you dream big. We can get caught up in depression, in the hugeness of the odds of making it as a writer, but I think contests can help you keep going. Actually submitting anywhere does that, but if you win a contest, it’s a huge shot in the arm. Thanks!

  7. Thanks for an inspiring article, Hope.

    I’m starting to take a closer look at contests as a way to dip my feet into the pool. As another commenter said, it’s good motivation and sets a deadline. And I like your advice about setting a monthly “budget” for entering contests.

  8. Contests are great for all levels of writers, but I think they are especially valuable for beginning writers like me.

    1. They get you ready to handle rejection.
    2. They help you understand quality writing.
    3. They give you opportunities to increase your skills in editing.
    4. They can help you find your voice.
    5. Win/top finishing pieces will help build your portfolio.

    Lastly, the other thing that I think makes contests valuable is when they offer judges commentary. Lots of judges are publihsers, editors, or published authors. That kind of feedback is weel worth most contest fees.

    1. Oh yes, some contests give you feedback, and others will give you a full critique with an added fee, usually much cheaper than you could ever get edited elsewhere. And you never know if your name will be remembered!

  9. Marie

    This is a wonderful article! I loved the recommendation of emailing contest winners for feedback! I’m certainly going to practice that 🙂 Thanks for an uplifting blog post on this important topic 🙂

  10. Pingback : Write Now! Weekly Writing Tip: The List Book | Write Now Coach! Blog

  11. Gigi Jones

    Yesterday I entered a contest from a Funds for Writers link. Whether I win or not, rewriting to meet the contest parameters improved the piece tremendously. Thank you Hope!

  12. Jen Daniele

    Hope, you’ve renewed my interest in contests. I’ve entered a few, but haven’t placed at all. I’m easily discouraged, but you make such a great point about it being worth the challenge. Even if I never win or place, I really do need to challenge myself more to get my work out there. Thank you for reminding me!

  13. Ruth Ann Parsapour

    Thanks for the information on contests. My experiences have been positive in general. All of the contests I have entered have been for members of professional groups. So far I have found three aspects of these competitions to be extremely helpful. They are: deadlines, judges’ comments, and encouragement. Most of my awards have have been for short stories, poetry, and articles, all with small monetary awards. Currently I plan to look for more opportunities to have my work published as part of the competition award.

  14. I have been following you and Rochelle for some time now. I was thrilled to see you both converge here on this blog and on the Mastermind call this month.

    The only writing I’ve been doing is technical writing for business applications – not my ideal place. But this post and the call inspired me to finally start entering some contests and instilling that 15-minute-a-day habit to nurture my creative side. It feels good to have finally have a plan that will move me in a more satisfying direction.

    Thanks 🙂

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