Tips on How to Win Writing Contests

Since this blog is for the underdog, the yet-to-be-discovered, the unpublished or occasionally published writers, we really need to start talking about writing contests.  While at this stage everything would be a “big break” in your writing career, winning a writing contest has a couple extra bonuses:

  1. Writing contests usually have a bit of money attached.  Getting paid for writing is a nice and (at this stage) rare experience.  It can help with the bills, help pay for a writing conference you really want to go to, and at the very least allows you to brag at the next family reunion that you’re a paid writer who won a writing contest.  (Which will give them pause before asking–again–when you’re going to get a “real” job).
  2. Winning a writing contest is huge bragging rights on both query letters and cover letters.  Once you win something, literary agents and literary magazine editors will start looking at your manuscript and short story submissions more seriously.  It’s like the snowball effect.  Once you get published somewhere or win a contest and your accomplishments start building up, literary agents and editors start taking notice and, provided your short story submission is some strong and impressive writing, you’re going to get published and win contests more and more.

Once you win a writing contest once, it’s only a matter of time before you win again!

So, after me explaining how awesome and useful it is to win writing contests, you’re wondering how the heck you do that.  “I’ve submitted to a hundred writing contests and haven’t won one yet!” you’re probably lamenting.  I know that I submitted to–and lost– dozens of writing contests before getting a little smarter about where I was submitting and what I was submitting.  If you follow the tips below, I promise your chances will improve!

Tips on How to Win Writing Contests

  1. Work on your writing.  Make sure the short story you’re submitting is the best as it can possibly be, plot-wise and grammar-wise, before sending it off.
  2. Read–and then re-read–the submission guidelines.  Don’t disqualify yourself from the contest because of a dumb mistake like having your name on the submission when they want it to be anonymous, or sending it snail-mail when they only accept email submissions.
  3. Search for literary magazines and literary journals that are selective for some reason or another.  For example, they might only publish female writers, or writers from a certain geographical region, or only undergraduate students.  This narrows down the submission pool, making any contests they hold slightly less competitive.
  4. Submit to writing contests that have small prizes.  If you’re just starting out this whole process, don’t start submitting to the $1,000 1st prize writing contests.  It is very unlikely that you’ll win one of the big contests with a big literary journal (who can afford that kind of prize) as a new writer.  Go for the smaller ones, with 1st prizes that are only $100, or where you only win a few free copies of the publication.  You’ll be completing against less big-name, established writers.

Since I think that it’s really important for writers to submit to writing contests, I’m going to start posting a writing contest–one of the small ones that you have a better chance of winning–every Friday.  Today I shall highlight Literary Laundry.

Literary Laundry Writing Contests

Awards of Distinction:  $500 for best poem; $500 for best short story; $250 for best one-act drama

Undergraduate Awards:  $250 for best poem; $250 for best short story

Though they accept submissions from everybody and anybody, if you’re an undergraduate, make sure you mention it in your cover letter because it uniquely qualifies you for their Undergraduate Awards AND their Awards of Distinction.  Check out the rest of the submission guidelines here.

Type of Journal:  Online

Deadline:  December 1st, 2011

Official Submission Response Time:  Unknown

While you’re waiting, read their online journal and find out if your writing fits their style.

Do you know of any other small contests that you’ve won or think people should submit to?  Feel free to share :]

Good luck!!

(Image, Creative Commons)

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4 thoughts on “Tips on How to Win Writing Contests

  1. hannahkarena says:

    They are a strictly online publication so I’m pretty sure that they can and do accept international submissions. In their information, they “encourage all writers to submit their work,” so that should include Australians! Good luck!

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