Apologies for the bad pun. Given my recent post about writing competitions, I thought it a good idea to talk about what to look for when considering entering a competition.
It may sound a bit economic, but I think a solid cost-benefit analysis is necessary before entering any writing competition. Basically, do some research before you enter. Be sure that research includes more than just perusing the competition’s own website as they’re want to make themselves sound good.
The basic cost to enter any writing competition should be pretty obvious. Usually there is some sort of entry fee. Anything more than fifty dollars should probably be considered suspicious. In addition, consider that many competitions have lower fees for entering by an earlier deadline. There are also many solid competitions that cost nothing to enter.
Beyond the basic financial cost of entering a competition, you might also consider the time commitment involved. When is the deadline? Do you have something ready to enter? If not, will you be ready in time? A deadline is a great motivator, however I do not recommend entering a first draft finished at the last minute. Since doing well in a competition is difficult, enter your best work. If you can’t, then you might as well save your money.
Another hidden consideration is that every competition must justify its existence. While some competitions do run as a non-profit, they all model themselves like most businesses and must at least financially break even. It is a good idea to consider what benefit the competition receives from each entry, and whether their benefit is a cost to you. Most importantly, is the competition only in it for the money? Find out.
Acclaim, good press, and money are the most common benefits writing competitions advertise. Money is a big one, and often the top of a competition’s website will have a huge dollar figure posted to entice people to enter. This is the moment to remember that your chance of winning that prize money is slim. It’s also a chance to consider what other benefits you can gain from entry.
As I just mentioned, you get a deadline. This benefit alone is worth the motivation to push you to finish a piece you’re stuck on or even complete an entirely new work.
Many competitions now offer up notes from the judges for each entrant. While it is helpful to get some impartial feedback from an unknown source, just remember to take those notes with a grain of salt. Also, be careful with enticements to purchase additional notes. Usually the notes included with entry are only about a paragraph, but for extra money you can get extra notes. It may, or may not, be worth the cost.
If a writing competition associates with any sort of festival, as is the case with many screenwriting competitions, entrants often get discounts on festival passes. If you’re ready to enter the competition and plan to attend the festival, this could be a good way to cut costs.
While there are some great smaller benefits to entering a writing competition, there’s a big one I always like to consider. I always look to see how the competition is received in the wider world or writing. In a word, does the competition have any industry clout?
If you enter a competition that nobody has ever heard of and do well, or even win, it may do nothing for your career. However, if you only make it past the first round in a competition that everybody in the industry respects, you suddenly have some ammunition in your pocket. Just doing mediocre in a revered competition can get your foot in the door, and may give you a chance to be read by a person with decision power. It could be the beginning of a potential sale or publication.
At that point, you better hope your work is up to snuff.
Make sure that any competition you enter does not gain any rights to your work no matter what. It is not worth giving up ownership of your writing, even if you’re the grand prize winner. Any of the reputable writing competitions want to help your career, not make money off your work. It’s your work, you should make the money.
Finally, I do not directly endorse any specific writing competitions. While I do have my opinions on what competitions are worth entering, those opinions apply to my situation.
So, consider your own situation, do your research, and decide if you should enter into a writing competition. Best of luck.