Finding Writing Contests

Whether you’re a poet, short story writer, a novelist, etc, I’m sure most of you have submitted your work to a writing contest at some point in your life. Contests can come in many shapes and forms. They might be for large anthologies to help you get your name out there. Some may pay royalties to their authors. Others have big cash prizes. And some pay nothing, but at least you get the bragging rights. The things I hear most writers say is that they don’t know where to submit their work or where to start looking, or how to prepare their piece.

First off, here are few of the common places I visit to find writing contests/opportunities:

  • Submittable: This is a submission engine as well as a place where sites compile contests that are available. More and more sites are using submittable as a way for authors to send in their work. Once you enter your information once, it’s usually there for you to use again. What’s great is you can track what pieces you’ve sent in, where they are in the process, and which pieces have been accepted or rejected. There’s a messaging system too so you can contact the contest site if you have questions. Once you sign up and indicate your genre interests, it you can also look up available contests through the system.
  • Poets & WritersThis site is great because not only does it provide helpful writing tips, it also frequently updates contests or submission opportunities. You can filter it depending on entry fee, genre, deadline, etc. So if you’re only interested in poetry, you can just select the poetry category. Or if you don’t want to pay for an entry, you can filter out all of the contests that cost money.
  • Writer’s DigestWriter’s Digest hosts a lot of writing contests each year. They also list other contests/events that are going around, so keep checking in for the newest and greatest stuff. Like Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest provides helpful literary tips as you’re prepping to submit your material.
  • Jerry JenkinsJerry Jenkins lists contests that are going on throughout the year and it gets updated every year. What I like the most about it is that it’ll provide a link directly to the contest so you don’t have to go looking for it.
  • The Write LifeI like this website a lot. They provide 31 free writing contests that have cash prizes. So if you’re looking to make some money for your writing, this may be the route to go.

These are just a few sites to get you started. If you’re looking for a particular genre, you might have to dig a little deeper into the internet to find the right contest for you.

As you prep your piece for submission, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Read the Guidelines: Whatever contest you enter, it is vital you read their guidelines. They might have very particular ways that they want you to submit your piece (font, size, single vs double-spaced, etc). If you don’t do as they request, they may disqualify you without even reading your piece. Get it in on time, and if any of the directions are confusing, be sure to e-mail them and ask for clarification.
  • Stay on Topic: If you enter a contest that has a particular theme, make sure you’re submitting a piece that works. If the theme is “Aliens in Space,” don’t give them a contemporary romance or paranormal entry. Stay as close to the topic as possible.
  • Word Count: When contests give max and min word counts, you need to stick to them. Even if your entry is 5001 words and the max is 5000, that one word can still get you disqualified. Again, stick to the guidelines.
  • Review Other Published Pieces: Some sites will have previous anthologies available for your to peruse. If you have the opportunity, read through some of their pieces to see if your work seems to fit in. If the magazine/anthology is completely different from your realm of work, you might consider submitting somewhere else.
  • Make Sure the Contest is Legitimate: There are many contests out there that will gladly take an author’s money and not do anything with the contest or will scam the writer. Make sure they’ve published other pieces before, they have a history, and the information on their site is spelled correctly. I know that last one might sound odd, but a lot of scam sites will have misspellings, which would seem odd if they’re running a writing contest.
  • Don’t Harass the Judges: When you submit a piece, don’t e-mail the judges or the site owners repeatedly to find out the status of your piece (unless it’s to notify them that your work was published somewhere else). The more you pester, the more likely it is your piece will be dropped. It takes time to review the work, choose the right pieces, and prep them for publication on paper or on site. Be patient. Generally “no news” is good news because it means you haven’t been rejected yet.

I hope this helps you as you look for places to submit your work. If you have other tips or sites people should check out, feel free to post them below!

Happy Writing!

Accepting Rejection

It’s bound to happen to all writers. You write a piece for a contest, anthology, or agent. You’re excited. You really feel it has what it takes to get published. You send that e-mail off along with your hopes and dreams. A few weeks later (sometimes just a day later) you get a one-word response that shatters all of that.

Rejection.

Okay, so maybe this sounds a little over dramatic, but, as writers, we’re all faced with rejection. Even the greats endure it (Rowling was passed up at least 7 times before a publishing company took on Harry Potter). That doesn’t make it sting any less. Here you presented your heart and soul to someone and they broke it with a single e-mail.

What are you supposed to do?

First, let’s address how you feel and what to do about shelf care.

  • Breathe: Take a breath and remind yourself that everyone gets rejected. Just because the contest or agent didn’t accept it doesn’t mean it’s bad.
  • Feel: Allow yourself to feel mad or sad if you need to. I know this may sound silly, but if you can get your emotions out, you can go back to the rejection, and your piece, with a clearer head.
  • Don’t take it personally: Easier said than done, I know. But don’t take this as a rejection of you or as a personal attack. As with every “contest” in life, some people win, and some don’t. This is NOT a reflection of you or your self worth. Keeping going forward and do what you love.
  • Step back: Step away from the piece for a while. You probably just spent a bunch of time working on it and it’s too fresh in your head. Take a few days to relax then get back to editing or submitting. You don’t want to rush in and send it to a contest that doesn’t quite fit the piece.
  • Get back to work: After you’ve had a moment to collect yourself, sit back down and get back to work on your piece or your other stories!

Second, let’s take a look at that rejection letter, because sometimes there’s something there you might not notice in the heat of the moment.

  • Generic Response: This is the auto-generated, “Thank you for the chance to read your piece. Unfortunately you were not selected.” If you get this kind of response without any additional information, then let it go and move on. Prep your piece for another contest.
  • Personal: Sometimes you may receive a more personal rejection letter. Someone may have seen something in your piece and decided to take the time to respond back to you. These e-mails or letters will be signed by the person you queried and likely contain more than the typical “you were not selected.” In this case, consider writing a very short thank you letter back. It’s a good way to keep connections open.
  • Personal Feedback: These are my favorites. The queried person not only responds with a personal letter, she also provides feedback. Use this as constructive criticism to revise your work, not as an offensive response. This means she’s taken the time to help you with your work. And if she mentions wanting to see your writing in the future, make sure you keep that person in mind! Definitely send a thank you letter back.

The final question is, what do you do with your rejected piece?

  • Submit again: In some cases, try again without revising. Maybe the piece wasn’t right for that particular contest. It doesn’t mean your work is bad! Go ahead and send it somewhere else. My rule of thumb is I wait for three rejections before I touch the piece again.
  • Consider Revising: If the contest provided some feedback, you may consider revising. Take another look at the story. Are there ways to revise it? Can you make it sound better or tighten up the language? Did you miss one of the contest requirements? It doesn’t hurt to look it over.
  • Blog it: Sometimes if you can’t get a piece published, it doesn’t hurt to either blog it or post it on Wattpad. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your work on another platform!

There’s nothing wrong with getting rejected. It helps you grow as an author and prepares you for sending out some of your larger pieces. Rejection is all part of the process, and the best thing to do is to learn, grow, and keep writing!