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!

Valley West Mall Book Signing!

Wow, what an incredible weekend! I spent June 29th and 30th over at Valley West Mall in Des Moines, IA for a two-day book signing event presented by Indie Author Book Expo. Organized by Jenn Thompson, this event brought around 40 authors/creators together to sell books, make connections, and meet the good people of Des Moines. Despite an art festival, and the abysmal heat rolling through Iowa, the expo still brought 1,100 shoppers. Between author tables, live music, interviews, and a poetry reading, people definitely had a lot to see.

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This was my first time selling at a two-day event, and I was beyond nervous before I went. Author Alexandra Penn and I made the trip together, which sadly will be our last big show for sometime as she’s getting ready to move to school in Scotland. We made the most of it though, including hilarious road-trip conversations, dancing to the YMCA and other fun songs at the mall, and just sharing time being authors and friends rather than Directors. It was a nice reprieve.

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One of the best parts of the event was getting to catch up with both familiar and new faces. Brian K Morris and I haven’t seen one another since I.O.W.A. last year, and I can’t tell you how great it was to get a big hug from him. He’s been a mentor to me practically since we met, and I’ve embodied his ideology of “rising tide” when it comes to working with other authors. If we all work together, we rise together. Frankly, I’m shocked and disappointed in myself that we didn’t get a picture together!

He brought with him Teresa Dunn who is building her writing career even as we speak! I have to say, the expo is a great place to learn the ins and outs of selling books and to meet amazing authors who can offer tips about anything from how to get published to how to set up your signing table. Ashley Lovell and I spent plenty of time discussing ideas for table displays and brainstorming what would catch someone’s eye. I can’t wait to see what her table looks like when her next book comes out! Cassandra DenHartog (come see her at I.O.W.A 2019!) decided to add a little friend to my table who is now fondly named #Skelebird. He and #Yorick the skull will be making appearances and shenanigans at future signings, I’m sure.

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Other familiar faces included the incredible Kristine Plum, a fellow urban/paranormal fantasy writer (Alex and I weren’t the only ones bopping along to music).  Satish Jayaraj went around teaching authors how to create origami dragons, which are featured in his book. He’s actually hosting a book launch event on July 20th in Cedar Rapids, IA, so you should check him out and show your support! Tabetha Waite stopped by for a picture. She’s a great historical romance author I’ve featured in my website interviews.

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As always, I made a lot of great connections with the authors, but I also met some incredible readers. Most of the people who stopped by my table were very generous and interested in The Purple Door District. My favorite experience, though, was meeting two lovely young women who just couldn’t hold back their love for reading. They not only got the book, they proudly displayed PDD art and Bianca’s necklace. Seeing their excitement is what encourages me to keep writing, because I see myself in them when I was younger, eagerly searching for my next favorite book. I truly hope they enjoy it and they use it to fuel their own creativity.

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All-in-all, it was a great event, and I can’t thank Jenn Thompson enough for all the hard work she put into IABE. As someone who is currently trying to plan an author signing, I know just how much goes into preparing something like this. It’s no easy job, and it takes a very caring and hard-working soul to do what she does. Check out her blog to see more fun pictures from the event!

With that, this very tired writer will bid you ado. Keep your eye out for more pictures from future events, as well as what trouble Skelebird gets himself into.

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As a reminder, The Purple Door District is in the running for a reader’s choice award. I still need 50 nominations by 7/13 to move on to the next round, so if you have a moment, please submit your vote here.

Happy reading!

Review: Mahogony: A Love Letter To Black

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I’ve decided that I want to start writing reviews of local writers or books that I really enjoy. I’m going to kick off this series with the chapbook “Mahogany: A Love Letter To Black.” Written by Heather “Byrd” Roberts, a poet, performer, and teaching artist in Chicago, this chapbook tells a very deep, emotional story. It is a journey through her life, echoing both the tribulations and the joys she’s experienced.

Heather graduated from Cornell College and received a Bachelors in Special Studies in Performance Art. She also received a Masters in Organizational Leadership from St. Ambrose University and a Certificate in Spoken Word Pedagogy from Concordia University-Chicago. Currently, she is the Programs Associate at Young Chicago Authors (YCA). YCA is a literary non-profit in Chicago that focus on cultivating more than 10,000 young peoples’ voices through writing, publication, and performance education. She is also a member of the Poetic Forum Collective that has reoccurring shows at Stage 773 in Chicago.

I met Heather at Cornell College in Iowa, and I have always been impressed and amazed by her writing. After I helped found Wordsmiths, a creative writing group on campus, she founded Lyrically Inclined, a poetry/performance poetry group. She has carried on with her amazing talent to create “Mahogany: A Love Letter to Black.”

I absolutely adored this chapbook, and I had the honor and pleasure of being one of her editors. The poems are raw, honest, and powerful. I grew angry at the injustice that she described, and it made me understand more just what she has gone through over the course of her life. Her language is beautiful and tantalizing. It’s easy to hear the heartbeat in each line of poetry, her heart beating to the rhythm of her words.

I highly encourage you to pick up this amazing piece and check Heather “Byrd” out on her facebook page. You can also visit her website to learn more about her and her journey.

To purchase “Mahogany: A Love Letter To Black,” you can find it here on amazon.

Congratulations on your success, Heather “Byrd”!