Help for writers
Have you ever wondered whether there’s any point in entering competitions? Someone must be winning, but why is it somehow never you? It might be worth reviewing how you approach competitions, to see if you can achieve a better result.
First of all:
- Research thoroughly to see what is available. Don't restrict yourself to what is available in your own country, as there are plenty of international competitions which you can enter. We list quite a few of these in our Writing Opportunity series.
- Before you enter the competition, look carefully at the prizes to make sure it’s worth it! Apart from cash prizes, a competition will sometimes offer publication or further help with your writing, and these competitions are obviously good ones to go for.
- Scrutinise the judges and the organisation running the competition and make up your own mind about whether it’s a good or prestigious competition to enter.
- Target what you enter, according to your own work.
- Look carefully at the entry fees. Some extremely well-regarded competitions, such as the UK Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition (which is actually open to international entry) charge fees, so don’t feel that asking for a payment is like vanity publishing. Competitions are expensive to run, so the organisation concerned may well want to cover its costs, or even make some income from the competition. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth entering their competition.
- Do bear in mind that a lot of entries means a lot of competition, so some smaller competitions may offer a better chance of winning.
Once you’ve decided which competition to go for:
- Make sure you always follow the rules exactly. Get a copy of them and study them carefully to make sure that you have understood them completely. Check that there isn’t anything buried in the small print that means you’re only eligible if you live in a certain country, or even region, or if you’re a certain age or gender.
- Focus on exactly what is required and follow the theme, if there is one. There’s little point in recycling a story or poem if it doesn’t fit with what the competition is asking for, it simply won’t be considered.
- Make sure that your work is well presented. If you are required to send it in hard copy, print out a new copy and send it in a big envelope. Never use fancy fonts or coloured ink, you need to make as professional an impression as possible.
- If it’s an email submission, follow the guidelines exactly and never send more material than is asked for.
- Make sure that you give your work its best chance by working on it before submitting it to get it into the very best state you can. There’s no time for second thoughts once you’ve put your entry in. The judges will have a lot of work to read, so make sure yours grabs their attention from the very first line.
- Always read your work through carefully before you send it to check for grammar and spelling mistakes. These won’t necessarily disqualify you, but they make a bad impression, especially if your work looks virtually illiterate.
- Never send your only copy of your work and never send handwritten material.
- This may seem obvious, but make sure you keep to the submission deadline! In order to do this keep a close eye on what is coming up, note the date and make sure your submission is ready in time.
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