1Is this contest reputable?
There are a number of websites out there that are “writing contest factories.” Authors are encouraged to sign up for online communities and/or prodded to enter contests again and again. These sites can be a lot of fun, and many writers use them as a way to build their craft and confidence. But “contest factories” are generally not reputable within the larger, professional publishing industry.
Look for contests that have a solid reputation and longevity (contests that have been running for several years or even decades). Read this article for our thoughts about the professional reputation of fan fiction contests.
The following questions will help you determine how reputable a contest is and how that level of reputation affects you.
2Who are the sponsors and organizers?
If you can’t find the information you need from the “About Us” section of the contest’s website, email the organizers and ask for details. In most cases, the reputation of the contest’s organizers is directly related to the reputation of the contest.
3Who are the judges?
Often, it’s the judge who can make or break a contest’s reputation. Some organizations don’t disclose judges (often, literary journal contests are simply judged by the journal’s editors, with no special mention of specific judges).
But a specific judge of a contest might affect your willingness to enter. If a new contest—one that nobody has heard of—is being judged by a fantastic, famous author, you might want to enter. If you win, you can always say “Joe K. Author selected my story to win the You’ve Never Heard Of This Contest Prize.” The famous author’s name goes a long way toward recognition and bragging rights.
4What’s the relationship of the payment and the payout?
Would you pay ten bucks for a shot at being published in your favorite magazine, with the added incentive of a cash prize, a subscription, and/or the good karma points of financially supporting a publication you admire? If so…then this contest is probably for you.
Would you pay ten bucks so an unknown editor can consider publishing your work on his/her unknown website (which means said work will then be considered previously published and therefore less likely to be eligible for publication elsewhere)?
5Would winning this contest improve your current writing credentials?
If you’ve never published anything before, then winning a smaller contest could be a windfall! There are some ethical but lesser-known contests out there that are really fantastic for newer writers. In fact, some contests are specifically created to encourage aspiring writers, as opposed to veterans.
Look honestly at your publication credits and see if a win would be a step forward for you.
6What are your odds of winning?
Certain contests—the very well-known ones—attract high-level, professional writers. Other contests attract hobbyists and new writers. Often, you can determine this by looking at the lists of people who have won in the past, judges, and affiliates.
Keep in mind that there is no rule that says you can’t email a writing contest organizer and ask, “How many entries did you receive the last time you ran this contest?” You might not get an answer, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.