Friday, January 10, 2014

Writing Contests: Enter or Avoid? By Jacqueline Seewald

I've entered a number of writing contests over the years. Some were worth the effort, some were not. 
Some I won, some I didn’t. On a positive note, winning writing contests can provide recognition for writers. However, I discovered that I could be cheated if I wasn't careful. There are some smooth operators out there. Their scams are likely not illegal, but they are still to the detriment of writers.
Most writing contests these days cost money to enter. Some of them ask quite a lot of money. So naturally it’s wise to be wary. But even some of the “free contests” aren’t really what they seem to be. You must read the contest rules and fine print with care.
Some “free” contests promise to put your work in an anthology. All you have to do is buy the anthology. Some poetry and short story contests on the web offer a prize for the best work. The catch? They reserve the right to archive your work in perpetuity regardless of whether or not you have won the contest. So you will never be able to sell that story or poem for first rights. And chances are no one will accept it even as a reprint since it's now out there for free on the Internet. This kind of contest is just a scam for a site to obtain free content—your content! So read those rules carefully before you decide to submit your work.
Be aware that you need a statement as to how long a site intends to archive your work. Again, if it's in perpetuity, you are out the reprints. And reprints can be lucrative. Even print publications may insist on internet rights and display your work for all to see. Make certain archiving rights are limited and that you have it in writing.
With so many contests out there, try to submit your work to publications that have been established for at least several years. Many publications come and go, often folding before you even receive payment for your winning work.
You’ve won a book writing contest? Great! But book contracts can be tricky. The publisher may demand all sorts of rights. Try to limit what you give away. For example, if the publisher only does e-books, you shouldn’t be signing away audio and print rights. If you can afford it, have a lawyer familiar with intellectual property rights look the contract over for you.
The best thing at this point is to contact a literary agent. Have another book ready for consideration. Then it may be possible to have a literary agent represent you, but be aware that the reputable ones are often harder to obtain than publishers. The key here is to make certain that money is coming to you, not the other way around. Never, ever pay an agent or publisher a cent up front. Legitimate agents take a percentage, usually 10 to 15 percent of what you will earn. Always remember that money must come to you as the author and not the other way!
     Another thing to check for, make certain that there is a time limit as to how long the publisher can hold your book without publishing it. After two years without publication, you want the rights to revert back to you.
I will share with you some good news regarding a recent writing contest. I was one of the winners of an Australian publisher’s romance writing contest receiving generous prize money paid upfront. It was not an advance against royalties. THE CHEVALIER is an historical romance set in Georgian England. I’m also happy to say that the novel is now available on Kindle at a reasonable price:
and also available in all ebook formats from the publisher:

Obviously, there are still some good free contests out there for writers to enter!
For legitimate writing contests that don’t
charge fees, I have found some helpful 
listings. Here are a few to examine: (offers a 
free monthly newsletter with all sorts of valuable info including contest listings) (another valuable monthly newsletter with a free subscription) (regularly lists free contests and rates them)

(lists freelance jobs and lots of free international writing contests)

THE WRITER offers a mixture of fee and non-fee contests:

The following websites provide warnings or discussions of ways in which writers may be scammed:
SFWA's Writer Beware:
Preditors & Editors:
What’s your opinion on this subject? What experiences have you had with writing contests? Do you intend to enter writing contests or avoid them?


Anonymous said...

Great post - really helpful. I have entered only a couple of contests and did my homework on them. I try to be very selective about them but realize their value. Carolyn

Paula Gail Benson said...

Excellent post, Jacqueline. Thank you for providing a list of important points to consider. From my experience, I recommend the Bethlehem Writers Group annual short story competition. Information may be found at:

Alice Duncan said...

Very interesting post, Jacquie. I just don't enter contests any longer. I've learned long ago that the kinds of books I write don't do well (except in the NM/AZ book contest, which I entered because it seems to incongruous). I think I'll continue not entering contests :-)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Carolyn,

I agree with you. It's important to be selective when it comes to entering writing contests. Thanks for commenting.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Paula,

Thanks for another good recommendation for writing contests.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Alice,

I think you're much too modest. I know you've won your share of legitimate contests.

D'Ann said...

Before I published, I entered a lot of writing contests. I was kind of a contest Ho. LOL I didn't get much from them. A lot of times I knew more than my judges. I did get in front of a couple of good editors, though.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, D'Ann,

Feedback from editors is always a benefit. I appreciate that myself.

Kathy McIntosh said...

As usual, your post was chock full of useful and thoughtful information! Thanks so much. I knew of some of the sites, but I'm off to check out

Gail Farrelly said...


Congrats on your win. That's wonderful.

I like entering contests. It gives me a boot in the bum to get something out by a certain date.

A fee contest may be worth the investment. My guess is that it greatly cuts down on the number of entrants and increases the chance of a win.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Kathy,

Hope this info will be helpful to you.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Kathy,

Hope this info will be helpful to you.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Gail,

Contests do encourage us to write. I agree that contests which charge a fee cut down on the competition. You have to balance cost against chances of winning.

Anita Page said...

Jacquie, that's great news about Australian contest--congratulations!

Thanks for the very useful information.

Nancy Means Wright said...

Good points/advice, Jacquie. I've been acting as agent for my daughter's literary novel, and it has been costly, but all legit, with prestigious publishers if she wins. So far she has been a finalist twice, but no win. But contests are the way to go with novels and poems that are not genre. I've never entered a contest with my mysteries, so cannot offer any experience here.

Nikki said...

Congratulations on the Australian win for The Chevalier--well done!
I've entered a couple contests in my time, mostly because they set up a challenge. For instance, one contest made you start with a particular sentence and finish with another. I didn't win the contest, but the story got into an anthology. Other contests simply stretched my skills, even if I didn't enter.

Thanks for the useful info on legitimate sites.

Helen Henderson said...

Good summary of the pros and cons of contests. Thanks for sharing. Helen

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Anita,

Thanks for stopping by. Hope some of this info will prove useful to you!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Nancy,

I hope your daughter wins! It's exciting. Keep us informed.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Nikki,

There are some contests that stretch our writing skills. You're right about that! And there are others that we might not win but encourage us to write something we can use another time.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Helen,

Thanks for dropping by. I hope my info proves of use to you.

Bobbi A. Chukran, Author said...

Thanks for the information, Jacqueline! And congrats on your contest win. It's great to have some guidelines to follow from someone who's experienced in entering contests. bobbi chukran

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thanks for stopping by.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Good information, Jacquie!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks for stopping by, Maggie! Hope the info proves helpful.

Jim Hartley said...

My take on this is that a contest with an entry fee is like a publisher with a reading fee ... I won't go near either of them. And I also studiously avoid contests that post everything for the world to look at and vote on, and those that publish the losers (but don't pay them any prizes). Not many contests left that I will consider entering ... but so what??

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks for offering your opinion, Jim.

Mary F. Schoenecker said...

A very informative blog, Jacquie. Early on in my writing career, I was one of the judges for our annual RWA chapter contest. It was an interesting, worthwhile experience. I learned a lot, but also found when I entered contests myself, there were judges who were far too subjective in their analyses. I stopped entering 3 or 4 years ago.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Good post. I've never entered a contest because I don't like paying an entry fee, but I'm glad to see that some at least are legitimate. Congrats on your wins.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Mary,

It's unusual these days for me to enter writing contests as well. But since I mostly write mysteries these days, I thought it would be fun to try a romance writing contest, and I was pleased with the results.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Susan,

I do think the cost of some of the writing contests is rather expensive. I tend to avoid them. I entered only one that was in that category and ended up feeling ripped off. But I did learn something from the experience. I recommend caution to writers when it comes to entering contests.

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