If you’re searching for the best way to submit to fiction writing contests, you may be a bit overwhelmed. There are hundreds of options that range from scams to high-exposure, free-to-enter blockbusters. Through a lot of trial and error, some research and a propensity to have strong opinions about one thing or another, here’s what I’ve discovered.
(Please note that I focus on contests that offer the widest range of entry requirements. None of the contests, as of this writing, require your story to be about food, technology, zebras or any of the other rules that contests force upon us.)
First, if you don’t know which contests to submit to, I have one fun suggestion. Ready?
Browse two local booksellers!
Skim the shelves where your book will one day be prominently placed (if there’s any justice in the universe). You’ll find stickers or emblems on some books with contests/competitions that the publisher felt were worthy of mentioning up front. These are usually the big boy awards, but you’ll also find some niche awards this way, too.
Try it, it’s fun! You get to scour books and work at the same time!
Free or fee?
Should you pay, or should you go for the free contests only? That’s a tough one, since most of us are made of 90% water, and 0% money.
The bottom line is that if the contest is perfect for you, and you’ve checked your writing with a pro editor, then it’s worth paying something.
Important point: It’s best to set out with a budget for contests before you start looking for which ones to enter. You don’t want to go broke when your ambition starts arguing with your income. In my experience, ambition can be a hell of a debater.
Finally, when you have a list of five contests, STOP! One way to make sure you never catch a bunny is to chase two at the same time, right? So focus on your top five. No more for now. You can get to more when you’re done submitting to the ideal choices.
The top 5 writing contests
Having said that, here are the contests that have the biggest bang for the buck.
Independent Book Publishers Association runs this one. I’m a member, but don’t get any dough for recommending them. The cost is $190 for non-members (which includes one year membership to IBPA). While there is no cash prize, the competition has a lot of cred. It’s been around for 25 years.
Writer’s Digest has a pretty good rep as a place for authors to find useful advice and tools/services. Their contests have thousands of dollars in prizes, but more importantly they have clout. Not Klout. Real clout ;-)
All the contests except the Your Story writing contest cost something, but not more than $100. Prizes include cash, up to $3000.
Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition (their catch-all contest which allows almost everyone to enter)
Self-Published Book Awards
Sci-Fi Book Awards
Thriller Book Awards
Young Adult Book Awards
Romance Book Awards
Crime Book Awards
Horror Book Awards
Your story (this one is free and the winner’s 750 word story is published in their magazine)
Yeah, heard of them? Their annual self-published writing competition is becoming the king of writing contests. Entry is free and super-easy. Winners get $15-50,000 cash, a publishing deal and exposure on Amazon (yes, ‘cash’ and ‘exposure on Amazon’ is redundant).
These guys have been around forever. Lots of cred, a little on the stuffy side, and a nice, big deal if you place in the competition. The cash prizes are up to $10,000 They have $125 fee per submission. Don’t pay it until they invoice you! Seriously, it’s in the fine print.
The Folio Prize has just been opened to indy writers, so now’s the time to ponder this £40,000 prize. You must be nominated to win, but indy authors can submit as a publisher using the same 300 word justification that big publishers use.
In their own words their mission is “to celebrate the best fiction of our time, regardless of form or genre, and to bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible.”
That’s a mission statement I can get behind!
Be careful of two things.
One, rights. Make sure the fine print doesn’t lay claim to your work. You’re not giving them the right to anything, except the privilege of giving you an award for your great writing. A number of contests offer publication of your work as a prize, and if that’s what you want then go for it. Just be careful they don’t overreach.
Two, rules. You don’t want to prepare your submission and then find that your story exceeds the limit by a thousand words!
Don’t rush in. Read the teeny, tiny, itsy, weeny print. It’s adorable!
You won! Now what?
If you win, or earn a finalist/honorable mention title, then the hard work starts.
- Announce it everywhere. Tout it on your Twitter/Facebook/ G+/Amazon author/Goodreads profiles.
- Post a press release with the award name next to your name in the H1 of your site. This way Google will make the association between you and the award. If enough people pick up the story (don’t forget to leverage friends and fans!) your chances of having your name attached to the award’s name in search results grows.
- Add the award to your email signature.
- Resubmit the story to any agents or editors you’ve reached out to. Winning an award usually pushes the reset button so it’s worth a shot.
Contests are a great way to hone your craft and show the world how much better you are than that other dude writing over there. The one with the empty coffee cup, who’s been hogging the electrical output,