Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Contests’

Picking the best writing contests to enter (and overcoming the fear to try)

In Staying Motivated, Writing, Writing Contests, Writing Processes on April 5, 2015 at 11:00 am

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I have a slight fear when it comes to entering writing contests, or actually two fears—will my writing be thrown into the reject pile and will I be wasting my money?

The answer to the first is practical and philosophical—I can’t win if I don’t try, and, as a friend told me, I basically lose by not trying.

What can be “won” can include publication in a magazine, journal or anthology, prize money, an all-expense trip to a writer’s conference or a meeting with agents and editors.

As for my second fear, I have to remind myself that not all contests require an entry fee, and those that do can provide a return on investment, if not a win. The ROI is the feedback you receive in the score sheet or written comments beyond the form letter rejections that will help you improve your writing for the next time.

The ROI in a win or an honorable mention, such as for a short story, nonfiction or poetry contest, is a demonstration to agents and publishers that someone other than family and friends sees merit in your work. You earn an accolade to mention in the query letters you submit to literary agents for longer work.

But before you even enter a writing contest, realize winning or not winning isn’t personal or a reflection of your writing quality and originality. It can be a matter of the publication’s style, the editors’ personal taste and a high number of entries from other talented writers.

Also, it’s important to:

  • Be selective on which contests you enter, and only enter those where winning guarantees publication in a reputable journal. Avoid contests that lack a website or mailing address or that have large entry fees and low payouts to the winners.
  • Follow the contest guidelines, themes and rules for entering.
  • Get a sense of the taste and style of the magazine, journal or anthology.
  • Research the final judge and read his or her work.
  • Avoid entering simultaneous submissions; save them for non-contest entries.
  • Keep track of your submissions on a spreadsheet, including contest name, entry date and deadline, title of the work and the entry fee, if required.
  • Submit early and, if allowed, often.

Most of all, make sure what you enter is your best (and polished) work. Realize that contests are one of many paths to publication. Submitting to a journal or magazine during regular submission periods also can earn you those publication credits.

(See Zoey the Cute Dachshund’s blog at zoeyspaw.wordpress.com.)

Tips for Entering Writing Contests

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Contests on December 22, 2013 at 11:00 am

I gleaned a few tips for entering writing contests from articles I’ve clipped, conversations with writer friends and personal experience.

Most important when entering a writing contest is to only show your best work and work that has been polished.

Be selective on which contests you enter and enter those where winning guarantees publication in a reputable journal. Avoid contests that only consider winning entries for publication and contests that lack a website or mailing address.

Winning a writing contest or getting a story or poem published demonstrates to literary agents or publishers that someone other than family and friends sees merit in your work. It gives you an accolade to mention in any query letters you submit to literary agents for longer work. Plus, it gives you a shot of confidence to know that your hard work is acknowledged.

Before entering a writing contest, it’s important to:

• Get a sense of the taste and style of the magazine or journal.
• Follow the contest guidelines, themes and rules for entering.
• Research the final judge and read his or her work.
• Avoid entering simultaneous submissions; save them for non-contest entries.
• Keep track of your submissions on a spreadsheet, including contest name, entry date and deadline, title of the work and the entry fee, if required.
• Submit early and, if allowed, often.
• Avoid contests with large entry fees and low payouts to the winners.

Most of all, remember that contests are one of many paths to publication. Submitting to a journal or magazine during regular submission periods also can earn you those publication credits.

My (Writing) Contest Problem

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Contests on December 15, 2013 at 11:00 am

I think I have a contest problem.

My problem is not the kind where I enter so many contests to the point where I’m a contest-aholic, gambling away my money in entry fees.

It’s a matter of my attitude toward winning and losing.

I enter the occasional writing contest, hoping to get the big prize (money, an all-expense trip to a writer’s conference or a meeting with agents and editors). I enter to seek recognition for my writing through publication in a magazine or journal.

When I was a young writer, I expected to win every time I entered after receiving high praise from my secondary and college teachers for my academic writing – a least for the first two to three entries.

It didn’t take me long to realize contests are a matter of the publication’s style, the editors’ personal taste and competition among a multitude of talented writers, so that losing a few isn’t a reflection of writing quality and originality.

When I don’t win a contest and have the opportunity to read the winning submission, I don’t read the work fairly. I don’t allow myself to get lost in the story but immediately start evaluating style, use of language and voice. Oh no, I think, the writer used a cliché here, or wasn’t creative in expressing an idea or action there. Why did that writer get picked and not my wonderful short story or poem?

Earlier this year, I entered two nonfiction pieces in the Chicken Soup contests and thought, Oh, most certainly I have to win, because some of the entries are from non-writers who have amazing life experiences. But I’m a writer, and my life has had some interesting moments, so what I enter will have to wow the editors. The opposite happened. I didn’t get selected, so I asked, How come? How come!

I don’t intend to have a big ego – I actually don’t from getting lots of rejection slips – but I do try to protect my ego by putting down other writing. Of course, this is all in my head and never something expressed out loud. Does that make me a bitter writer? Or wishful? Or protective? I still want to think of myself as the nice girl. Hmm …

(See next week’s blog on tips for entering writing contests.)