How to Enter Writing Contests on the Internet

Three Methods:Know Where to LookChoose WiselyRead the Fine Print

Writing contests offer a range of benefits. They can be useful tools against writer's block, and they allow writers to gain experience with deadlines while improving their reputation in the publishing world. The Internet makes entering writing contests easier than ever, since you can find out about more contests and enter as many as you'd like without having to make a single trip to the post office. The Internet also makes it easier to scam unsuspecting writers, however, which makes choosing the right contest the most important part of entering contests online.

Method 1
Know Where to Look

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    Perform an Internet search. This is the quickest way to find writing contests on the Internet. Type a simple phrase, like “online writing contests,” into your favorite search engine. You can also try a more specific search, like “poetry writing contests” or “romance writing contests” if you specialize in a specific genre.
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    Visit the websites of notable writing magazines and publications. Many print publications now allow writers to enter their contests via the Internet. Select your favorite publications and check their websites for news about current or upcoming contests. A few publications may even have free e-mail newsletters that you can sign up for the receive updates in your Inbox.
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    Visit the websites of various colleges and universities. Many universities publish literary magazines that are open to outside submissions, and a few of these may even run writing contests from time to time.
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    Ask a successful writer. Even though the writing market is a competitive place, many writers are more than willing to offer help and advice to others, especially those just starting out. The odds of you getting an e-mail back from a busy, world-renowned writer may be fairly low, but many moderately successful writers who have had manuscripts published run blogs and are willing to answer writing-related inquiries. You can also check out message boards and other online writing communities.
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    Visit websites aimed at helping writers. Websites that offer writing tips may be able to suggest a few legitimate contests for you to check out, and some of these websites may even offer contests of their own. Some of these are writing communities offering free or paid memberships, while other websites are open to all visitors.

Method 2
Choose Wisely

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    Look at the contest's sponsors and organizers. The organization responsible for putting the contest together can reveal a lot about how legitimate it is. Contests started by print publications are generally the most ideal, with a few online publications coming in next. Contests sponsored by organizations that have nothing to do with writing may not offer much renown, even if they are legitimate, and contests put on by individuals should generally be avoided.
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    Find out who the judges are. Many legitimate contests do not disclose the judges. For instance, contests that are held annually and organized by major publications are usually judged by their editors. If you feel uncertain about the validity of a contest, though, not having the names of the judges can be a bad sign.
    • Moreover, when you do receive the names of the judges, you should look them up. A no-name judge can be another bad sign, and if the judge is well known, you should familiarize yourself with his or her work in order to know how to appeal to the judge.
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    Check out the entry fee. Most legitimate writing contests have some fee, so a fee in itself is not a bad sign. If you are asked to pay an exorbitant fee, though, run away and don't look back. Standard fees for poetry and short stories usually average about $5 to $15, while fees for longer works can range from $20 to $50.
    • Contests put out by publishers that require you to purchase something to enter are another bad sign. In these instances, the contest may merely be an excuse to improve sales.
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    Take note of the prize. Some writing contests offer a monetary fee, while others only offer publication. Both can be legitimate, but be cautious with contests that only offer publication to a blog or low-quality periodical. If the publication has no reputation in the literary community, it will not do much to help your own reputation as a writer.
    • Also be cautious about prizes that depend on the number of entries. The grand prize may be $500 if 200 people submit, but publications that need to rely on the entry quotas are often small and struggle to meet those quotas. As a result, the "promised" prize may not be distributed if they have too few entries.
    • Avoid contests put on by publications that require you to purchase a copy of your own story. These often fall under the category of "vanity" publishers. Most legitimate contests that publish winning stories will at least send their winners a copy of the publication their work appears in.
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    Avoid contests that take an "everyone wins" approach. Contests that publish all the winning entries and offer the same prize to everyone who enters are not really contests. There is no merit to be gained by a competition in which you do not compete. Moreover, the contest fee is more like a reading fee, since you are only paying to have your work read and nothing more.
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    Know your rights. The majority of contests will want first publication rights for winning entries. This is considered normal and acceptable. You should avoid contests that claim any rights to non-winning entries, though, and you should also avoid contests that claim all rights, even if those rights are only claimed for winning entries. Ultimately, your work is your work. You must grant publishers the right to publish your story, but you should steer clear from anyone who wants you to sign over your work completely.
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    Consider your odds. You may have found a legitimate contest with a low fee and great prize, but before you enter, you should also consider whether or not you stand a decent chance at winning. Extremely well-known contests generate a lot of interest, and many high-level, professional writers will enter. Winning these contests can do a lot to boost your reputation, but if you are just starting out, you may not have what it takes to play in the big leagues yet. Typically speaking, small to mid level contests are better for beginners than expert contests.

Method 3
Read the Fine Print

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    Follow the rules and guidelines. As with any contest, you need to adhere to the tenants in order to have any shot at actually winning. If a contest is looking for entries under 700 words, do not send in an 800 word piece. Similarly, if contest entries must follow a certain theme, do not send in a story that has nothing to do with the theme.
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    Obey the submission process. Nowadays, many online writing contests ask writers to use an online submission process that goes through a submission management system. If the contest specifically states that you should go through this system, e-mailing your entry or sending it via snail mail is grounds for disqualification.
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    Pay the fee. If you plan on entering the contest online, you will need a credit card. If you do not have a credit card, you may need to search for a contest that will allow you to send your entry in by mail and pay the fee by check or money order.


  • Set aside a certain amount of money in your budget for the sake of entering writing contests. By making this a budgeted expense, you will be more likely to make wiser choices about the contests you enter and the fees you pay.


  • Do not get discouraged if you lose the first few—or first few dozen—contests you enter. The publishing world is competitive. Moreover, your losses may have more to do with your ability to choose contests that are a good fit for your work than they do with the quality of your work itself.

Article Info

Categories: Writing