How to Enter Writing Contests

Three Parts:Submitting Your Work In a ContestFinding Writing ContestsPreparing Your Work For Submission

Writing is a highly fulfilling yet solitary pursuit. One way to simultaneously join a community of writers and get exposure for your work is to enter a writing contest. There are many contests open to writers of all ages and skill levels. Submitting your work can help push you to sharpen your favorite stories, essays, or poems and (in some contests) even get feedback on your work.

Part 1
Submitting Your Work In a Contest

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    Check the contest guidelines. Before you submit to any contest, you'll need to know what the contest judges are looking for. Failing to adhere to the rules and guidelines of a contest could have negative consequences, so double check the submission guidelines before you send in your work.
    • If there is a word or page count, adhere to it. Trying to exceed the word/page count will irritate the judges, get your submission disqualified, or both.[1]
    • Stick to the topic or theme if there is one. Many writing contests are open-ended, but some are only seeking stories, essays, or poems that fit a given theme/topic.
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    Make sure you're eligible. The majority of contests are open to anyone who wants to submit, sometimes requiring an entry fee but otherwise free from any other requirements. However, many contests impose guidelines on who is eligible to submit. These eligibility requirements are often based on the type of institution holding the contest and its location, though some are put in place to offer new writers a chance at success.
    • Many contests are exclusively open to writers who have not yet published their first book.
    • Some contests are only open to writers who have self-published their work and want to publish their work through other outlets.
    • Depending on the country in which the contest is being held, you may have to write in a given language. For example, some contests in the United States only accept English-language submissions.
    • Citizens of countries with international embargoes may not be eligible to submit to contests in certain countries. For example, citizens of Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Sudan are not eligible to submit to writing contests based in the United States.[2]
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    Adhere to any formatting requirements. Most contests require submissions to meet specific formatting guidelines that affect how your writing looks on the page. This is usually done to ensure that all submissions look alike so that judges can focus on the work you've written instead of getting distracted by how large, small, or unusual your font is.[3]
    • Many contests will only accept submissions that are in a certain font and font size.
    • Some contests require submissions to be follow formatting restrictions, like double-spacing or aligning the margins.
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    Update your contact information. Before you send off your work, you should double check that you've updated your contact information. If you've moved, gotten a new phone number, or started using a new email address, you'll need to change that information on your cover page, manuscript, and envelope. If you're submitting your work online, be sure you've updated your submission portal profile to include your new contact information.[4]
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    Consider making an entry checklist. Having an entry checklist can be helpful if you're forgetful or if the contest has a lot of requirements. It's not a requirement, but a checklist can help ensure that you send out a complete submission package.[5] Before you submit your work, you'll need to be sure you've included:
    • a completed entry form (if required)
    • a check or credit/debit card payment that covers the entry fee (if there is one)
    • the final draft of your work, complete and edited from start to finish
    • any other material or information required for submissions
    • proper postage (if sending a hard copy by mail)
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    Send your work on time. Contests have a hard deadline by which submissions must be received, and any late entries will be returned unread or discarded. Judges cannot legally accept a late submission, so don't waste your time and money if your submission won't be received on time.[6]
    • It's best if you submit your work as early as possible. Not only are you guaranteed to make the submission deadline, your work will also be read sooner - meaning the judge will be reading with fresh eyes.[7]
    • If you missed the submission period for a contest, just look for the next upcoming contest from that or another institution. Contests can generally be found year-round.

Part 2
Finding Writing Contests

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    Look for literary magazine contests. Many literary magazines hold annual contests that are open to the public. These contests typically award publication, a cash prize, a subscription to the magazine, or some combination of these prizes. You can find literary magazines that are open for contest submissions by searching online, or by browsing literary magazines for upcoming contest announcements.[8]
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    Find out about other organizations and institutions. There are plenty of writing contests outside the literary magazine world. Some are through educational institutions, others through nonprofit organizations, and still others through professional organizations.[9] You can find out about these and other writing contests by searching online - just be sure you qualify before you submit you work.
    • Many schools, especially colleges and universities, hold annual writing contests with various categories.[10] Some are only open to current students and alumni, though, so read the rules carefully.
    • Literary organizations often hold annual or semi-annual writing contests. However, sometimes these contests are only open to current members of those organizations.[11]
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    Learn about your rights as an author. Most contests request first-time publishing rights, meaning the contest organizers will be the first literary journal, website, or press to publish the piece of writing you submit. This is somewhat standard, though some contests will accept previously published work. However, in some contests, your work becomes the property of the host or sponsor. In this case, you may get published or paid for your writing, but you'll never be able to use it or any part of it in any other printed format.[12]

Part 3
Preparing Your Work For Submission

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    Choose your strongest work to submit. It may go without saying, but you should only submit your strongest work to a writing contest. If you've recently finished a piece of writing and have not yet revised or edited it, it may not be ready for submission. Remember that the work you submit will represent your talents as an author, whether it's chosen or not.[13]
    • Think of submitting your work as an opportunity for exposure. Contest judges, many of whom are published authors or literary agents, will be reading your work, so send them your best.
    • Choose a story, essay, or poem that you feel strongly about. Ask a few trusted friends who are familiar with your work to read over your submission and decide whether it's your strongest piece of writing.
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    Double check your work. Before you submit your work, you should make sure it's polished and ready for publication. Many contest judges will not allow you to make changes once you've sent in your submission, while others may simply discard your work if it's got too many errors.[14]
    • Be sure to check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors in your manuscript.
    • Check your work for continuity. Make sure your characters maintain the same names and characteristics from start to finish and check that you use a consistent narrative voice throughout.
    • Have a trusted friend look over your work. Ask your friend if the writing is clear, makes sense, and remains consistent.
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    Decide between an online or paper submission. The format in which you submit your work is largely a personal choice. Not every writing contest gives you the choice between electronic and paper submissions, though many do. Check the contest guidelines to see what your options are, and if you're required to use one or the other then follow the contest rules.[15]
    • Sometimes emailing or electronically submitting a piece of writing can affect the formatting and layout of your work on the page. This could be distracting or even annoying to the contest judges.
    • The downside to paper submissions is that they are at risk of getting lost in the mail or misdelivered, whereas an electronic submission is guaranteed to be received instantly.
    • There are many pros and cons to both submission formats. Consider what's most important to you and submit accordingly.


  • Keep reading a lot, especially within your chosen genre. This will improve your writing by giving you a better eye for what works and what doesn't.
  • If you're submitting to a contest through a literary magazine, familiarize yourself with that magazine's aesthetics. For example, a magazine that specializes in flash fiction (short stories that are only a few hundred words in length) may not be interested in a longer, more traditional short story.
    • Familiarize yourself with the judges' tastes, if possible. This is easiest to do with judges whose writing has been extensively published. While judges won't typically choose a winner strictly based on how similar a submission is to that judge's writing, it may help catch that judge's eye.
  • Ask different people for their opinion about your stories/essays/poems. What could you improve?

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Categories: Writing