How to Increase Your Chances of Winning Writing Contests

Writing contests have been around almost as long as there have been aspiring writers. Before the Internet, writers sent their manuscripts through the mail, along with a self-addressed, stamped return envelope, and a check for the contest fee, if one was required. Whether or not you enter your work online or by manual submission, these guidelines will help you make sure your entry has a better chance of winning.


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    Look in magazines and online for writing contests. Although there are books on the subject, they can quickly become outdated. Your best chance of finding current, active contests is to search online or to read current issues of magazines that sponsor writing contests. Don’t be discouraged if you are not computer savvy, many writing contest sponsors accept manual submissions.
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    Carefully read all the requirements of the contest. If you plan to submit a poem, make sure the contest includes poetry submissions. Some writing contests accept submissions in only one genre. Contest details should include the following information:
    • The name of the sponsor
    • The contest fee, if any
    • The genre
    • The deadline for submissions
    • The minimum and maximum words allowed
    • The cash prize or other reward recognition
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    Research the sponsor. Select a contest that interests you, and then research the contest’s sponsor. Make sure the organization or company is legitimate. Some trusted sponsors include:
    • Magazines, especially literary magazines
    • Publishers
    • Established businesses (some may sponsor a contest for a new jingle, for example)
    • Universities
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    Heavily edit your manuscript. Don’t rely on spell check. Print it out (even if you plan on submitting your entry online) and read your words out loud, you will often catch mistakes that way. Give your proposed submission to a family member or friend to read. Ask them to look for spelling and grammatical errors, and ask them for any other constructive feedback they may have. Play it safe and use standard, approved writing rules. When in doubt, consult a style book.
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    Read the copyright rules for the contest. It’s not advisable to submit your writing to a contest sponsor that insists on retaining all the rights to your manuscript.
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    Read past winning entries. Try to enter contests that have a track record. Most sponsors provide links to the entries that have won in the past. Read at least 4 winning entries so that you have a feel for what judges are looking for. If the majority of past winning manuscripts are lighthearted and funny, you may not want to submit your dark horror story. If you are entering a contest sponsored by a magazine, read all the stories in the previous 6 issues of that magazine. There are some periodicals that publish a wide range of fiction, but most magazines want articles that are geared towards their primary target audience. A short story about a sea monster won’t be acceptable to a magazine that focuses on mountain climbing.


  • Spend a lot of thought and time on your title. A great title not only should be relevant to the content of the story, it should grab the attention of the reader.
  • Pay careful attention to manual submission rules. You will probably be required to use a certain font, margins and type size. There will be rules about the cover page and numbering of pages. Unless otherwise instructed, never put your name on each page.
  • Subscribe to writing websites that list contests, or sites that send email newsletters or alerts that list upcoming contests.
  • Most writing contests have hundreds, if not thousands, of entries. Your entry won’t stand a chance if you haven’t followed all the rules of the contest, or if you submit work that is sloppy and contains careless errors. Make sure your entry is perfect; you may not win for creativity, but at least your work won’t be tossed aside without being read because you didn’t follow basic rules.


  • Read about every requirement of the contest. Some contests require you to be a resident of a certain state or country. Some rules state that your submission must include a certain theme, or even an assigned lead-in sentence. Breaking any contest submission rule is grounds for automatic dismissal of your entry, and contest fees are almost always nonrefundable.
  • Be wary of exorbitant fees. Legitimate writing contests exist so that unknown writers can get exposure. Contest fees are usually quite modest, often less than $10 per entry.
  • These guidelines apply to fiction writing. There are contests that accept essays and true stories, and the caveats are the same—however, be cautious when submitting nonfiction of any kind. Using the real names of people, and or corporations, in essays or short stories can present legal problems. Make sure you have impeccable sources and facts.
  • Pay attention to the details of contest deadlines. Many will state that your submission must be received by midnight on a certain date. Be sure to read the fine print—your entry may be disqualified because it wasn’t received by midnight in a certain time zone. Allow at least 5 business days before a deadline if you plan on mailing your submission; sometimes the postmark doesn’t matter, the manuscript has to reach the contest sponsor before the stated deadline and it won’t matter if the postmark on your envelope is before the deadline.

Things You’ll Need

  • Computer
  • Printer and ink for manual submissions
  • Paper, envelopes and stamps for manual submissions

Article Info

Categories: Increasing Odds of Winning | Writing