This post originally ran October 2009
I’ve entered in and applied for roughly a dozen writing contests and grants over the years. In one contest I finished first. With another I got an honorable mention. I didn’t place in the others at all. Still, every contest was worth experiencing for a number of reasons:
1. Working with a deadline: By signing up for a contest, you have committed to finishing and submitting your writing by a certain time — great practice for future deadlines once your work is sold.
2. Reviewing your writing: Whether applying for a grant or entering a contest, you’ll need to carefully study your work, looking for ways to strengthen it and examining why your writing deserves to win. Filling out an application and following the contest’s guidelines will bolster your ability to write a strong, concise query.
3. Getting read: Some contests/grants offer feedback for those who place. Authors, editors, and agents often judge these contests, putting your work front and center.
4. Publishing opportunities: Winning contests/grants means a portion of your work is often published, allowing for other readers, agents, and editors to learn of your writing. In winning first place for a novel excerpt at the Jambalaya Writers’ Conference in 2009, my work was included in an anthology put out by Nicholls University. At the same conference, I happened to be critiqued by a poetry professor from Southeastern Louisiana University. He asked for a few poems from MAY B. to publish in Louisiana Literature magazine.
These publications don’t have wide circulation, but my work is out there and is being read.
5. Beefing up your query: Winning a contest is great query fodder. I think a large part of my agent requests these last few months have come from winning this small, local contest and the publication that has come about as a result.
Those of you who are members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators need to take advantage of their grant programs, if you haven’t already. There are a half-dozen or so to choose from. You may enter one per calendar year. Of the thousands of SCBWI members across the globe, only a handful seem to be applying for grants. In the three I’ve entered, there have been only 200-400 other entrants.
Have you entered contests or applied for grants? Any you could recommend? What has your expereince been?
I’ve had a couple of small wins, a second and a third, and a few first places with poetry contests, but they weren’t big enough wins for me to write about them in a query. I would feel like I was clutching at straws if I used them.
Heidi Willis says
I was amazed at the writing conference I went to last week how many agents said they’ve signed writers because they’ve read their stories in small lit magazines and called to offer representation. I never even though of agents going after unknown authors that way!
I haven’t done much in the way of contests (although i did win a national poetry contest in high school), mostly because I haven’t focused on short stories. I’m reconsidering that option, now, though.
This is a great post!
Kimberley Griffiths Little says
Great reminder, Caroline. I shoulda done this long, long ago. 🙂 Years ago, I entered first chapters in various WIPS for the annual Southwest Writers conference and got some *interesting* feedback.
(Check out my kissing post today. LOL! Happy Valentine’s Day!)
Priya Parmar says
such a great post!
Shannon O'Donnell says
Very good advice, Caroline! 🙂
Stephanie Thornton says
I’ve had a few wins- I think the best part of entering a contest is getting feedback by a variety of non-biased people.
sally apokedak says
I love entering contests. Writing a novel is a long process and it helps boost your morale if you can win a contest here and there along the way. I put on my website the contests I win and I also put them into my query letters. I think they help a lot.
I also think people should take advantage of scholarships to conferences. Usually you have to send a writing sample, and this helps you get comfortable with submitting things. And when you win a 2000 dollar scholarship, it’s as if you earned 2000 dollars. It’s a wonderful feeling.
K.M. Weiland says
Contests have never appealed to me, but your list of benefits is compelling. If nothing else, writing for a contest gives you that new awareness of your work that always comes with the realization that someone else is going to be reading it very soon.