Entering a creative writing competition is not something that springs to mind for most authors.
Traditionally published writers will be focusing on their next deadline, while indie-authors will be doing much of the same. However, for the indie-author or unrepresented writer, a creative writing accolade can add a lot of credibility to your reputation.
There are thousands of manuscripts finished every day. Some will be sent out to literary agents, and others will begin the self-publishing route. But the success rate for both paths is lower than we like to admit.
This isn’t always a sign of poor writing, a weak story, or the result of a conspiracy against new writers. It could simply be the fact that you are an unknown entity within the industry. Often, an agent will be reluctant to take a chance on you because they don’t know you.
Unfortunately, they cannot accept everyone.
The same can be said for readers of self-published books. They can’t buy everyone’s book, no matter how much they want to.
And this is where creative writing competitions can help.
Whether you come first, second, short or long listed; you will have proven that your manuscript is a contender and deserves attention.
Who can enter?
Let’s set the record straight – self-published authors can enter writing competitions. At no point have I seen a pre-requisite for an agent to represent the work.
In most cases, all work is welcome providing the author has not yet received an advance.
This means independently published, self-published, and traditionally published authors can enter, as long as the work being submitted has not been given an advance of payment.
There are even competitions open that don’t require a full manuscript!
Remember, the goal for the organisers isn’t to publish your work for you. They are trying to discover new talent whilst just giving authors a platform to work from.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are different courses for different horses. Poetry competitions, short story, flash fiction, novels… there will be a competition for your work.
And even if you are an author of 90k word novels, you can always try something else for a change.
You never know, you might enjoy the experience of writing something different, and find your writing projects evolving.
Benefits of entering a writing competition
Competitions are a great way to experience the world of literature. By that I mean you will be getting involved with the larger community who share the same passion as you.
When you read the details of a competition, you get a feel for the size and reach that organisation has, and how they draw in writers from all around the world.
You will be part of that.
As writers, we can often shut ourselves away to do our work, and I think we can all agree that writing is a solitary existence. We even struggle to engage in the #writingcomunity; always keeping one eye on our WIPs.
But entering a writing competition is where you will feel truly involved.
One of my favourite experiences since completing my first novel was when I entered the Bath Novel Awards. I entered and paid my fees. Then began following their Twitter page.
It was inspiring to see so many people from around the world; people with very different backgrounds and cultures to mine, all sharing the same experience and heading towards the same goal.
Day-by-day, as the first round of results was drawing closer, the excitement amongst us was palpable. I would check the feed every hour or so and share the thrill with likeminded authors whom I will likely never meet.
But that was just the start. Some writers posted screen shots of selected pages of their WIPs.
This hyped up the followers and prompted some to follow suit. Others would share stories from their last competition and the results. They even shared how the experience changed them as a writer and made them even more determined.
It was a whirlwind of an experience. And one I look forward to doing again soon.
Prizes and fees
Prize value is subjective.
There are some who would prefer a large cheque to get the bills paid, and there are others who would value an introduction to an agent. Then, there are writers who will see the value in proudly displaying their achievement on the cover of their book.
Whatever your goal, there will be a writing competition out there that will help you in one way or another.
Entries fees are a common necessity that help the organisers deliver the event. But don’t let them put you off. The experience of taking part is well worth the investment.
If you make the long list, you know you did something right. If you land on the short list – even better. And if you take the top prize, you will have an accolade that will help sell your book.
That being said, if you are unable to afford the entry fee, be sure to check their entry requirements page. There will usually be some form of sponsorship available to low-income writers or underrepresented authors.
If you’re part of a writing group, they might be willing to pay the fee. It’s worth asking.
Remember, literary excellence can come from anywhere, so try not to let a fee put your off.
Be careful of scam competitions
Since self-publishing my novel, I have received dozens of messages on Twitter, and hundreds of emails inviting me to pay to enter various competitions.
Luckily, I’m a cautious person and always research the source.
If you decide to enter competitions, you must do your own research first. Don’t take anything at face value until you’ve done a background check. It’s the only way to avoid scams.
This is not exclusive to competitions.
Back last summer, I entered a creative writing competition and sent in my work. Then, a few days later, I received an email offering me an “exclusive” service that would help polish my work to guarantee a place on the competition’s short list.
Within an hour of receiving the email, the event organisers released a public statement advising everyone to ignore/report any emails that offered this service.
One way to check if a competition is the real deal is to look at its history. It should be easy to find previous winners by doing a quick search on the internet. Then, look up that author to see if they ever mention taking part in or winning that award.
It will only take a few minutes to check.
Creative writing is a private passion for most. But I think you’ll agree that we all imagine what it would be like to see our book in a reader’s hand.
Entering a competition will open your eyes to all the like-minded people out there who share a similar dream to you.
If you are thinking of publishing through traditional routes, entering writing competitions will help develop your confidence when jumping into the query trenches.
If you don’t get through the first round, then you could go and take a look at your sample. Can it be improved in any way? What about your synopsis and blurb?
Not making it through the first round of a writing competition will help you fine-tune your querying abilities.
If you do make it onto the long or short list, or if you take the top prize, you will now have an interesting accolade to accompany your query letter. This should give you a very good chance of being read by the agent.
As a self-published author, you can also benefit like the trad author.
Think about it. If you don’t make it through to a full MS request, there might be something in your sample that could be improved. And if you do make it through, there’s nothing stopping you from including your achievement on the cover of you book.
What ever your reason for entering, I wish you all the best.