To Submit or Not to Submit: 5 Arguments for Entering Writing Contests

By Shayna Krishnasamy

When I was a young creative writing student I used to keep track of all the writing contests. I’d bookmark the contest pages on the websites of all the literary magazines. I’d make lists of due dates, word count limitations, themes, restrictions. Sometimes I’d even print out the submission forms. But did I ever actually send in a submission? Well…

If you’re a new writer, a writing student, or just nervous about sharing your work for the first time, submitting your story or novel to a writing contest can be incredibly daunting. You might find yourself coming up with any excuse to avoid actually submitting your work. You’ll convince yourself that your story isn’t polished enough, your first chapter doesn’t have enough of a hook, you don’t know how to write a synopsis, your plot is too racy, too boring, too cliched, too embarrassing. If you work hard enough at it, you’ll probably be able to convince yourself to give up this writing business altogether, because your writing will never be good enough to be shared with the world.

But that would be a shame.

Taking the leap from hiding your work to sharing your work can be gut-wrenching, but it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences for an author. If you’re leery of hitting that submit button, here are five arguments for entering writing contests to help you take the plunge.

You’ll Never Know Until You Try

You might suck. It’s possible. Maybe your book is absolutely terrible and the judges will laugh their heads off as they send your manuscript sailing straight into the trash. Or maybe you’re the next Ernest Hemingway. The fact is, if you never share your writing with anyone except your cat, you’ll really never know. Sure, by keeping your stories to yourself you’ll avoid the sting of rejection, but you’ll also never feel the joy of having a reader tell you that your book made them cry, or laugh, or taught them something about themselves.

Putting yourself out there can be frightening, but it can also be thrilling and rewarding if you happen to win that grand prize. After doubting yourself that much, just think of what a surprise it would be to be told you’re the best of the best!

Nobody Has To Know

Are you hesitating about entering that short story contest because you’re worried about the humiliation of losing? Afraid you brother will mock you, that creep in class will smirk, your mother will say I told you so? Well, here’s a tip. Don’t even tell them you’re submitting. Like a nervous high school student applying to colleges he doesn’t think he’ll get into, it’s easy to submit your manuscript to writing contests electronically or by mail without anyone being the wiser. There’s no need to add on the extra pressure of other people’s expectations. If your book isn’t chosen as the winner, or even a runner-up, it can be your little secret. And just picture the looks on their faces if you happen to win!

Think About That Prize

One great way to get over your fear of entering a writing contest is to focus on the prize. Is there a big monetary reward? Or the promise of being published in a magazine for the first time? Or a book deal? Whatever the prize happens to be, just think about how much you want it. Sometimes just imagining yourself winning is a great motivator to get off your butt and make it happen. It might even energize you to give that chapter one last re-write. Don’t discount the power of your dreams.

It’s Great Practice

If you’re really serious about being a writer, you’re going to have to face the terror of submitting again and again. Do you want to make money from your writing? Are you hoping to one day quit your day job and do this writing gig full-time? Well, I hate to break it to you, but none of that comes to you by magic.

To get published you need to send your manuscript around, to publishers, to agents, to friends who work at publishers, or friends who know agents. You’ll need to get your book beta read to make sure there aren’t any plot holes. You might even want to get it edited before you start sending it out. A lot of people will have to read your writing before that book deal comes your way.

Thinking of self-publishing to avoid all that rejection? Well it turns out hitting that “publish” button is a lot like hitting that “submit” button. It’s scary as hell.

Avoiding this part of the process isn’t going to do you any good if you really want to make it as a writer. Eventually you’re going to have to bite the bullet and put yourself out there. Entering a writing contest is a great place to start.

Don’t Let The Fools Run The Show

One of the best reasons to submit your book to a writing contest is ego. No, not your ego. I mean the egos of bad writers. You know who I’m talking about. His stories always feature himself as the main character. He’s positive he’s about to get a book deal. He emails the president of Harper Collins directly to ask why he hasn’t gotten published yet. He’s basically insane, but he knows how to type words on a page.

This guy will definitely be entering the writing contest.

There’s only one thing that can stop this guy and his planet-sized ego from getting what he so firmly believes he deserves, and that’s you. Just think about it. If all the great writers convince themselves their writing isn’t good enough, then the only people applying to these contests will be the crazies, the narcissists, the hacks of the world! It’s up to you to stop their inane stories from taking over. You cannot let them win. You just have to enter the contest, and that’s final!

 

When I finally got up the guts to submit my work to Geist Magazine’s Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest, I ended up winning first prize! I remember how proud I felt when I asked them how many other authors had submitted (250), and how much money I had won ($500), and when the magazine with my winning story would come out. I was on cloud nine for days. And to think I’d almost not submitted at all because I was so sure my writing wouldn’t be up to snuff. I was so glad to be proven wrong, and you will be too.

But only if you stop your whining and enter that contest!

my photoShayna Krishnasamy is a Montreal author of literary and young adult fiction by night and the merchandiser for Kobo Writing Life by day. Shayna’s books are available on Kobo.

Click here to visit Shayna’s website!

21 comments

  • I totally agree with everything you’ve said, Shayna. When I started entering competitions I searched out smaller contests rather than the big famous ones. Smaller contests mean fewer entrants and a greater chance of winning. As I gained confidence I began to tackle the bigger competitions. My latest success is a shortlisting in the Kobo/Silverwood/Berforts novel writing competition. The winner will be announced at the end of April but whether I win or not, the shortlisting is a great confidence booster – and if I hadn’t bothered to enter I would’ve missed that. Good Luck to everyone with your competition entries!

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  • Reblogged this on My Etch-A-Sketch Life and commented:
    Great points by Shayna Krishnasamy on why you should enter writing contests!! This is part of the reason I decided to hold a writing contest in order to pay it forward for all those great writers out there. If you haven’t checked out my eBMU Contest here’s the link: http://bit.ly/eBMUShort
    Deadline for entries is 31May2015, we have fabulous judges & GREAT prizes too!

  • Great blog and agree on all points have reblogged at: http://www.myetchasketch.com.

  • Excellent advice! On the subject of rejection, yes, it’s humiliating and it stings, but it’s not as bad as some things that can happen. Besides, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you get over being told No. Ten no’s are steps to one yes. I don’t know how many rejections I got before I was first published. I thought it was a little negatively OCD of me to keep track. Less than 100, more than 20.

    • I always like to keep in mind how many times famous books I enjoy were initially rejected. The Help was rejected 60 times. Gone With The Wind was rejected 38 times. It puts things in perspective.

      • It certainly does. The Harry Potter books were also rejected many times, though I don’t know the specific number. I bet the houses that rejected her are kicking themselves.

  • Great post! I returned to original fiction after a ten year break (was working on nonfiction in the meantime, which I am still doing too). I hesitated about writing contests, but since I am writing short stories these days, I am keeping eyes open and have already submitted to a few contests. I find it an interesting experience. 🙂

  • Fantastic advice and a good poke in the ribs. Thank you for this post. The timing couldn’t be better. 🙂

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  • Enjoyed the post. Contests are also a great way to get feedback on your writing.

  • Good article. I have only entered two competitions. Both times it cost me money (usually does unless it’s Amazon or Goodreads). I’m not saying I won’t enter in the future, but the truth is, I think my books still need a bit more work. I’ve seen what winners can produce and they are amazing, which is why they win. lol. Trouble is with my logic, I don’t think my books will ever be good enough, so eventually I’m going to have to trust the judgment of others.

    • The fact that you think your books won’t ever be good enough is evidence that you have the right critical eye to be a much better writer. All you need is practice in both writing and editing. It is only when you can’t see room for improvement in your writing that you are up against the wall of your own incompetence. Keep at it and you will get there.

      I have known many people that were the top of their field. Everyone one of them was amazed that they held the position, because their own impression of their abilities and performance never met the high standards that they felt within themselves.

  • Submitting a story to a contest for the first time in my adult life was a breakthrough moment for me. First, it pushed me to explore a character in my half done novel. Second, completing that story gave me the push toward completing the full length book. And maybe most importantly, once I’d sent it to faceless judges, I shared it with friends and other writers and they loved it. I didn’t win, but I got so much more out of taking that leap.

    And now that story is available for free on Kobo. 🙂

  • I often enter contests without entry fees. They’re fun and get me writing, and I even made my first pro sale from a contest I won; but I never, ever enter a contest that charges a fee, even when I have what seems like the perfect story for it.

    What stops me is my experience in non-fee contests. It’s one thing to lose to work that is clearly superior to mine, or at least in the same ballpark. However too often the winner just makes me say, “Huh? The judges liked that? Why?” Most distressingly this happened to what I think is the single best story I’ve ever written.

    Now this doesn’t mean that my entry is actually better than the story that won. It is more likely that I’m just miscalibrated as to how good my work is, or as to what makes a good story. But it does mean that I can’t make a reasonably informed decision as to whether it’s worth paying a fee to enter a contest.

    Until I can understand why the stories that win win and the ones that don’t don’t, paying contest entry fees is a lottery ticket with bad odds and a poor payoff.

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