Increase Your Chances: Tips for Submitting to Writing Contests


Increase Your Chances: Tips for Submitting to Writing Contests

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Help for Solo Moms on selecting and sending in work

So you have a sizzling-hot masterpiece sitting on your desk, ready for the world to see? Writing contests offer one way to get it published while making a little cash. But all contests are not created equally. Consider these tips before sending out your work:

1. Cast your net wide. There’s a contest for nearly every imaginable writer, genre, and subject. Check out Freelance Writing and Poets & Writers for regularly updated listings.

2. Choose wisely. Sure, the $500 prize looks great, but ask a few questions before you spend time and money entering a contest:

  • Who is sponsoring the contest?
  • Is it a legitimate magazine, publisher, or organization?
  • What style of writing does the sponsor publish?
  • Who is the contest judge?
  • What kind of writing does he or she do?

Answering those questions will help you decide which contests best match your work.

3. Watch the fees. According to Poets & Writers magazine, 81% of literary contests require entry fees, averaging $23.25 per entry. Those fees add up quickly, so create a “fee budget,” and stick with it. Better yet, keep an eye out for no-fee contests. You can find them listed at Freelance Writing and The Write Life.

4. Send your best work. Every writer has felt the euphoria of completing a brilliant first draft, followed by the impulse to launch that writing into the world while the ink is still wet. Don’t do it. Let the piece sit, come back to it in a week or two, and reread it with fresh eyes. Ask a few trusted readers to vet the work for you. Then, when you are sure the work is the best it can be, unleash that brilliance into a few carefully chosen contests.

5. Play by the rules. Each contest has a unique set of guidelines—rules and restrictions as well as instructions on how to format and submit your entry. Read and abide by the guidelines. You don’t want your masterpiece refused because you accidentally left your name on the title page when the guidelines asked for anonymous submissions.

6. Respect the deadlines. Entries that arrive after a contest deadline get dumped in the (actual or virtual) recycle bin. So note the deadlines, confirm whether they are “postmark” or “arrival” deadlines, and submit early when possible. (Editors love that.)

7. Set goals. You’re more likely to honor your goals if you put them in writing and share them with others. So, which contests do you plan to enter? Write the deadlines down on your calendar, and identify an accountability partner, someone who will check in with you and help you stay true to your goals.

8. Stay organized. When managing multiple contest entries, create a contest-submission log that includes the following information: What did you submit? Where did you submit it? When did you submit it? When will the contest results be announced? What were the results?

9. Remember: It’s not personal. So you didn’t win the contest? Welcome to the club. For writers, rejection is just part of the game. Contest judges make their choices based on a host of criteria, not just the writer’s talent. A “thanks for entering, please try again” note doesn’t mean your work isn’t worthy; it just means the judge picked someone else this time. Keep your chin up, and keep submitting.

10. Stay hopeful. You have a voice that needs to be heard, a story that needs to be told—believe that, and keep pushing forward. Need a trick to help you stay hopeful? Try submitting your writing to multiple places, on a regular basis. That way, if a rejection comes in, you still have submissions out there. You still have hope.


Cheryl Dumesnil, ESME’s LGBTQ Resource Guide, is an author, educator, writing coach, all-around do-gooder, and one of two moms separately coparenting two amazing boys. You can follow her on Twitter at @cheryladumesnil.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.


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