Entering writing competitions is a very popular tactic among writers. So today, I want to explore the pros and cons of competitions, to give you the best possible chance of success.
A bit like gambling, entering a writing competition can be thrilling, because it’s hard to resist daydreaming about being the winner. But are they all worth your time and effort? Here are some things to consider:
Pros of entering writing competitions
- They give you a deadline to work towards, which can be really useful as a motivating factor
- You might win, or place highly, and that will look great on your CV
- There could be a monetary prize
- You might get your work published or produced
- You might be introduced to some useful industry people
However, if you are up against hundreds or even thousands of other writers, it’s also worth bearing in mind:
Cons of entering writing competitions
- They can be time consuming to enter. You have to complete your work, obviously, and the deadline may not give you enough time to do your work justice. You will also have to fiddle about with the entry form, which may be quite lengthy.
- Entry fees can be costly
- They can be distracting, for example, if you decide to enter a competition for a piece of work that you’re not currently working on, you will have to stop what you’re writing, and switch gears. You might end up losing momentum on the other piece of work.
- The prize may not be worth having
- If you get nowhere with the competition, you will experience the sting of failure, and that can throw you off course, unless you’re very resilient.
How can we get the most out of entering writing competitions?
Firstly, it’s worth doing some research into the competition itself. Are the organisers credible? Is the prize worth your time and energy? How many people usually enter this competition (if it happens annually)?
If it’s a very popular competition, you’ll be competing against very skilled writers, so don’t waste your time entering the 1st draft of your story, unless you, yourself are an experienced writer.
Secondly, think about what you want to get out of it. If, what you really want is to win, consider whether or not that’s realistic, given your level of experience.
If this particular competition genuinely means something within the industry, make sure you are prepared. Put the deadline in your diary months in advance, and get your work ready. Get some feedback in advance and allow yourself enough time to address all the key issues before you submit.
If you don’t win, but you reach the quarter or semi-finals, or are long or short listed, that’s great news, so make sure you add this info to your CV and/or Linkedin profile and mention it in covering letters, if you think it’s appropriate.
If you don’t win, or place anywhere near the top of the leader board, don’t take it personally, especially if the competition was very popular. Instead, take some time to think about what you can do differently next time. Remember that we get better as writers the more we write. So keep honing your craft.
If you’re committed to entering competitions, don’t simply jump from one deadline to the next in a random way. Make sure you’re the one controlling the direction of your writing, and not the competition deadlines that you just happen to stumble across.
Instead, enter competitions that are aligned to your ideal career path. Also, play to your strengths. If you like writing in a particular medium, genre or niche, seek out competitions within those areas, the more specific the better.
Research the judges to try and get a sense of their taste. If they’re all into serious drama, and you like writing frothy comedies, it probably won’t be worth the trouble to enter.
How else can you help your writing career?
Writing competitions aren’t the be all and end all when it comes to moving forward with your career. Think about what else could you do that’s more under your control. Here are a few examples:
Go to festivals, conferences, screenings and book readings – all within the medium you want to write. Take business cards and pluck up the courage to speak to industry people. If you find it nerve wracking, start by talking to other writers. Plan your questions in advance, in case your mind goes blank in the heat of the moment.
If you don’t fancy asking your question in front of an audience, try to button hole the person you have your eye on. For example, grab them after they come off stage after a panel discussion, or approach them by the bar. Be friendly and complimentary, and keep it short. No-one wants to be cornered for ages by a total stranger!
Take a course run by professional writers – such as the Arvon residential writing courses, among others. And do your best to get to know the professional writers leading the courses. Be super friendly, take their feedback seriously and do the necessary rewrites. Pick their brains, and if they offer to stay in touch, make sure you do. You never know, one day they might be willing to introduce you to someone who can help. And if that happens, make sure you say yes! And be sure to follow up!
If you can’t bear the thought of face to face networking, start by networking online. Connect with industry people on Linkedin and start to get to know them by sending them a friendly message. Follow some writers on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and start by commenting on their posts. Or if they write a blog, reach out to them about their work. Ask questions, get advice. It’s possible to build up relationships online, so keep speaking out and reaching out to people.Then keep building on your connections.
See if you can get an industry mentor – even if not officially, try to get someone within the industry to take you under their wing, you never know where it might lead. As long as you’re positive, friendly and don’t take up too much of their time, the chances are they will be happy to help, even if it’s just giving you advice. And that can be really motivating.
Competitions can be great, but they’re not the only way to get a foot in the door, so keep an open mind, and explore every avenue. Developing a one to one relationship can often be more fruitful than competing against lots of others in a big, anonymous competition.
That’s it for now. If you’re planning to enter any competitions, do let me know how you get on as I love hearing from my readers!
As always, do let me know if there’s anything in your writing that you’re struggling with. I might be able to address your issue in a future email.
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