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Writing Contests – Do They Make Economical Sense?

Do you enjoy reading short stories and poems?  Have you tried writing them?  Have you ever entered them into a contest?  Keep reading and commiserate with me on my experiences.

I’ve begun researching contests (locally and nationally) for potential 2012 entries.  Thus far, some of the better ones include a subscription to the magazine (or chapbook) that will be published and usually offer a 1st place prize in the low-four-figures. 

One thing I’ve noticed  about these contests is that even with the more recognizable ones (ex. Writer’s Digest), there are entry fees of $20.00 per manuscript/poem.  Sometimes these get pro-rated if you include multiple entries in the same submission, but not always.

What’s a reasonable fee for a writing contest submission? Twenty bucks is a late-night pizza and drinks.

Is $20.00 a reasonable sum to pay for a *chance* at winning a contest?  What’s your opinion? What are the odds of winning?  I’ve yet to see any numbers of the odds openly advertised.  If you find to the contrary, let me know.

Twenty bucks is a late-night pizza and drinks; a movie for you and your significant other (no popcorn, no drinks); or that latest how-to book you’ve been eyeing at B&N.  I don’t personally have that kind of money to be throwing down on multiple entries and multiple contests a year.  Is my entry or reader’s fee able to be claimed on my taxes as a business-related expense?  (Probably not I’m guessing!)

Maybe if I have a problem spending that kind of money then that means I’m not the kind of person who should be applying to the contest.  I don’t know.  Finding a good contest also doesn’t take into account all of the scam contests out there that wheedle money out of you in other ways.

You know what I mean.  The letter goes something like:

“Congratulations, your poem has been accepted for publication in our upcoming anthology, [insert new-age-y nature title here].  While purchase is not necessary for publication, you may be interested in buying a copy of your own for $40.00.  For an additional $10.00 we’ll include your name, photo and byline.”*

Or, how about:

“Is your poem published?  See your poem on a t-shirt, mouse pad, or coffee mug”.

How do you find the genuine writing contests?  Is there a clear-cut way of telling what the odds of winning are?  Talent has something to play here, sure, it’s not all just numbers.

It helps to read the magazine/chapbook that your entry may find itself published in.  From just looking at a few entries alone, each magazine will have its own preferences for content, style and mood.  You wouldn’t want to submit a short story on parenting to a goth magazine (well, unless you had a really cool angle…).

I guess the point is there’s a lot to this submitting to contests business that I’ve never explored and now I’m stepping into the ring.  Advice please?  What’s your opinion?  Tell me about it.

* These aren’t actual quotes but variations of my memories of past letters received, either from email or through snail mail.

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Check out more of my recommended reads at Goodreads.

This entry was posted in: Writing


Lauren Miller is a Midwestern born writer with a passion for Jesus, the written word, and dogs. She has two decades of experience in the library field and reviews books for the Historical Novels Review (UK). She likes to spend her free time enjoying period films, discovering new reads, and being surrounded by other people’s pets. Lauren, her husband, and their wily Maine Coon (who isn’t quite a dog) live in Missouri. You can learn more about Lauren’s writing at LaurenJoanMiller.com.

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