Why Writers Should Enter Free Writing Contests 

Today’s guest post is by Michael McPherson:

Entering writing contests can afford a great opportunity to practice new skills, hone your existing writing skills, and bring in income. Yes, most contests offer cash prizes, and many writers actually earn up to a third of their income entering and winning writing contests.

Contests span a broad range of topics and writing styles, so you are certain to find a contest that fits your interests, skills, and abilities.

Although many writing competitions exact an entry fee, there are free writing competitions that you can enter, so why not give them a try?  Beginning a writing career takes time to develop, and writers normally do not have a lot of extra cash to expend on competition entry fees. So free contests mean you have a lot to gain and nothing to lose.

Why You Should Enter Writing Contests

You may wonder why you should take precious time away from your writing time to enter contests.  There are actually several sound reasons for entering writing contests, especially when you’re starting out.

  • Writing contests provide great experience in writing to a specific topic or theme.
  • You get to practice adhering to a word limit, which is very important for professional writing assignments.
  • You must under a deadline.
  • You get to practice editing.
  • You receive valuable feedback on your writing skills and style.
  • Your work may be noticed, picked up, or published, opening new doors and paths for future publication of your work.
  • You build a network of connections and a platform for future work.

Important Rules and Tips for Entering Writing Contests 

There are some basic rules and a few tips for writing contest success. The most important rule is to read the entry instructions slowly and carefully.  Pay attention to the details and do exactly what they say. These contest promoters receive sometimes thousands of submissions, so you do not want to include things the organizers are not asking for.  This may seem self-evident, but people often ignore the basic guidelines.

The first step to entering a writing contest is to research them. Your research should include verifying that the contest is legitimate. There are scams out there, so it’s important to protect yourself by researching competitions thoroughly.

Search for contests that are free to enter and that target a subject area or topic you feel comfortable tackling. These may be topics you know well, or they may be topics that interests you and stretch you.

It can be good to choose a topic that requires you to do a little research and learn something new.  That’s a primary reason many writers choose to enter writing contests. A writing contest can help you grow and expand your understanding and your writing skills.

Once you have identified one or more contests that fit your parameters, it’s time to review the requirements. You should read the entry information, carefully checking for the following items:

  • Participation age (most require a minimum age of 18)
  • Topic or subject matter
  • Writing type (short fiction, nonfiction, poetry, novels, plays, screenplays, etc.)
  • Word count
  • Photo
  • Personal information
  • Location (is the contest limited to a specific country or state?)
  • Submission methods
  • Entry or submission deadline

 Tips for Success 

Once you commit to entering a writing competition, it is important to treat it as a professionally paid job.

  • Create a plan and an outline.
  • Set aside a specific amount of time each day in your schedule to write.
  • Begin early enough ahead of the submission deadline so that you have sufficient time to write, edit, and re-edit your work.
  • Create an entry of the highest quality writing and craftsmanship.
  • Have another person read your entry and provide feedback.
  • Re-edit and hone your entry so it is succinct, on point, interesting. and engaging for readers.
  • Always keep your entries because you never know when you can use them in some other work project.
  • Don’t rest on your laurels—enter more writing contests.

Top Free Writing Contests 

Here is a list of some of the top no-entry-fee writing contests for 2015–2016 that you can explore:

  • The Alexandra Fiction Writing Contest is jointly sponsored by Clinton Literary Awards Foundation and publishing houses. It holds a semiannual writing competition for debut fiction, fiction, nonfiction, and young author award categories. Publishing houses may make offers to publish the original works of winners.
  • The Centerville Leaf eBooks Writing Contest hosts an annual creative writing contest. The theme changes from year to year, but the book must be presented and eventually distributed as an ebook and generally targeted to readers in North America.
  • The Amazon Breakout Novel Contest (ABNA) is hosted by Amazon and Penguin Publishing Company. It is a novel-writing contest for original, unpublished or self-published fiction. Penguin provides the award, which has traditionally been a publishing contract with a $15,000 advance payment against future royalties.
  • The Writers Village Writing Contest is a national contest for a fictional work. There is no predefined topic, and all writing styles are allowed. Genre-based fiction includes crime, mystery, horror, suspense, science fiction, political, or historical. Three cash prizes are awarded: $500 for first place, $250 for second place, and $100 for third place.
  • The Dayton National Story Award Contest provides a competition they hope will result in constructive and inspiring short stories by writers of any level. New writers joining the profession for the first time are especially encouraged to enter. This contest is designed specifically for young writers to get experience and test their abilities and compete against more established writers and novelists.

Free writing contests abound, and they can be an important part of a writer’s development as well as a way to increase writing income.  Begin with some of the smaller contests and work your way up.  Take the challenge and learn from the experience. You might just come away a winner.  Remember, you can’t win if you don’t enter.

Michael McPherson is a graduate student at Boston University, a freelance blogger, and a regular contributor at Top Review Stars.Follow Michael on Twitter here.

Feature Photo Credit: Lst1984 via Compfight cc

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  1. As far as I know, the Amazon contest, affectionately known as ABNA, doesn’t exist any more, and many of the former contestants are saddened because we made such good friends during the contests. I believe that the Kindle Scout program has replaced it.

    It’s possible that Barnes & Noble has a similar contest, both in Canada and the US, but I’m not sure.

  2. An added benefit is that of getting your work seen by others. If you write well, you could attract readers to spread the word and look for more of your work.

    There are also webzines that have regular contests, such as the monthly Flash contest (1000 word limit) at Aphelion.

  3. I keep telling myself I need to get involved in a writing contest. I just have to take a deep breath and go for it, the constructive criticism alone is worth entering. i love hearing how I can improve my work and be better. Now just finding more time to write, something we all struggle with.

  4. As far as I know, the Writers Village competition has an entry fee; however, it is well worth entering, I believe. I receive the newsletter since 2012: the winning entries are always top quality, there are several published writers among the blog’s followers, and the tips offered, in my opinion, are sane and sound.

  5. Very nice article. I’ve been focusing on finishing a few non-fiction books, due to be published in the next 2 weeks, and haven’t had time to do shorter works. But this article has motivated me to get started in that direction.

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