Wednesday, February 27, 2013

To Contest or Not to Contest?


Kathryn Page Camp

Should you participate in writing contests? That's a question without an answer. Or rather, the answer differs among writers.
Winning a reputable contest can provide significant advantages. You can include the win, or even a nomination or honorable mention, in your writing credits. Winning entries may also be published and/or bring you cash prizes.
Writing contests also have disadvantages. They can distract you from other writing efforts. Many require entrance fees so you can compete with hundreds or thousands of other good writers for a few winning slots. And if you don't know anything about the sponsor, you could be sending your money to an entity that is more concerned with lining its pockets than with developing writers.
That's why each writer has to answer the question for him or herself.
Over the past five years, I submitted work to six different contests. The first three were short story contests run by reputable magazines. Each had a modest entrance fee, and I'm confident that the sponsors used the money to further the literary arts. Still, I received no feedback on my unsuccessful entries, and I ultimately concluded that I could have found a better use for those funds.
In 2010, I paid a higher, but still modest, entrance fee to submit the beginning of an unpublished novel to the Genesis contest run by American Christian Fiction Writers. I didn't make it past the first round, but this time the three anonymous judges provided comments, so my entrance fee paid for a useful critique.
Last summer I entered a short story in one contest and the first five pages of a nonfiction manuscript in another. Both contests were open to and free for anyone attending that year's Midwest Writers Workshop. Since I was already planning on going, what did I have to lose? In fact, I won the Manny Award for Nonfiction.
My current policy is not to enter writing contests unless they are either free or the entrance fee pays for a critique. I also won't enter if I would have to interrupt my current project to prepare something or if I am unfamiliar with the sponsor.
You may have had a different experience and reached a different conclusion about the value of participating in writing contests. If so, I'd love to hear your comments.
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Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. She is the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court's First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. Her next book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal, will be published this spring. You can learn more about Kathryn at

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