Are Writing Contests Worth Entering?

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Writing Contests

Holly Lyn Walrath
Write Weird
Published in
12 min readJun 1, 2020

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Image Courtesy Engin Akyurt

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about contests and writing fees, in one handy article.

I was once in charge of gathering submissions for my local writing center’s anthology. We posted our guidelines and that we wanted to pay writers $15 per piece. A writer emailed me asking, “How do I pay my $15 fee?” I had to explain that we were paying authors, not the other way around. The writer was surprised, probably because a lot of times these days writing feels like a pay-to-play game.

And in some ways, it is. Many popular authors have won a writing contest at some point. Others have probably paid a submission fee along the way. Many have paid to attend conferences and workshops with networking opportunities.

Writing contests abound. There are 695 contests on Duotrope’s listing of prizes and contests for poetry alone. There are writing contests run by big magazines and writing contests by little academic journals. Some contests pay a great deal, upwards of thousands of dollars, while others may pay a smaller amount. Some contests come with publication, others are a cash payout only. In some ways, this pay-to-pay model mirrors the way artists submit their work, often asked to pay a fee to be a part of an exhibition or gallery.

But I am here to tell you, contests are not the only way to get published. I’ve been a finalist and winner in several contests, but my best luck at publishing has been from places that don’t even charge a submission fee and instead focus on paying their writers. The way publications do this is by being a viable business and generating income through subscriptions and royalties.

When looking at entering a contest or submitting your work somewhere, you should always consider your goals.

What Are My Goals?

Before you submit your work anywhere, sit back and think: What are my goals with this piece? What matters about writing to you? Why are you writing? What do you want to achieve? What’s your end-game scenario?

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Holly Lyn Walrath
Write Weird

I'm a writer, editor, publisher, and poet. I write about writing. Find me online at www.hlwalrath.com or on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath!