Is it safe to enter a writing contest? (video)

Viewing time: 5 mins. 29 secs. 

The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question looks at how to figure out whether it’s safe to enter a writing contest. If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question. 


Have you ever worried about entering a writing contest? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach. 

I have a question from Gilbert Lee, a writer  based in Owen Sound, Ontario. Here’s what he asked by email… 

“Do you think that entering writing contests is a good way to start?  Also, I have concerns about who offers these contests. At the moment, I’m considering Funds for Writers and Institute for Childrens Lit.  Rightly or wrongly, I don’t have any concerns about the Institute for Children’s Literature, but I am wondering about Funds for Writers. Can you help me out?  I did do a quick google search, but didn’t get the answers that I was looking for.

Thanks for your question, Gilbert. You are very smart to have some concerns. I strongly recommend you familiarize yourself with the website Writer Beware, link below.

For more than 20 years, the mission of Writer Beware has been to track, expose and raise awareness of questionable practices in the publishing industry. 

Although the site is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, they don’t limit their work to those genres. 

Let me read you one section from their statement of purpose: 

“We maintain an extensive database of questionable literary agents, publishers, independent editors, writer’s services, contests, publicity service and others. This database has been assembled thanks to the hundreds of writers and publishing professionals who have contacted us to share their experiences and to provide us with documentation. Our database is the most complete of its kind in the world.”  

Interestingly enough, they publish a guest post by Hope Clark under the headline “The Red Flags of Writing Contests.” And it turns out Hope is the manager/owner of the FundsForWriters newsletter. Isn’t that a funny coincidence? 

Anyway, Hope’s piece is spot on, and I’ll present a quick summary of her advice right now. 

  1. Be careful of brand new contests: Even if the contests are legit, the sponsors might not have enough experience to be able to handle the work. You’re better off sticking with well established contests.
  2. Watch out for no human involvement: Look at the “about us” section on the website. If all they offer is a PO address and an email that says then you may be dealing with a scam. People who are proud of their contest don’t try to hide.
  3. Consider the cost of entry vs the prizes being offered: If the entry fee is really high, and the prize really cheap, then it’s obviously not worth entering. Also be wary of contests where the only prize is publication. Legitimate contests should offer BOTH — a cash deal and publication.
  4. Examine previous winners: Are any of these people really successful writers now? That would be a very good sign. If they’re not  — or if you can’t find out anything about previous winners, that may mean they don’t even exist. Run, don’t walk away.
  5. Read the small print about rights: Some contests will try to demand your rights simply for entering the contest. All they should ask for is one-time or first-time rights for winners. If they ask for more, don’t play
  6. Ask about the judges: Many contests don’t tell you who is doing the judging but this isn’t necessarily a red flag. On the other hand, if there’s a prestigious or well-respected judge involved, that should increase your chances of wanting to participate. 

Gilbert, after reading Hope Clark’s very wise advice, I’d feel secure entering any contest promoted by Funds for Writers. In fact, her website — link below — was chosen by Writer’s Digest Magazine for its annual 101 Best Websites for Writers from 2001 through 2012. I also include a link to her post on red flags. 

Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from the American young adult author Kate DiCamillo. “I actually participated in a Little Miss Orange Blossom Contest when I was seven or eight. I remember standing up on the stage and thinking, “oh boy, I should not be here.”  

Gilbert, entering a contest can actually be a fun, exciting and rewarding opportunity. But only if the contest sponsor is operating on fair and just principles. Keep your wits about you before you enter a contest. 


If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier more fullfilling process, take a look at my latest book Your Happy First Draft. (Mel: Please show book in top left-hand of screen) I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link below.  


Writer beware website

Funds for Writers website

The Reg Flags of Writing Contests by Hope Clark

Your Happy First Draft

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